Take back programs, clothing rentals, and resale apps are hot topics in fashion right now, and for good reason. The planet is heating up, and brands are starting to notice that it’s time to do something about all of the clothing we have.
Roughly 85% of clothing worldwide ends up in landfills. As more governments implement sustainability legislation to tackle these staggering numbers, brands are beginning to seriously consider their supply chains and other ways to reduce their environmental impact. One concept we see floating around the industry is the circularity model.
What is circularity?
The main idea behind circularity is that, when the end consumer is finished with the product, it returns to the supply chain instead of the landfill. Consider the shirt you’re wearing. What will happen to it when it's no longer wearable? Is it made of natural fibres, synthetic materials, or a blend? It’s composition will determine if it can be recycled back into a fibre, downcycled into insulation/filler material, or sent to landfill.
When products are designed with circularity in mind, the end of life is considered alongside the beginning so that, at the end of it’s days, it can be recycled back into fibre and returned to the supply chain.
Some ways that brands implement circularity into their supply chains is through take back programs. These are usually incentivized, and involve gifting the customer a store credit in exchange for their old clothing. The clothing is then sent to textile recycling facilities, sorted, and either turned back into fibre that the brand can use, or it enters a different stage of recycling.
What’s the hold up?
If a circular business model helps keep clothing out of landfills, why aren’t more brands participating in these programs? If we know the model works, how do we scale these initiatives globally?
The answer comes in a few parts. For one, we have to go back to that initial concept behind designing for circularity: when products are designed to close the loop, the end is considered alongside the beginning. Circular brands are, out of the gate, designing clothing with the intention of re-entering the supply chain. Because of this, they are usually using only one material per garment, such as 100% cotton or linen, which makes the recycling process infinitely easier.
When you consider that the majority of clothing is made of blended materials, you can see how this may complicate the process. There are currently very limited resources for recycling blended materials. Material recycling has largely been underfunded and managed by non-profits. While more funding and scaling opportunities are entering the picture, the sustainability sector is still behind the times and competing with the very established fast fashion industry.
The way forward
While it’s a far cry from a fully closed loop system, the industry has seen key changes in the past few years. With the rise of resale apps and in-house brand reselling, more clothing sees a new life, or multiple, rather than being sent to thrift stores or landfills.
We’re also seeing increased consumer demand for supply chain transparency and sustainability metrics. As more brands seek organizations like Green Story for their Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and transparency data, the closer we get to important changes at the manufacturing level.
“Doing an LCA is a great way to attract investors who care about supporting impact-based companies and shows how our commitment to climate measurement makes a positive difference,” says Green Story client, Suzanne Siemens, co-founder and CEO, Aisle.
While it’s not a perfect solution, brands and consumers are beginning to grasp the importance of diverting clothing from landfills and tracking its impact on the environment.