Circular fashion focuses on the entire life cycle of a fashion product. From shoes, clothes, and accessories, they are designed, sourced, manufactured and delivered in a responsible way that is circulated within society for as long as possible. With the equivalent of one dump truck of textiles becoming landfill or burned every second, by 2025 the clothing waste accumulated will weigh as much as today’s world population.
Circular fashion is about sustainability and increasing the life span of a clothing garment. No longer can luxury brands ignore this imperative topic. Pieces should be designed with longevity in mind, with the material being eco-friendly. The manufacturing needs to be fair and ethical, where workers and animal rights are taken into consideration. Once the article has been exhausted by the consumer, it should be repurposed ready for second-hand use. This will lessen the amount of landfill created by the fashion industry and support the life of our planet.
Unethical Work Conditions
In previous years, consumers have been extremely detached to the manufacturing of the clothing they buy. This isn’t entirely their fault, with many brands not forthright about where they manufacture their lines. This lack of transparency has led to unsafe and underpaid working conditions for manufacturer workers.
The Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in 2013 was a leading catalyst, and the documentary, ‘The True Cost’ by Andrew Morgan opened our eyes and shed light on the unethical work conditions the fashion industry was taking part in.
Organisations such as Fashion Revolution and Labour Behind the Label have since began campaigning against this, and the luxury industry is stepping up to take responsibility.
In addition to this, consumers are also stepping up to the plate by voicing their sustainable values through their platforms and only purchasing from those that are eco-friendly.
With the environment being impacted by copious amounts of cheap clothing, it’s no surprise that a leading polluter in the fashion industry is fast fashion brands. Buying knockoffs and items within a few days of them making the catwalk is fast fashion in a nutshell. The lack of quality and the use of synthetic materials means that these garments are not durable enough to resell. The manufacturing process includes dyeing and washing materials using water and pesticides, which makes them challenging to recycle.
With fast fashion companies starting to evaluate their environmental footprint, consumers are still sceptical of their intentions and whether they are purely to avoid public scrutiny. On H&M’s website, they declare to work towards a 100% circular business model focusing on extending the lifespan of their products. However, in 2017 H&M was exposed for burning 12 tons of unsold clothing since 2013. With the same issue again in 2018, H&M told New York Times that they intend to lower prices further to move stock and encourage consumers to buy.
This alone suggests that while fast fashion companies continue to copy luxury items, they are less able to meet the ethical standards for the life cycle of fashion clothing, and therefore even more unlikely to have repair and upgrade services available.
The Ethically Minded Shopper
Luxury brands have always been considered sustainable by exclusivity. Being of quality and durable materials, luxury pieces were intended to be timeless and something that was kept forever, and even inherited through generations. Luxury brands therefore address the relationship between fashion and sustainability far better than fast fashion brands do. By fostering sustainability values, luxury brands, together with consumers, can potentially overcome some of the environmental problems created primarily by the fast fashion industry.
And this is exactly what has been happening over the past several years. With Millennials and Generation Z leading the way, a shift has occurred to align with the growing ethical considerations for the planet and the impact of fashion. With the younger generations having grown accustomed to discussing their lives on social media, they have also become vocal in sharing their environmental thoughts, and what brands align with their values based on sustainability.
They are eager to swap and recycle materials and Covid 19 only accelerated the growing support for circular products. With consumers under 25 years old contributing 5-15% of luxury sales today, it is forecasted that they will become the biggest consumption group by 2030. These consumers are highly concerned with the plant’s health, and to create a connection with them, the luxury industry needed to progress into a sustainable industry with a positive development strategy that addresses sustainability concerns.
Who is Leading the Way?
Vestiaire Collective is one sustainable business leading the path within the luxury fashion industry. Recently, Alexander McQueen became the first to sign up to the project that encourages customers to extend the lifespan of their garments. This helped to secure a significant amount of investment supported by Kering, the owner of Gucci, Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga just to name a few.
The Alexander McQueen project invites customers to return clothing and accessories they no longer wear in exchange for store credit. Those garments are then sold to Vestiaire to be sold under the brand approved label. The project goes even further to create a deeply sustainable industry by focusing on traceability. Each piece has a contactless hangtag that can be scanned to confirm details and authentication of the item. This gives customers transparency when it come to the history and authenticity of the item.
LegitGrails is another organization supporting sustainable-focused fashion businesses and customers. LegitGrails creates a secure platform where clients can provide item details to be authenticated so that they avoid purchasing fake items. The outcome of the verification process is an authentication certificate which is provided to the client and is unique to every order.
Clothing consumption is set to rise by 63% by 2030, with items being worn up to 40% less compared to 10 years ago. Being one of the most polluting industries, the fashion industry has pushed up mass over-production due to the consumer need for on trend items. The fashion industry can no longer continue with this model, and the circular fashion option is a great solution that allows consumers access to fashion without the production of new pieces.
How to make your wardrobe circular?
So, how do you create a circular wardrobe? It’s important to go through and clear out anything that isn’t worn to sell or donate. Keeping an ‘edited’ wardrobe where less is more is the best way to go. When purchasing, always buy quality and durable pieces, that are easily recycled or swapped.
Staple pieces are important as well as layering options that can be easily adaptable to any trend. Investing in these staple pieces first are economical in the long run as they can be worn year-round and add to any trending pieces. Plain t-shirts, tanks, blouses, day to night dresses, leather jackets, blazers, denim jeans, comfy sneakers, and a pair of good heals are all great wardrobe staples. Once a staple wardrobe is established, it’s about adding second hand garments or renting items to fill out the rest of the wardrobe.
Future shopping investments should be made with timelessness and durability in mind. Trending pieces still have a place, but increasingly so does second-hand and vintage options. The second-hand market was previously misunderstood and ignored by the fashion industry, today however, this sustainable solution demonstrates style, personality, and eccentric fashion options where vintage and second-hand pieces are mixed with newer items.
The life cycle of fashion has entered a new chapter, with the focus on circular fashion and how sustainable that life cycle is. With previous generations motivated by exclusivity of luxury items, designer repurposing and resale is no longer being met with the resistance it once was.
Younger generations are leading the way by adopting circular fashion to develop their own sense of style in a sustainable manner.
Fast fashion brands are being held accountable for their impact on the environment as well as their responsibility towards unethical manufacturing conditions.
Organizations such as Vestiaire Collective and LegitGrails are making steps towards improving the sustainability of the fashion industry, and luxury designer brands are genuinely reinventing their model based on circular fashion. These steps towards an industry-wide transformation is a key solution to the negative environmental impact of fashion overconsumption.
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