Circular fashion has gained significant attention in recent years as a potential solution to the environmental challenges posed by the traditional linear fashion model. However, a narrow application of closed loop practices may fail to capture the essence of what circular fashion truly means. Instead, according to industry experts, the shift to a circular or closed loop fashion industry requires a broader outlook that encompasses three core principles: eliminating waste and pollution, circulating materials, and regenerating nature.
At the moment, focus tends to be on the second principle; the circulation of materials. But this isn’t enough. In this article, we’ll take a further look into the three principles of a circular economy, and why each one is essential for a truly closed loop fashion industry.
Why has the focus mainly been on circulating materials?
Circulating materials through recycling, upcycling, and other innovative strategies helps to minimize waste generation and the extraction of new raw materials. By designing products and implementing systems that enable the reuse and repurposing of materials, closed loop initiatives contribute to resource efficiency and waste reduction. This is particularly important given the enormous amount of textile waste generated each year, much of which ends up in landfills or incinerated.
Focusing on circulating materials aligns with the concept of a circular economy, which aims to create closed loops where materials are kept in use for as long as possible. By encouraging the reuse and recycling of materials, closed loop initiatives help reduce the industry’s environmental impact, conserve resources, and minimize the carbon footprint associated with production and disposal.
While the emphasis on circulating materials may seem to overshadow the other two core principles, it is important to note that these principles are interconnected. For instance, by extending the lifespan of materials through circulation, the industry can contribute to waste and pollution reduction. Regenerating nature can be facilitated by adopting closed loop practices that minimise resource extraction and reduce environmental degradation
Circular fashion principle 1: Elimination of waste and pollution
The first principle of a circular, closed loop fashion industry is the elimination of waste and pollution. This involves designing products and processes that minimise waste generation and pollution throughout the entire lifecycle of a garment. It includes reducing the use of harmful chemicals and dyes, implementing sustainable production methods, and prioritizing waste reduction strategies.
The fashion industry is notorious for its waste generation and pollution levels. From textile production and garment manufacturing to distribution and disposal, every step in the fashion supply chain leaves a significant ecological footprint. Fast fashion’s rapid turnover of trends and low-quality garments has further contributed to this environmental crisis.
In order to reduce the waste in the fashion chain, design and production processes need to be rethought. Prioritising durability, longevity and material efficiency will make fashion more sustainable. Creating garments that last longer will reduce the need for constant replacements and minimise waste generation. Additionally, embracing innovative techniques like zero-waste pattern cutting and upcycling can repurpose textile scraps and discarded garments, giving them new life and reducing landfill contributions.
Pollution in the fashion industry is a multifaceted problem. From the extensive use of toxic chemicals in textile production to the release of microplastics during washing, pollution affects both the environment and human health. Sustainable fashion must actively seek alternatives to harmful substances and promote safe and non-toxic practices. Investing in eco-friendly materials, such as organic cotton, hemp, and recycled fibres, can significantly reduce pollution at the source.
Collaboration between industry stakeholders, policymakers, and consumers is vital to achieve this first closed-loop principle of waste reduction. Reducing emissions are also a key part of this; and brands must accelerate their emissions reduction by both making their current emissions efforts more transparent, as well as forming key strategic partnerships.
Circular fashion principle 2: Retaining the value through circulating materials
The second principle of the circular economy is circulating materials, and this focuses on the concept of prolonging the use of resources as much as possible. This can be achieved through various strategies, such as designing longer lasting products, recycling, upcycling implementing take back or rental programs, and encouraging second hand markets. By extending the lifespan of materials and products through retaining its value for as long as possible, the fashion industry can minimise the need for extracting raw materials and reduce overall waste production.
Embracing the second value of the circular economy is often viewed as the ‘obvious’ approach to circularity.
The circularity of materials is crucial for establishing a closed loop fashion industry. By prioritising the circulation of materials through various methods, the fashion industry can significantly diminish its environmental impact and move away from the linear model of production and consumption.
There are several benefits to prolonging the use of resources and retaining the value of each garment.
Firstly, circularity reduces the reliance on new resources. Through reusing and recycling materials, the fashion industry can reduce the need for extracting fresh raw materials. This often involves resource intensive processes and contributes to environmental degradation, and so reduction in resource extraction helps to preserve natural ecosystems and biodiversity.
Secondly, circularity minimises waste. The fashion industry is notorious for generating vast amounts of textile waste, much of which ends up in landfills or is incinerated. By embracing circular practices like recycling and upcycling, materials can be diverted from the waste stream and given new life. This not only lessens the environmental burden but also preserves valuable resources embedded in discarded garments.
Thirdly, circularity promotes resource efficiency. Instead of treating garments as disposable items, a closed loop fashion industry values the durability and longevity of materials. Designing products with circularity in mind involves selecting materials that can be easily disassembled, repaired, or transformed into new products. This approach encourages a departure from the fast fashion model and fosters a more sustainable and responsible approach to consumption.
Embracing the second value of the circular economy is often viewed as the ‘obvious’ approach to circularity. Retaining the value of products and materials will keep materials in the economy, rather than disposing of them through waste streams.
Circular fashion principle 3: Actively regenerating nature
The third principle of circular fashion is often overlooked; and that is actively contributing to the restoration and regeneration of ecosystems affected by the industry. This can be achieved in a number of ways, including supporting regenerative agricultural practices, using renewable energy sources, and implementing sustainable water management systems. By actively working to restore the environment, the fashion industry can play a significant role in creating a more sustainable and resilient future, rather than simply causing less harm.
Bu moving to a regenerative model, natural systems begin to be emulated. Regenerating nature involves embracing practices that restore biodiversity, support healthy ecosystems, and protect natural resources. It encompasses initiatives such as reforestation, habitat restoration, and the adoption of regenerative agricultural practices. By actively engaging in these activities, the circular economy seeks to create a positive impact on the environment.
And the principle of regenerating nature is not limited just to land – it can be applied to the ocean as well.
The principle of regenerating nature is not limited to the land and can be applied to the ocean as well. For example, GreenWave’s 3D ocean farming method produces a mixture of shellfish and seaweeds in a nature-positive way. It comprises a simple lattice of ropes and baskets suspended just below the surface, with species growing at different depths. This approach can be used for commercial farming of products used for food, fertiliser, animal feed, and bioplastics, while restoring marine ecosystems.
By adopting the third principle of the circular economy – regenerate nature – we can shift our priorities. No longer should our focus be simply on doing less harm to the environment, but on how we can actively improve it. If the economy follows circular principles, the more we do, the greater the benefits.
What are the benefits of circular fashion models for brands and designers?
While the environmental benefits of creating a more circular approach to fashion are clear, there are also huge benefits to brands and fashion designers of adopting the three principles of circular fashion.
The circular fashion model offers several benefits for brands and designers. Here are some key advantages:
- Sustainable Brand Image: Embracing circular fashion demonstrates a brand’s commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility. This can enhance its reputation and appeal to environmentally conscious consumers who prioritise ethical and sustainable fashion choices. This is important for a brand’s marketing.
- Competitive Advantage: Implementing circular fashion practices can give brands a competitive edge in the market. As sustainability becomes increasingly important to consumers, brands that prioritise circularity can differentiate themselves and attract a growing consumer base seeking eco-friendly products.
- Cost Savings: Circular fashion can lead to cost savings for brands. By implementing strategies such as product take-back programs, repair services, and material recycling, brands can optimise resource usage and reduce waste disposal costs. Additionally, extending the lifespan of products through durable design can reduce the need for frequent manufacturing or restocking.
- Enhanced Customer Engagement and Loyalty: Circular fashion encourages a more engaged and loyal customer base. By offering services like repair, refurbishment, or trade-in options, brands can establish long-term relationships with customers who appreciate the added value and sustainability aspects. This can lead to increased customer satisfaction, repeat purchases, and customers who become advocates across the life cycle.
- Innovation and Creativity: Embracing circularity often requires innovative thinking and creative problem-solving. Designers and brands can explore new materials, production techniques, and business models to create unique and sustainable fashion solutions. This fosters innovation within the industry and opens up opportunities for collaboration and partnerships with like-minded organisations.
Overall, the circular fashion model offers brands and designers a pathway to align their practices with sustainability goals, gain a competitive advantage, reduce environmental impact and drive innovation.
By adopting circular principles, businesses and industries can contribute to a more sustainable future. They can implement strategies such as product life extension, remanufacturing, and the use of renewable energy sources. These practices not only reduce environmental impact but also present economic opportunities and create value for stakeholders.
Circular fashion encompasses a broader perspective that goes beyond a narrow definition of closed loop practices. It requires the adoption of three core principles: eliminating waste and pollution, circulating materials, and regenerating nature. By embracing these principles, the fashion industry can transition to a more sustainable and responsible model that respects the environment while still offering innovative and stylish products.
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