The Present and Future of Circularity in Fashion

QIMA Supply Chain Conference 2019 - Session 2: Ethical and Sustainable Sourcing: Progress and Challenges

Fireside chat with:
Dr. Christina Dean, Founder and CEO, Redress
Michelle Lee, Marketing and E-Commerce Director, The R Collective
Kay Liu, Education Director, Redress

“Both products and business models must be designed from the outset with circularity and sustainability in mind”
Historically, the needs of a business and sustainability have been at odds, particularly in fashion. However, as the circular economy begins to boom, there’s an opportunity for fashion to play a huge role and it appears that brands are beginning to understand the business benefits of circularity in fashion. During this fireside chat, it was shared that 93 million tons of fabric is being produced each year and 73% of it goes into a landfill. Rather than just incinerating it, there’s a huge opportunity to re-invest it back into the fashion industry, creating a more sustainable business model that also saves money.

Key takeaways:

  • Guiding principles of the circularity economy (by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation)
    • Design our waste and pollution: change the mindset to view waste not as inevitable, but as a design flaw, and ensure waste and pollution are not created in the first place
    • Keep products and materials in use: if we can’t make things last forever, we should be able to get the materials back and keep them in the economy
    • Regenerate natural systems: enhance our natural resources by returning valuable nutrients to ecosystems
  • Current state of the circular economy:
    • Globally, only 9% of the global economy is circular, across all industries, including food, packaging and consumer goods
    • The fashion industry is lagging behind on circularity, with 73% of clothing produced every year going into landfills or incinerated – a shocking USD 500 bn worth of resources
  • The momentum towards circularity:
    • 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment, championed by the Global Fashion Agenda and signed by 90 brands that represent 12.5% of the global fashion market
    • The Fashion Pact: an industry-wide movement aimed at aligning the fashion industry with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, signed by 32 major fashion brands
  • Circularity in business models:
    • Design with circularity in mind: working with available fabrics, using single material types (as opposed to blends)
    • Emerging design philosophies: an emphasis on the holistic approach, which takes in mind the entire lifecycle of the product
    • In retail, circular models tend to drive higher margins per garment compared to the linear model. Examples are the re-commerce market, the fashion subscription model, the peer-to-peer rental market
  • The future of circular fashion, challenges and opportunities:
    • Untapped opportunities for technological solutions, particularly for sorting and fiber identification
    • Better access to shopping circular solutions is required to satisfy consumer demand for sustainable fashion
    • Ongoing education of consumers on the environmental impact of fashion and the specific benefits of the sustainable solution
  • Further reading on circularity in fashion and beyond:
    • Future of Circularity Report, Accenture
    • A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future
    • The Nike Circular Design Guide