What Is Circular Fashion? Keeping Our Clothes Alive

Circular fashion is defined as “a regenerative system in which garments are circulated for as long as their maximum value is retained, and then returned safely to the biosphere when they are no longer of use.”

The purpose of circular fashion is to extend our clothes’ lifespan for as long as possible so that they can avoid going to waste. It is about maximising the potential of a garment so that it can last for many years, rather than being worn a handful of times and then thrown away. Rather than offering a singular solution, circular fashion focuses on all aspects of a garment’s lifecycle, from manufacturing to disposal, so that many alternatives to fast fashion can be provided workers and causing significant damage to the planet.

circular fashion

Traditionally fashion works on a linear basis. Clothes are created, they are worn, and then they are disposed of, ending up in landfills where they are either burnt or ignored. This is how the life span of clothing has worked for many generations, only to be reinforced by the increase of fast fashion. As clothes are manufactured and produced cheaply, they are not made to last as it is cheap enough to replace them with something new. In the 60s an average American adult would purchase fewer than 25 items of clothing every year but spend roughly 10% of their income on clothes. Now the average American spends less than 3.5% of their budget on clothes but purchases roughly 70 items every year.

This ability to buy such a large volume of clothing for so cheap thrives off the linear structure of fashion, as it requires a garment to reach the end of its lifecycle quickly so that we need to purchase new. Fast fashion is an economical strategy put in place to make brands a great deal of money whilst exploiting its workers and causing significant damage to the planet.

fast fashion

It has grown extremely apparent over the last decade that fast fashion is not working. Not for the planet and certainly not for the millions of people that are dealing with its consequences first hand. This is why people are turning to circular fashion for a cleaner and more sustainable approach to wearing clothing.

What actually is circular economy fashion?

As previously stated, a circular economy works on the basis of a “regenerative system”, meaning that clothing must be regenerated in some kind of way to be included as part of circular fashion. This can be considered at multiple stages just as long as the clothes, textiles, and fibres are kept at their highest value during use and re-enter the economy after use (ellenmacarthurfoundation).

The initial step that is taken to secure this is to make sure that the materials used are not from finite resources or non-biodegradable fibres. Clothing made from plastics that cannot be recycled e.g., polyester clothing would not be suitable for a circular economy. Manufacturing processes should then work off of renewable energy sources or regenerative systems that rebuild the world’s natural capital rather than drain from it. Once clothing has been made it should withstand the test of time through high quality production, aftercare, and alteration options to evolve with an individual’s style. Finally, once an item of clothing is no longer in use by that individual, its life should be renewed through recycling purposes so that it can avoid going to waste. These fundamentals are the basis upon which all circular fashion methods are created.

As popularity of circular economy fashion grows, so do the options for its appearance within the industry. Rental schemes are becoming increasingly popular, and are set to be worth £2.3 billion by 2029 from the estimated £400 million in 2019. As rental schemes cover a solution for both the “throw-away” culture of Gen Z and the unobtainable price of designer fashion, it is an ideal answer to current problems within the fashion industry.

depop

Second-hand fashion is also a great way of extending a garment’s life and apps such as Depop, Vinted, and of course, eBay have contributed to the increased popularity of people wanting to buy second-hand clothing. Due to its success, Depop has also gone on to collaborate with large brands such as Dr. Marten for their ReSoul collection (shown in the image above) to push for further awareness. All these regenerative fashion methods are included in part of the circular fashion economy as they intend on renewing clothes’ lifecycle by giving them a new purpose.

However, buying new does not mean that it is not part of circular fashion. Many sustainable brands such as those featured on the Wearth site, take a lot of care to ensure that their clothing is made in the most ethical way possible. Ways of doing this feed into the basis of circular fashion, by ensuring that fabrics are durable and/or made from recycled materials. Often our brands also design with a minimalist approach, wanting to create high-quality capsule pieces that will withstand changing trends and fashion fads.

What are the benefits of circular fashion?

Of course, the first and most significant reason for introducing circular fashion is to reverse the environmental damage created by fast fashion. By removing the strain on finite resources, circular fashion gives the planet some time to restore itself. Like pouring water from a glass, at some point, the world’s glass will be empty if we do not refill what we have so hastily taken. A circular economy ensures that we will never reach that point, as it works from renewable energy sources.

Nevertheless, circular fashion does more than just benefit the planet. Despite what it may appear, there are huge economic benefits that come with a circular fashion economy. By moving to this new regenerative system, the fashion industry could unlock a USD 560 billion economic opportunity. As new business models and collaboration will have to take place throughout the whole industry, this will generate many new jobs which will in turn pump more money back into the country.

With the UK facing great financial strain and a worldwide problem of tackling climate change, the introduction of circular fashion economy could undoubtedly be the next step in helping to resolve these issues and changing the face of fashion for good.