Since the industrial revolution, the fashion industry has existed as a linear business model driven by the purpose of making and selling, endlessly. It’s the same “take, make, waste” concept that most manufacturing operates with – where natural resources are taken from the Earth, made into products and then disposed of when we no longer want them.
In many instances, as is the case with the fashion and textile industry, the speed of the system outpaces the rate at which our natural resources can regenerate, making this linear model simply unsustainable.
As awareness of fashion’s impacts and inefficiencies have become increasingly known, industry leaders are looking to new methods of thinking that go beyond mitigation and instead aim to transform the fashion industry into a system that is positively impactful, by design.
One such solution increasing in popularity is the concept of the circular economy. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, an organization leading the circularity movement across a spectrum of industries defines a circular economy as a resilient model that “eliminates waste and pollution, keeps products and materials in use and regenerates our planet’s natural systems.”
In essence, the concept of circularity is simply that the end of life of one thing is the start of life for another – in fashion, this would mean that instead of sending a garment to landfill when it is no longer wanted, it would instead start a new life with a new owner or be cut and sewn into a new product.
Yet, the circular economy in practice, when applied to a complex supply chain such as fashion, is much more complicated than the concept on its own.
True circularity is fundamentally concerned with the very, very end of life of our materials. Cycling a garment once, twice, or three times by means of resale, repair or repurposing may extend the time before a garment is sent to landfill, but they do not solve for that inevitable conclusion.
To transition the fashion industry to a circular economy, we need to design garments and systems at the onset that maximize the value of healthy materials through multiple cycles of use before reprocessing them into new raw materials of equal or greater quality at their very end of life.
Next week, we look deeper at how the circular economy fundamentally changes the industry and the way we design fashion.
Editor’s Note: This is the second feature in a four-part series that leads up to Earth Day and explores the circular economy and what it means for the future of sustainable fashion.
Photo Credit: Unsplash