Fashioning the Future: A Circular Fashion Economy

Circularity in fashion. Deadstock material with denim fabric in the shape of the reuse, recycle logo. (Enelx)

Modern culture and fast fashion have driven a continued increase in oversupply. Consumer fashion has become stuck in a linear business model, with clothes perceived as having no value and being disposed of at an ever-increasing frequency. Fast fashion has prioritised a rapid supply chain, working on designing, producing and distributing new clothing items at an accelerated rate, leading to disastrous consequences for both climate change and the environment. 

According to Circular Online around 150 billion garments are produced each year globally. The average cost continues to fall, thus reducing the quality and the value attributed to that item, resulting in consumers wearing items less often before deciding to dispose of them. Between 2000 and 2014, clothing production doubled; between 2012 and 2016, the number of times a garment was worn decreased by around 40%.

As experts and activists call for designers and leading fashion brands to be transparent and take accountability, the industry has become inundated with 'so-called' buzzwords. From greenwashing to sustainable, deadstock to circularity economy—what does this actually mean for the future of fashion?

Greenwashing has become as much a part of the conversation as sustainability, with some brands making sweeping statements that imply they are creating something sustainable or eco-friendly, but without anything to back up these claims.

Consumers are now using their purchasing power to demand progressive change through circular models that increase quality, reusability, recyclability, and recycled content. And brands are taking note.

Model walking through a waste recycling plant. Image: Viktor Drachev/TASS (Forbes)

What is circular fashion?

Circular fashion is a system where our clothing and personal belongings are produced through a more considered model: where the production of an item and the end of its life are equally important, then going one step further and repurposing it into something else. Think of it as the never-ending journey of a fashion item that starts at the beginning and goes on (and on) in various forms to expand its lifecycle. A fashionable reincarnation, if you will.

Whilst change won't happen in a day, the fashion industry must prioritise clarity, transparency, and collaboration. It is not easy for big companies to shift to an entirely different business model. In the meantime, the industry needs to cut out the greenwash and concentrate on facts and figures, transparency and traceability. 

Why is circular fashion important? 

Within the fashion industry, sustainability masks a web of complex variables, including renewable energy, social compliance and financial longevity. Whether you reuse, recycle or repurpose—circularity in fashion is certainly a positive step in tackling the multiple planetary crises and the only possible basis for credible change. And several leading fashion figures and initiatives are paving the way for change.

A local woman standing in a textile landfill in Ghana. Image: The REVIVAL (V&A)

The Revival 

Often disguised by the West as charitable donations, many countries are becoming overwhelmed by the growing flood of used and rejected clothes from wealthier countries at volumes well beyond the needs and demands of local markets. In collaboration with the V&A museum, The REVIVAL was founded in 2018 by Yayra Agbofah, a creative social entrepreneur based in Accra, Ghana. This community-led, non-profit organisation creates awareness, art and jobs with upcycled global textile waste. The illegal dumping and burning of tons of low-quality clothes from the Global North in Ghana is polluting the air, soil and water at an alarming pace, with denim the most common fabric found. The REVIVAL collects and repurposes these discarded garments to educate a wider audience about the effects of fast fashion and the mindless disposal of today's culture. This project gives new life to the fabric, which would otherwise be discarded, and invites us to cherish items as pieces of wearable art, reflecting on the impact of clothing waste across the globe.

Zara X Circ 

Zara has announced a partnership with circular textile company Circ. Made from existing textile waste that can be recycled again after use, this collaborative collection could be a breakthrough for the industry. The collection marks the beginning of a long-term commitment and includes four lightweight women's garments made from either lyocell or polyester, both produced with polyester-cotton textile waste. Considering that blended fibres like polyester-cotton have long been impossible to recycle, this collaboration is certainly a notable development in the industry's goals for a circular economy. Circ says it can not only separate the polyester from the cotton but can transform both back into new textiles. "[They are] the first, to our knowledge globally, circular products made from polycotton waste," says Circ founder Peter Majeranowski. 

Gucci Continuum

Gucci has long been renowned for its timelessness and craftsmanship. By its very virtue, luxury pieces already have built-in circularity, but much more is needed. Defined as "a collection, a sequence, a progression of values", Gucci Vault's curatorial instincts are taken one step further with the launch of Gucci Continuum. The latest creative venture gives deadstock and previous-season pieces a new lease of life, making them available to independent designers, niche labels, creatives and artistic talent to incorporate into their own designs and turn archived materials into new creations. The Continuum aims to promote circularity, reduce waste, and educate consumers and the fashion industry on the benefits while spotlighting the designers of tomorrow. "Circularity promotes a vision that involves the entire production cycle starting from raw materials: it presents a great challenge and an opportunity to make Made in Italy even stronger and more competitive," said Antonella Centra, Executive Vice President, General Counsel, Corporate Affairs and Sustainability at Gucci.

At Gen Woo, sustainability is at the heart of our brand. From producing all products in our own GOTS-certified factories to using BCI or 100% organic cotton, we put ethical trading, sustainable sourcing and animal welfare at the core of our corporate responsibility. Sign up for our newsletter now to discover our sustainability commitments and more.


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