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
TopShop launched a new edition of its Reclaim sustainable fashion line last week, an ongoing effort that recycles old garments and excess material into new styles.
Now on its fifth line, the initiative — which first started in 1997 as part of the retailer’s partnership with environmentally friendly fashion company Reclaim to Wear — is continuing to focus on reducing textile waste. TopShop first began selling the clothes in 2012 in collaboration with Reclaim to Wear designers Orsola de Castro and Filippo Ricci, a duo that specialize in repurposing discarded clothing and excess fabric as new pieces.
Items in the latest collection range in cost from $35 to $125 and are available in select brick-and-mortar stores in the U.S., U.K., the Netherlands, Hong Kong and online.
“With all the environmental challenges we are facing, the fashion industry is looking for design solutions for the future. Sometimes, to be really innovative, you have to take the best from the past and bring it to the future,” Castro and Ricci wrote in the TopShop blog when the first line launched in 2012.
The collection is inspired by the ’90s, and pays lip service to doing good deeds with its “Call to Action Faction” slogan. The ’90s nostalgia play has been adopted this past summer and fall including Urban Outfitters, a TopShop competitor which launched throwback collaborations with Tommy Jeans, Calvin Klein, Wrangler, Fila and Adidas Originals. Urban Outfitters also has a recycled fashion effort called Urban Renewal, which selects clothing from vintage and flea markets and adds its own spin before selling it at a markup.
TopShop’s line also comes on the heels of Zara’s recent foray into sustainability. The brand launched its first ever environmentally friendly line, which includes garments sourced with sustainable materials. As part of the effort it implemented a series of recycled clothing receptacles at 300 locations across Europe, with plans to expand further. H&M has had a Conscious Collection line since 2012.
“It is a priority for us to minimize textile waste across all of our product categories,” Jacqui Markham, TopShop’s global design director, said in a statement.
Sara Radin, youth culture editor at WGSN, said the concept of recycling materials sets TopShop and Urban Outfitters apart from competitors like Zara and H&M, who are ultimately propagating waste and draining resources even if their products are sourced sustainably.
“A sustainable label is still creating more waste and using up resources,” Radin said. “A re-use label is smart because it goes one step further. It’s rethinking the entire production process to ensure nothing is wasted.”
Radin said TopShop’s efforts connect with consumers in a new way, and serves as an alternative to vintage shopping, particularly as shoppers start to turn their back to fast fashion retailers in an effort to find unique items made in a more ethical manner.
“There’s psychology behind it. I feel good when I buy vintage clothing,” she said. “A recycled clothing line is a big brand’s answer to appealing to young shoppers like me who have abandoned fast retailers to only shop vintage. It’s a way to bring them back into stores and show consumers they’re going one step further.”
*This story first appeared on Glossy