Why the world needs circular economy in fashion

Three… the number of days I have worked on this blog post, trying to make it easy breezy. At some point I even scrapped it and started working on ’10 lush eco resorts that will make you wanderlusting’…

But I felt compelled to write this since I want to do more to ensure that long into the future we all continue to enjoy clean drinking water, fresh air (freshish if you live in a big city;-)), lush forests, snowcapped mountains and stunningly beautiful beaches; things we currently take for granted.

A Worrying Problem
According to recent figures released by the UN (March 2018), the “$2.5 trillion-dollar (approx. £1.8 trillion) fashion industry is the second highest user of water worldwide, producing 20% global water waste”. Furthermore, it is responsible for 10% of the global carbon emissions, 24% of the global consumption of insecticides and 11% of pesticides. Globally, roughly 21 billion tonnes of clothing end up in landfill every year. By my curious husband’s guesstimate, that is the equivalent of covering the entirety of the UK with old clothing 43cm deep every year*. Most concerning in the report is that “if consumption continues at its current rate, there will be three times as many natural resources needed by 2050 compared to what was used in 2000”.
As I said, not easy breezy reading... 

A Good Solution
The upside? There is a way in which we can continue to enjoy everything we love including fashion; by embracing a circular economy.
WRAP (the Waste and Resources Action Programme) has neatly defined the concept as: “an alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life”.
Another way to think about it is that, while “recycling” focussed on reusing products and material, and “sustainability” expands upon this with additional focus on how the products are produced, the circular economy expands on these ideals to ensure that, according to the EU commission, “the value of products and materials is maintained for as long as possible. Waste and resource use are minimised, and when a product reaches the end of its life, it is used again to create further value.”

The two visuals below, borrowed from the Ellen McArthur Foundation, illustrate the difference between the current linear economy in fashion and a circular economy:

Traditional Economy (make, use, dispose)

Circular Economy

In 2005, Dame Ellen McArthur became the fastest sailor to circumnavigate the globe, an incredible feat in itself.
Even more impressive and inspirational is her creation of the Ellen McArthur foundation in 2010 with the “aim of accelerating the transition to a circular economy” and got some pretty big partners in the fashion industry on board; Burberry, Gap Inc., H&M, Nike and Stella McCartney.
She is also working together with the organisers of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit on a project to ‘Make Fashion Circular’.

The sixth edition of the fashion summit took place last week, with 1300 key players from across the globe attending. The year before, in 2017, the Global Fashion Agenda had called for a 2020 commitment from fashion brands and retailers. Since then 93 companies, representing 207 brands and 12% of the global fashion market, have signed the commitment and set their own targets within the 4 action points mentioned below:

  1. Design strategies
  2. Increase volume garments collected
  3. Increase volume garments resold
  4. Increase share of garments made from recycled post-consumer textile fibres

The companies will be required to report on their progress once a year, and while some may think that some of the major players (and culprits) are getting off lightly by setting their own targets, it does create a healthy competition between the brands as well as transparency.
Most of the brands are sticking to targets within points 1 and 4, and especially point 4 can have a significant impact when it comes to closing the loop.

At present, the following fibres can be recycled: cotton, polyamide, polyester and wool. And in their recycled shape, they are among the highest rated eco-friendly fabrics due to the savings in water, energy, oil, pesticides etc compared to producing the virgin fibres.

VILDNIS and the Circular Economy
At VILDNIS, we are great fans of recycled fibres, and it makes huge sense to us to reuse resources over and over again instead of producing new. This is the reason why you will find that most of our printed dresses, tops and bikinis are made from recycled Coca-Cola bottles, and some of our sweat styles contain upcycled cotton. It is also the reason why we are stocking the Swedish label DEADWOOD who use recycled leather for their fab jackets.

The challenge – or major business opportunity, depending on how you see it – is to find a way to recycle mixed-fibre fabrics. At present this is not possible and H&M has donated a large amount to find a solution. Perhaps because their recycling programme, offering customers £5 vouchers when they drop of their old clothes, have left them with mountains upon mountains of clothing that they can only give to charity or incinerate.

You might think that the former is a good thing, but some speculate that it is stopping development in developing countries – and with quality declining as fast-fashion is increasing, the charities are unable to resell a large portion of the garments.
Imagine how significant our savings in water, trees, oil etc will be if/when we close the loop. If all of our garments are some day in the future re-used for new fabrics – and in turn new garments.

What can you do to make this happen? Vote with your ‘dollar’ and buy fashion that is made from recycled fibres. Consumer demand can drive change much quicker than anything else!

Thanks for sticking around to the end of this blog post. Next week will be a much lighter read - promise :-)


* Rough calculation based on a Vildnis carton (46cm x 60cm x 30cm) weighing 16.5kg. This equates to ~200kg per m3 of clothing. 

CAPTION: the VILDNIS Redwoods wrap dress made from recycled plastic bottles, an example of how we can re-use materials. 

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published