Glossy 101: Circular fashion, explained
As fashion brands continue to identify ways to use recycled materials and curb emissions, the term “circular fashion” has been popping up more and more. So, what in the world is it?
In a nutshell, circular fashion is a product of the circular process, which involves integrating recycled resources into supply chains. It’s a nice idea, but for a lot of brands, going there is easier said than done. Levi’s has been successful at converting plastic bottles to denim, but most fashion brands have experienced great difficulty navigating the circular fashion model. Many have offered standalone recycled fashion lines—think Eileen Fisher’s Remade line, which is produced using discarded designs, and TopShop’s Reclaim effort—but very few have actually started integrating recycled materials into production.
The reason? It’s complicated. That’s why we decided to break it down: Here’s what you should know about the circular fashion movement—specifically, how brands are working to join it in order to change the system.
What is a circular material, exactly?
A circular material is a recycled material, part of the larger circular economy founded upon the traditional concept of “reduce, reuse, recycling.” These materials are designed to prevent the introduction of new resources into the supply chain by reimagining those already in the mix as new garments—high-quality garments, that is—using volume collaboration.
Volume collaboration? Give me the short version.
Volume collaboration is the result of multiple brands sharing materials—such as dyes, chemicals, trims, yarns and base fabrics—that they use to create fully designed garments. H&M, Stella McCartney and Tommy Hilfiger are among brands that are working together by sharing materials. In doing so, they are ensuring that those they use are as environmentally friendly and recyclable as possible.
Last week in a webinar hosted by Fashion Positive, H&M sustainability expert Cecilia Brannsten said that working together is vital to instigating change, since it can often be difficult for one brand to move the needle on issues like dye pollution. “The change will happen a lot quicker if there are more of us trying to do it, working on this in parallel, because we can do a lot of good together,” Brannsten said.
Who writes the rules on circular fashion?
Fashion Positive Plus—it’s an extension of an initiative led by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, which was founded in 2014 to increase the use of circular materials by identifying, certifying and scaling them for the fashion industry. It’s focused on sharing insights and best practices around circular materials as well as integrating them into supply chains.
What does it take to get the “circular” label?
Fashion Positive has a Critical Materials list featuring the “high-priority, critical materials needed for circular fashion,” according to the site. These materials are assessed with five categories in mind: material health, material reutilization, renewable energy, water stewardship and social fairness.
“We have set a vision at H&M—a really bold vision—to be 100 percent circular”
– Cecilia Brannsten, H&M sustainability expert
Does Fashion Positive work with any big-name designers?
Stella McCartney, a designer who has been a vocal proponent of sustainable fashion, is working to create a Cradle to Cradle Certified material to use in her knitwear collections. Likewise, participating brands like H&M, are working with the group to introduce such materials into production in order to reach lofty goals, like becoming a fully sustainable company. “We have set a vision at H&M—a really bold vision—to be 100 percent circular,” Brannsten said in the webinar last week. “What that means is we want to have a circular approach to how products are produced and will only use circular or sustainably sourced materials.”
What’s next for circular fashion?
Recycled fashion can be difficult to scale, since most garments aren’t designed with circular materials in mind. In the future, organizations like Fashion Positive, in tandem with brands dedicated to the mission, may be able to help promote the use of materials that are most conducive to recycling.
*This story first appeared on Glossy
As part of Circulate’s collaboration with the Disruptive Innovation Festival, we’re featuring insight from some of this year’s Open Mic contributors in advance of their performance at the DIF. Find out more at thinkdif.co, and don’t forget to tune into this session live at 18:00 GMT on November 11th.
The problem in the fashion industry isn’t fashion itself: it’s the harmful impact of creating that fashion and the waste generated when that fashion is landfilled instead of circulated indefinitely.
So for those of you who love clothes there is hope. We don’t have to fear fashion as an ugly bad habit, but something that can be reinvented through innovation and dedication.
What if the clothes we wore improved the lives of the people who made them and the environment in which they were produced? What if when we were done with our clothes they continued to live long and full lives with others until one day they were turned into new resources?
Fashion is going through a transformative change right now. More than ever before, brands, customers and the media are highlighting the problems and solutions the industry is grappling with. Ever since the 1990’s the stories of human rights abuses have been brought to light, and each year apparel companies are attacked for those abuses. Now environmental and animal welfare issues are included in those stories. The more transparent the supply chain gets, the more customers are demanding to know “who made my clothes”. Campaigns like Fashion Revolution drive continued attention to the subject. This is a good thing.The more each of us learn about the issue and what we can do to update our buying behaviors to promote better supply chain practices, the more the industry will shift.
As the options for buying more ethical clothing increases, the attention is also moving towards the amount of clothing we buy and what do we do with our clothes when we are done with them. Currently Americans now buy five times as much clothing as they did in 1980. That’s a lot of clothes.
Trying to fix the apparel industry is more than a daunting task. It is a systemic change that needs to happen. But it isn’t quite as scary when you look at it through a circular economy lens. In fact, looking at it through this lens creates a beautiful, simplistic path for design, production and use of a product. Now we have to integrate that beautiful simplicity into an archaic industry. Luckily there are many working on this, slowly creating solutions that patched together will produce an incredible web of change. Designing differently is already happening as companies start to create products that can actually get recycled. The Cradle to Cradle’s Fashion Positive program is creating a library of Cradle to Cradle materials. Apparel brands are creating systems for collection and processing, and recycling technologies are evolving from ideas to implementable solutions.
The Renewal Workshop fits into this new model well, providing brands and retailers the infrastructure and manufacturing ability to create a new model of business. One where clothing is assessed at its highest utility and kept there. All the resources that went into making a dress in the first place should be conserved and maintained. The renewal process does this assessment and identifies clothing that through cleaning and repair are resold again to a certified standard. While higher priced items like cars and electronics have a history of strong used sales channels, we are now in a time where other products can begin exploring this.
Fashion is a statement of who we are. We make conscious choices every day about what to wear. Some of that based on function, and some of it is a statement of our personalities. The need and interest to wear clothing is not going away, so new innovations need to happen to ensure that there is an industry to provide us these clothes.
The way we make clothes is one part, the next part is the care and thought about how we use the clothes made, then we must innovate what we do with those clothes when we are done. While we might get bored of a piece of clothing, the clothing itself might not be done and so with an investment in circular systems we will ensure the value of those products are able to live on.
*This story first appeared on Circulate News
By Annie Gullingsrud
First, let me set the landscape for you: Per the U.S. EPA 2012 report, 28 billion pounds of textiles is discarded by U.S. homes annually. That’s about 70 pounds per person. Only 4.2 billion pounds (15%) of that is donated or recycled. Leaving 85% or just under 24 billion pounds of textile waste going to U.S. landfills.
Not-to-mention, even donated clothing can end up in the landfill, too. Sometimes these clothes get sold overseas, make the long journey to get there, are not sold, and end up in the trash.
Let’s take a moment to reflect on the effort, time and resources required to make the clothes we wear: There’s the creativity, use of the earth’s resources, water, energy, the people, chemical use (which can be toxic and bioaccumulative), time, and money. Is this how we treat something we value?—We bury it and assume it just ‘goes away.’
Well, it might be out of our immediate visual landscape, but the fact is, there really is no such thing as ‘away.’ Nope, it will sit, and sit and sit …. Valuable resources, buried in the ground for the next 500 years+. Synthetic fibers (e.g. polyester, nylon, elastane) won’t biodegrade in this lifetime and neither will blended synthetic/natural fibers (e.g. cotton/poly, cotton/spandex). Natural fibers will best decompose in a composting facility where there is just the right amount of air, temperature and sunlight (if the entire garment was designed to support this)… but in landfill can produce methane emissions, where, if not captured, are a powerful greenhouse gas.
THIS JUST DOESN’T MAKE SENSE.
This is the reality that we’re facing right now. We’re stuck in a system that doesn’t always make sense. That’s why our team at the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute feels so passionately about supporting an industry-wide perspective shift and being an active conduit to support the work.
Let’s stop treating our clothes as ‘waste.’
As the founders of Cradle to Cradle, William McDonough and Dr. Michael Braungart, so simply stated: “Nature operates according to a system of nutrients and metabolisms in which there is no such thing as waste.”[i]
Instead, waste actually equals food and nutrients for other systems and metabolisms. We’re talking about a smarter, eco-effective use of all that time, money and resources we put into making our clothes. Makes a lot more sense, right?
Also, there’s no such thing as “end of life,” there’s no such thing as “end of use.” Why? Because there’s no “end.” The word “end” insinuates completion. We’re not talking about a completion, but a continuation. The words we use on a daily basis can influence our perspective, attitude and behavior; so let’s get rid of the word “end” when we’re talking about textiles.
Let’s look to natural systems for inspiration: We can find an example in the earth’s hydrologic cycle, the continuous movement of water on the earth. The mass of water remains constant overtime, but moves through the physical processes of evaporation, condensation, precipitation, infiltration, runoff and subsurface flow through one reservoir to another. It’s like the air, rivers, oceans, streams, atmosphere, mountains are all just “borrowers” of the molecules until it hands if off to the next “borrower.” In this system, there’s no downcycling or downgrading of the molecules in that process, just the continuous movement to the next physical process that could make good use of it. Quite stunning isn’t it? –
Cradle to Cradle by-design emulates natural systems. Let’s start looking at textile and apparel materials as we would the hydrologic cycle: Borrowers use the molecules or materials and hand them off to another borrower who will use those molecules and materials and then will pass them off to another. Repeat. There’s no end, no waste. Again, quite stunning isn’t it?
Last year, the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute and Fashion Positive joined the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s (SAC) “Recycling Innovation Working Group,” a working group focused on identifying opportunities for fiber recycling of pre-consumer and postconsumer feedstock into virgin-quality yarns.
As an effort to continue the work that began with the SAC, the Institute will be leading the continuation of this group. The Institute has gathered a collective of global innovative fiber recyclers/manufacturers and big apparel brands set out to achieve one goal: support and facilitate the development of chemical fiber recycling technologies to allow for Cradle to Cradle solutions and innovations for pre-consumer and post-consumer waste/feedstock into new virgin-quality yarn.
The group kicks off in September with a series of calls that will culminate in an in-person meeting during the Cradle to Cradle Products Symposium in NYC on November 12. The in-person meeting will be a collaborative gathering of global brands and 10 innovative fiber recycling companies that will present their innovations to the group. The group will then decide on next steps for 2016—which is potentially to include leveraging industry investment to support the work.
Stayed tuned for more exciting updates.
[i] Excerpt From: William McDonough & Michael Braungart. “Cradle to Cradle.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/lfdxw.l.”
**This story first appeared on the Fashion Positive blog here.