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A circular economy for fashion provides an exciting opportunity for an industry that is truly sustainable for people, planet, and profit. However, to realize this potential, the traditional systems with which we design, produce, consume, and dispose of fashion must fundamentally change. A circular economy requires a more complex and collaborative industry than we have ever had before.
The fashion supply chain as we know it is made up of a complex system of operations that turn fiber into fashion. Traditionally, the scope of responsibility for a garment and its impacts is passed downstream, ending at the point of sale when ownership is transferred to the conscience of the customer.
As eyes have increasingly opened to the impacts of fashion production and disposal however, questions of extended producer responsibility have risen to the top of the agenda. Now, the boundaries of the fashion supply chain have been expanded to include the post-consumer system that aims to extend the life of product and materials.
That said, adding end-of-life processes onto the end of a linear model does not inherently make the system circular. To achieve a circular economy, the end of the system must be successfully linked back to the start with waste materials and garments becoming feedstock for new raw materials.
To achieve this, the fashion industry must implement unprecedented collaboration within the supply chain and with its customers.
In a circular economy, all stakeholders must be aligned with shared values and goals because the success of a circular initiative is inherently linked to the actions that come before, and after in the supply chain. Designing a garment for circularity does little good if a customer disposes of it after use in a landfill instead of keeping it within the system.
To design for the end, from the very start as the circular economy requires, we must redistribute responsibility and restructure the traditional methods of work. The entire supply chain must work together as one, in contrast to the status quo which sees stakeholders operating in isolation of one another. By dismantling these silos, we can increase insight, innovation, and collaboration which will enable the successful transition to a circular economy.
In the next and last week of this series, we explore the need for end-of-life processes and address the limitations of textile recycling.
Editor’s Note: This is the first feature in a four-part series that leads up to Earth Day and explores the circular economy and what it means for the future of sustainable fashion.
Author: Teslin Doud