When we talk about the circular economy in the context of fashion, it is largely about the economic model that prioritises sustainability by minimising waste and maximising the lifespan of products. It stands in contrast to the traditional linear economy, where products are made, used, and then disposed of as waste. The circular economy in fashion promotes a closed-loop system, emphasising the continual use, reuse, and recycling of materials. There is not really a concept of ‘waste,’ as even materials that are thrown away in a circular economy are designed to be nutritious and beneficial to the environment (for example, organic cotton, which can act as a natural fertiliser when disposed of in soil).
The fashion industry is at an inflection point. As awareness of climate change deepens, consumers are increasingly scrutinising the environmental impact of fashion. They are demanding greater transparency and ethical responsibility from fashion brands because it's increasingly clear that sustainable practices not only reduce environmental harm but also uphold ethical standards, fostering a sense of trust and loyalty among conscious consumers.
Understanding the Circular Economy in Fashion
When we discuss the circular solutions that can be applied to the fashion industry, it's helpful to understand the linear model first within the context of the environmental impact it has. With a fair bit of simplicity, these are some of the steps and the impact they can have:
Extraction of Resources: The extraction of raw materials often involves intensive farming or mining practices, leading to deforestation, soil degradation, and habitat destruction.
Production: The manufacturing process can contribute to pollution, water consumption, and the release of harmful chemicals into the environment. For example, dyeing fabrics can result in water pollution.
Distribution: Transportation of fashion products over long distances contributes to carbon emissions and air pollution, especially if not done sustainably.
Consumption: Fast fashion encourages overconsumption, as consumers are driven to buy more clothes frequently. This contributes to resource depletion and environmental degradation.
Use: Washing and caring for clothes can lead to microfiber pollution, especially when synthetic fabrics shed microplastics into water systems.
Disposal: The disposal of clothing in landfills leads to a significant waste problem. Synthetic fabrics may take a long time to decompose, and decomposing textiles can release greenhouse gases.
Even with my simple little explanation, I think it’s clear to see the systemic impact the fashion industry has on the environment. With a doom and gloom mindset, it’s easy to get despondent and feel overwhelmed at the vast challenge we face here. But they can all be broken down into individual problems to be solved, and ingenious people are doing just this all around the world right now. Slowly but surely, we are solving these problems in the supply chain, and when applied on a global scale will revolutionise the industry. With the same steps in mind, these are some of the circular solutions that are helping to transform the supply chain:
Extraction of Resources: Using sustainable and organic materials, such as organic cotton or recycled polyester, can reduce the environmental impact of resource extraction.
Production: Promoting eco-friendly manufacturing processes, using renewable energy, and implementing closed-loop systems that minimise waste and pollution during production.
Distribution: Implementing local and regional sourcing to reduce transportation emissions. Embracing efficient distribution systems and considering innovative approaches like on-demand or 3D printing to minimise overproduction and waste.
Consumption: Encouraging conscious and sustainable consumption habits and emphasising quality over quantity. Promoting slow fashion and durability, discouraging the fast fashion model.
Use: Designing clothes for longevity and durability, and educating consumers on proper care to extend the lifespan of garments. Develop and promote washing solutions that capture microfibers to prevent pollution.
Disposal: Establish take-back programs, allowing consumers to return old clothing for repair, refurbishment, or recycling. Support initiatives that promote the resale or donation of used clothing.
The Role of Resale Marketplaces
Resale marketplaces can provide a very real solution to some of the issues mentioned above. While obviously not a silver bullet (nothing ever is), they can speak to the consumption, use, and disposal parts of the cycle. There is a collective feeling of trying to be better on these resale platforms. What do we mean by ‘be better’? It’s about challenging the status quo of shopping and finding joy in a new world of second-hand shopping. It’s now a bragging right when you find a ‘steal’ online. At Continue, we are making the process of buying and selling ridiculously easy, which we believe is empowering our users to partake in second-hand shopping.
We believe that it’s also crucial to educate people on these issues. There’s so much misinformation out there and an abundance of buzzwords designed to confuse us, but the more we learn, the more confident we become in making decisions. Resale marketplaces can provide real, authentic communities where we can all learn from each other. With an eco-conscious audience ever growing, distinguishing between greenwashing and genuine passion and care for the environment is crucial as it directs funds and footfall to the right organisations that are pushing change.
Resale platforms are putting money back into consumers' pockets. According to Wrap, British consumers have an estimated £30 billion worth of clothing left hanging unused in wardrobes. That is a colossal market that consumers are tapping into to top up their wallets. This income generation has a ripple effect on the rest of the economy, especially during these turbulent times. When you take a step back and look at what resale marketplaces have to offer, it truly feels like a seismic shift. They are not only creating new avenues for income but also offering a delightful alternative to conventional shopping habits, all the while making a positive impact on the environment. It feels like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?
In the realm of fashion, the circular economy emerges as a beacon of sustainability, challenging the linear model that has long dominated the industry. As we pivot towards a circular approach, the emphasis shifts from wastefulness to responsibility, from disposability to longevity.
The linear fashion model, with its extractive practices and disposal mindset, has significantly impacted the environment at every stage of the product life cycle. However, within this challenge lies an opportunity for transformation. The circular solutions we explore are not mere theories but actionable steps towards a more sustainable future.
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