What Is Circular Fashion

Undoubtedly, the fashion industry is ripe for a sustainability revolution.

As customers, it’s often challenging to grasp the ecological impact of the fashion industry while shopping in our favorite retail store, a world away from the manufacturing sites where our clothing originates. Nonetheless, it’s high time we reevaluate the fashion industry’s resource utilization and work towards better, more sustainable practices.

Leading brands, including Stella McCartney, have begun to champion the idea of circular fashion.

Let’s delve into the distinction between circular and linear fashion, and highlight some brands that are making circular fashion a reality.

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So, what does circular fashion entail? The concept of circular fashion was proposed by Anna Brismar, who based it on the principles of a circular economy.

In 2017, Brismar characterized circular fashion as the responsible and effective circulation of clothes, shoes, or accessories in society. These items are designed, sourced, produced, and provided with the intention to maximize their lifespan and value, then safely return to the biosphere when they are no longer in use.

Simply put, circular fashion aims to reuse existing resources in the fashion industry. The journey of a circular fashion garment begins at the design stage.

To better understand this concept, let’s consider a pair of jeans. In the prevalent linear fashion system, a designer conceives a vision for the denim, the production team selects the appropriate material, the factories mass produce the jeans, and retailers sell them to customers.

Often, these jeans are viewed as disposable and end up in a landfill after they’ve been worn and discarded.

Contrastingly, circular fashion encourages every step in the production of that pair of jeans to contribute to its durability and sustainability. This approach prompts several essential considerations.

  • Is the garment robust enough to last for several years?
  • How long do we expect consumers to wear these?
  • Is the style enduring?
  • When sourcing materials, are they sustainable, and can they be taken apart, reused, or allowed to biodegrade?
  • Are the factory workers earning a fair wage, and are they treated ethically?
  • Do these factories contribute to local pollution?
  • When the jeans are worn out, can they be repaired or redesigned rather than being discarded or donated?

The objective of circular fashion is to minimize production waste and advocate for conscious consumption. Because fundamentally, buying less equals less material ending up in landfills.

How does circular fashion differ from linear fashion? Presently, the fashion industry operates on a linear model. You purchase a shirt, and when you’re done with it, it usually ends up in the trash and eventually in a landfill.

Circular fashion, however, proposes a cyclical approach. The aim is to reuse existing materials and garments, avoiding the need for new production.

Here’s an example of circular fashion in practice:

Since 2019, Ministry of Supply has manufactured their Aero Zeroº dress shirts from upcycled PET water bottles and used solar power to mill their fabric. This has reduced their carbon emissions by over 50%. The brand offsets any emissions they can’t eliminate, resulting in a 100% recycled, carbon-neutral dress shirt.

Ministry of Supply furthered this initiative by partnering with Shinkong Textiles. They developed a recycling process to separate polyester fibers, enabling them to re-spin the material into strong, durable, and soft yarn. This results in a circular dress shirt, reinforcing their tagline: “100% Recycled. 100% Recyclable. Infinite Uses.”

These high-quality products are designed to last for years. When consumers decide to retire their Aero Zero dress shirt, they can easily return it to Ministry of Supply in exchange for store credit. This practice encourages consumers to participate in circular fashion and invest in durable clothing.

What are the environmental benefits of circular fashion? Transitioning to a circular economy is about more than just minimizing the negative impacts of the linear economy, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

It represents a systemic shift that fosters long-term resilience, generates economic opportunities, and offers environmental and societal benefits. Here are a few reasons why brands practicing circular fashion are crucial in this transition:

  1. It reduces waste in landfills. With circular fashion, reducing waste is a priority so materials can be continuously reused.
  2. It decreases the need for new resources. By reusing existing materials, the demand for new resources from raw materials reduces.
  3. It promotes green energy and can decrease pollution. Many circular fashion brands, like Ministry of Supply, work with production and transportation partners that use renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.

How can consumers partake in circular fashion? You might be contemplating how you, as a consumer, can adjust your buying habits to support circular fashion.

Here are a few ways to make that shift:

Firstly, buy clothing only when necessary. Fast fashion brands thrive on fleeting trends and lure consumers with the promise of resembling current fashion icons. Instead of succumbing to these transient trends, invest in high-quality staples that you’ll wear for many years.

If you’re budget-conscious and wish to refresh your wardrobe, consider shopping secondhand! A staggering volume of garments are sold and discarded each year. Instead of contributing to this wastage, consider checking out thrift stores or secondhand shops for essentials before resorting to retail stores.

Learn to upcycle and mend! This enables you to transform old garments into something new.

When shopping for new clothes, invest in high-quality, long-lasting pieces and support brands practicing circular fashion.

Stay informed and look for the Cradle to Cradle certification. This third-party certification evaluates a brand’s approach to material health, reutilization, renewable energy, carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness.