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The circular economy is in fashion

Posted on 07 June 2017.

The fashion industry gobbles up raw materials and energy. The circular economy is an effective solution to meet these environmental challenges. Some pioneer brands have already adopted this new approach.

"Don't buy this jacket!" This advertisement was published in the New York Times in 2011 by Patagonia on Black Friday. In the USA, "Black Friday" is the day when brands give huge discounts on the goods and waves of consumers crowd into stores.

In the advertisement, Patagonia made the point: the jacket in question was the R2™, one of their flagship products made of recycled polyester, requires 135 liters of water to be manufactured and generates 9kg of CO2 during its transport. An environmental cost that is only worth paying if you are sure to keep the garment for many years...

Rethinking the model

The fashion industry is one of the most harmful to the planet. It consumes a huge amount of raw materials (water, cotton, fossil fuels), pollutes a lot (CO2, toxic substances), and generates a substantial amount of waste. At issue: the ever-increasing pace at which collections are renewed. Collections sometimes only stay in stores for a couple of weeks with the result of two million tons of clothing are thrown away every year in Europe, of which 90% end up at waste drop off centers.

Produce, use, and throw away: this linear model is no longer sustainable the a context of scarcity of natural resources. To meet the environmental challenge, the fashion industry needs to rethink how it works.

The circular economy offers the fashion industry an opportunity to reuse materials in a loop thus reducing its ecological footprint. In other words, reuse clothing once it has reached the end of its life. A strategy that involves a complete rethinking of supply and production techniques as well as the design of the products themselves.

Pioneer brands

Paving the way, a number of brands have opted for a more circular approach and are developing initiatives. Here are a few striking examples.

In 2014, singer Pharrell Williams released a collection for the brand G-Star RAW: "RAW for the Ocean" including jeans, sweaters, t-shirts, etc. All of the items were made with a fiber created from plastic waste recovered in the ocean. Following on from this initiative, G-Star RAW announced that it was replacing conventional polyesters used to make all of its clothing with recycled polyester in the summer of 2016.

Created in 2013 with the slogan "If it's broke, fix it", the brand Patagonia is a forerunner in the circular economy. Its objective is to try to make its technical sportswear last as long as possible.

Therefore, it offers to repair all damaged parts in exchange for a small fee. It repairs an average of 45,000 items every year. When the garment is too worn, it can be returned to Patagonia plants where it is recycled into new fibers or a new product. The brand plans to launch an e-commerce platform to sell second-hand clothing and equipment in 2017.

Even industry giants are getting involved! Since 2013, H&M collects old clothes. All clothing from any brand can be taken to any of their stores. As such, the Swedish brand has already recovered over 32,000 tons of clothing. Clothing in good condition is given to NGOs and the most damaged are recycled. In Fall 2016, H&M launched "Close The Loop", its first collection of recycled cotton and wool denims.

In 2017, the brand will go even further; via its corporate foundation, it has launched the international "The Global Change Award". Candidates from around the world are asked to come up with ideas to make fashion more circular.

As we can see, the biggest names in the industry: Armani, Uniqlo, and Stella McCartney, are making the transition to circular economy. An increasingly powerful movement, which will dramatically change the face of the fashion industry in coming years.

Brands also have the challenge of taking on a new social role by making people more conscientious consumers and getting them to take more care of their clothes. The circular economy is definitely in fashion!

Find out more:

- Márcia de Carvalho, the orphan sock alchemist
- Stella McCartney, engaged for sustainable fashion