Circular Fashion Guide: Better Than Just Sustainable Fashion

They say that we’re trying to be kinder to the planet but in 2018, only 14.7% of textiles used in America were recycled rather than disposed of. 

That number is worse when it comes to the materials in footwear, only 13% of footwear gets recycled, the rest, gets trashed. 

If we want to live sustainably, we need to do better than this and that’s where circular fashion comes in. 

What Is Circular Fashion?

This concept of a circular fashion industry is much more than recycling. Or just shopping at thrift stores.

circular fashion recycled fabric

It is a set of principles with practical applications designed to rid the fast fashion industry of waste and pollution. 

It focuses on keeping products and materials in use once they’ve been manufactured and which support the regeneration of natural systems when they are disposed of. 

Circular Fashion Is Designed To Result In Zero Waste

If you thought that only 14.7% of textiles being recycled was bad, the truth is that only 1% of the world’s clothing gets recycled into new garments! 

A circular fashion economy aims to change this, by applying a focus on zero waste throughout the lifecycle of the item. 

  • Designing for zero waste can include modifying the manufacturing process to ensure that no material is left surplus after making the item or taking the waste from one process and using it in another. 
  • Designing for recycling – one of the reasons that we don’t recycle clothes very often is because either the fittings (such as buttons or zippers) won’t recycle easily or they contain materials such as Spandex which won’t recycle. Clothing can be designed for recycling instead. Some of our favorite recycled shoe brands use these principles. 
  • Designing for repair – some companies including big names like Patagonia, have now started to take back the items that they sell when they wear out and repair them for resale rather than disposal. 
  • Designing for textile-to-textile recycling – this is when the materials that are used are designed specifically for reworking when it’s finished with. It’s a very new area of research but several startups are working on polymer-style materials which will break down into polymers that can easily be spun back into yarn. 
  • Designing for biodegradabilitybrands like Adidas have also started to look at using materials that naturally biodegrade when the product reaches the end of its life and which return their nutrients to the natural environment as they do so. 

Consumer Behavior Will Drive A Circular Economy

The fashion industry has encouraged consumers to immerse themselves in “fast fashion brands” but consumers, who care about the planet, can easily modify their buying patterns to drive a circular approach to fashion:

  • Buying higher quality products and, in turn, buying fewer products. Think sustainable underwear brand, rather than disposable cheap underwear. Ensuring that the entire life cycle is considered from the very beginning to the end. Often a retailer’s digital platform is better than a high street retail one from this perspective too.
  • Buying second hand, vintage, thrift, resold, etc. clothing rather than new clothing. Reused materials are better than recylced materials. This may not be a great business model, in the linera economy, for the industry but circular design demands piecces be reused when possible.
  • Renting and leasing clothing products rather than buying them. New clothes that weren’t destined to become old clothes under your ownership don’t need to be purchased wheen they can be borrowed.

How To Play Your Part In The Circular Economy

sewing clothes

If you want to get involved then there are some simple principles you can apply to your fashion habits to make them more circular:

  • When you buy clothes, wear them until they wear out rather than casually disposing of them
  • When you can, borrow an item rather than buying it
  • Learn to fix your clothes, to remove stains and to clean them to safeguard their longevity
  • If you can’t fix your clothes, hire a professional to do so, you can also use a cobbler to fix shoes
  • Buy your clothing in thrift stores rather than new when possible
  • If you need something for a one-off occasion, rent it, don’t buy it
  • When your clothes run out, sell, swap, recycle or donate them – don’t dump them

Are There Circular Fashion Brands? 

Yes, there are plenty of fashion brands trying to be truly circular including the ten in our list below.

Even major brands are incorporating circular fashion principles in parts of their line up. 

Circular Fashion Vs Sustainable Fashion Vs Ethical Fashion – What Are The Differences? 

These three concepts may seem similar but there are differences between them.

Sustainable fashion is concerned with the impact of fashion on the environment. While it’s a noble principle, it’s hard for a large business to be truly sustainable. 

organic fashion

Circular fashion, on the other hand, is concerned with the impact of any individual garment and this seeks to improve the longevity, resource efficiency, biodegradability, etc. of garments. Circular fashion is thus a subset of sustainable fashion.

Ethical fashion, on the other hand, is primarily concerned with people and animals and how they are treated in manufacturing fashion. Most but not all circular fashion providers are striving to be ethical providers too.

In many ways, circular fashion principles are easier to apply than sustainable fashion principles.

They are concerned with maximizing the lifespan of each garment that we buy and then when it is disposed of, ensuring that it replenishes rather than harms the environment.