All We Do Is ‘Take – Make – Waste’. It is Time for Some Circular Fashion
‘Circular Fashion’ is rapidly becoming a buzzword in the fashion industry, especially when it comes to sustainability. The fashion industry has been consciously moving towards a sustainable future, but the process is slow. It isn’t easy to erase years and years of damage and the blueprint that has been engraved into the fabric of the industry. Less than one per cent of clothing is recycled into new garments and the fashion industry generates thirteen kilograms of waste for every person on the planet. Even with the growing sustainable labels and conscious consumers, we are nowhere near making enough of a difference, because eventually, things get thrown away. But with circular fashion, things can be a bit different.
What is Circular Fashion?
In 2014, Anna Brismar, a global expert in circularity and sustainability coined the term ‘circular fashion’, and later defined it as,
“Clothes, shoes or accessories that are designed, sourced, produced and provided with the intention to be used and circulate responsibly (towards humans, living beings and the planet) and effectively in society for as long as possible, in their most valuable form, and hereafter return safely to the biosphere when no longer of human use.”
As a name suggests, it is a system that is circular, it starts and ends, for the most part, in the same place. A circular fashion system or industry is one where waste and pollution are designed out. Products and materials are kept in use for as long as possible. This includes reusing and recycling.
So, is Sustainable Fashion Circular?
The model we usually see today is primarily based on a linear model. Resources are obtained from the planet, turned into products and then discarded once they have served their purpose and are no longer required. There may be some reuse and recycling through the way but ultimately it is still ‘take-make-waste’.
The same usually goes for sustainable clothing. It is sourced ethically, made from raw materials that are, well, sustainable. They are probably recycled fabrics or organic fabrics, but those too once used, over a period of time, get discarded.
Instead, a more ‘sustainable’ approach would be more circular—keeping resources within a loop of use. Once extracted, they remain in circulation for as long as possible through products that are used and reused and can be easily recycled into raw materials to use in production without the need to extract new resources.
And yes, a circular model is more than just non-linear. It also ensures that the ‘take’ and ‘make’ parts are also sustainable and renewable.
But What Happens When It Can No Longer Be Within the Circle?
Well, we cannot assume that the system is perfect. We cannot assume that all products will remain within circulation forever, so there needs to be a protocol for the end-of-life stage of the circle. This is where if the product can no longer be used either whole, for its parts or recycled back into raw materials, it can be disposed of without harming the environment. So as long as it simply becomes part of the environment, without harming a hair on mother earth’s head, we’re good.
Circular Fashion in India
The Circular Design Challenge (CDC)
The Circular Design Challenge launched in collaboration with Fashion for Earth by R|Elan, UN Environment and Lakmè Fashion Week. It is one of India’s first and largest sustainable fashion awards for the fashion, textiles and apparel industry. It is a platform for young fashion and accessory designers and entrepreneurs to showcase their creativity whilst using materials from diverse waste sources including plastic to win a prize for their innovative ideas and collections. According to the Circular Design Challenge guidelines, the designers are required to incorporate circular components across the textile value chain in their designs. They were evaluated and scored on the usage of waste in their collection, fashion & aesthetic quotient, business viability/scalability, value chain and collaborations.
The Circular Design Challenge and, Fashion for Good, collaborated to conduct a special masterclass on Circular Fashion during Lakme Fashion Week Winter Festive 2019. This workshop helped the fashion fraternity understand the need for innovations in circular design and reduce the impact of waste in the industry.
Circular Changemakers is an investment readiness programme for circular fashion start-ups.
They are bridging key gaps through their programmes and building an ecosystem for a more sustainable and circular fashion industry. They believe that a circular economy for textiles and apparel is the key to solving the industry’s challenges and that we need to work together to identify, amplify, and integrate circular innovations from across the supply chain to realise their vision of a circular apparel economy. Through Circular Changemakers, they aim to drive strategic investments and partnerships for innovators working to make the textile & apparel industry circular.
We do have these organisations doing the work, trying to spread the word about circular fashion, but honestly, is it enough? Is a fashion competition and a seminar or two going to do enough to get everyone on board? Because events like these usually have a very specific audience that is nowhere near the population of our country. The system of circular fashion will only work when companies, as well as consumers, work in tandem.
Fashion companies must ensure that their clothing and accessories are designed using recyclable and reusable materials, while consumers must reduce their environmental impact by reusing and recycling garments thus, supporting the development of the next generation of sustainable and recycled fibres. Therefore, the ethical responsibility lies at both ends of a garment’s life—when it is being produced as well as when it is being consumed. So there is much more that needs to be done in order for circular fashion to establish itself fully.
How Companies Can Work Towards A Circular Future
- Use fabrics with single raw materials. And ensure that products made from multiple materials can easily be undone to aid recyclability.
- Consider how waste in the supply chain from garment offcuts and packaging can be collected and reused or recycled through internal processes or working with partner organisations.
- Assess what materials are used in production that prevents recycling, then work with towards replacing them with recyclable alternatives or discontinue them altogether.
- Use your social media and other platforms of influence to spread the word about circular fashion, how it can be implemented and the positive effects it can have on our future.
How Consumers Can Work Towards A Circular Future
- It may seem expensive at first, but save up and invest in sustainable clothing that will last you a long time so that you can keep your garments in the cycle for as long as you possibly can.
- Wash your clothes with care, use detergents that will not harm the fibres of your clothing, hence increasing their longevity.
- Don’t resort to getting rid of clothes that have rips, tears or stains. Figure out how you can repair them yourself.
- Do your research, and buy from brands that have the same values as you do.
- And of course, use your influence, your social media and spread the word so that others may also become aware of circular fashion.
We have been damaging the planet for so incredibly long, that our individual impact, at this point, may not be completely effective. It’s becoming increasingly clear that without a larger movement, our daily efforts alone will not be enough. But somehow if we can come together as companies and consumers and create a circular system of fashion, I’m sure we can have a brighter, more sustainable future.