Transforming the fashion industry into a circular model: how are brands creating change?
22 Mar 2021
It is no secret that environmental impact has become the priority for the fashion industry. While most of us know fast fashion and mass production are the key drivers of environmental issues (generating around 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions every year according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ), consumers are still struggling to size the impact they have at an individual scale. Can you imagine buying 5 or 6 new t-shirts is equivalent to an average water footprint of 10-20 thousand liters?
The same way we don’t realize the negative impact our actions can have, we often forget the positive impact we can create, simply by giving clothing a second life for example.
So what if we’d just forget about fast fashion? What if for an entire year everybody bought pre loved clothes instead of new? The environmental impact would be impressive. It was estimated we could save the equivalent of water need for all California for 14 years (13T gallons of water), the annual power consumption of 32 million homes (350 billion KwH of electricity) and 165 billion lbs of C02 or as if all the cars of LA were taken of the road for 4 years.
Naturally such a radical scenario isn’t realistic. Accordingly, how do we make a difference right now? The fashion industry is complex, it involves a variety of chains going from raw materials to the disposal of clothes. Achieving sustainability will require bringing change at every step. However, some measures have already been taken, in efforts to close the loop and transform the fashion industry in a force for the good of our planet.
Starting at the beginning of the supply chain: the creation of textile. Here, innovation has already led to a scalable solution, recycling. It might seem like an obvious answer to the problem, but “up until now, the fashion industry has relied on growing more cotton, using more water, spraying more chemicals and pumping more oil to be able to lower prices and sell as much as possible. The modus operandi has been: bigger, faster, cheaper and more wasteful,” says Patrik Lundström, CEO of Sweden-based Renewcell. As of 2015, less than 1 percent of all garments are recycled back into clothes. To finally close that gap and democratize recycling, emerging brand Renewcell developed a technology to dissolve cotton and other fibres and transform them into biodegradable raw material called Circulose® pulp. The company recently entered a partnership with H&M group marking a great step forward in the shift towards circularity in the fashion industry. Other examples of businesses innovating in this space include Infinited Fiber and Worn Again.
After manufacturing comes packaging. We have witnessed sustainable alternatives to carton boxes and plastic wraps emerge in large numbers in recent years. One of the biggest and most trusted eco friendly box providers is EcoEnclose. They offer anything from biodegradable cushioning to custom brand boxes with algae ink for a completely sustainable shipping experience! Alternatives are widely accessible: brands can choose from a number of businesses with unique offerings like fully compostable cornstarch mailing bags , polyester alternatives made from sugar cane, packaging sources from certified FSC environmentally managed forests, and many more. Even though these solutions may be pricier, the benefits are worth it. While reducing the amount of plastic in circulation which can take up from 15 up to a 1000 years to decompose, and reducing the carbon footprint, these solutions are also good for business! Research has shown 49% of consumers are willing to pay a little more for eco-friendly packaging.
Finally, at the end of the supply chain there are solutions aimed at extending the life of garments. These have the potential to reduce the amount of garments ending up in landfills while at the same time tackling the issue of overproduction. Emerging models like Reflaunt give brands the opportunity to offer resale services for items they no longer wear, so customers can reconcile their passion for fashion with environmental consciousness. Reflaunt’s technology facilitates circularity within the fashion industry, and enables consumers to unlock a return on investment of the pieces they owned while giving them a second life.
Moreover, the same way Reflaunt allows reselling on several marketplaces, the startup will soon be allowing customers to recycle their items through different solutions including the possibility of upcycling past garments with Yellow Octopus. The objective being to facilitate the upcycling of any garment they could not give a second life to.
These innovations give great hope for the future. We just need engagement and service adoption from all stakeholders of the fashion ecosystem. Eco-friendly alternatives do exist, and opinion leaders are supporting the change, creating momentum for us to act upon. As Stella McCartney put it, “The future of fashion is circular. It has to be.”