May 22, 2024
Global Circular Fashion

Global Circular Fashion: The Need Of The Hour

Introduction
The linear “take-make-dispose” model of fast fashion is unsustainable and wreaking havoc on the environment. It is estimated that the fashion industry produces 10% of global carbon emissions and responsible for 20% of global wastewater. Dwindling natural resources and mountains of textile waste piling up in landfills make it evident that such a model cannot continue. There is a pressing need to transition towards a more circular fashion system that is restorative and regenerative by design.

The Growth of Fast Fashion
Over the past few decades, fast fashion has exploded globally due to low production costs, rise of e-commerce, and increased consumerism. Major fast fashion brands release new collections every 2-3 weeks to keep customers coming back for more. This pace of production and consumption is incredibly resource-intensive. It is estimated that around 80 billion new garments are produced every year. Such a high volume of garments saturates the markets quickly. This leads to clothes being discarded after just a few wears as consumers chase newer trends. Textile waste has grown at an alarming rate with most of it incinerated or dumped in landfills.

Issues with Textile Waste Management
Landfills are filling up rapidly due to the influx of post-consumer clothing and textile waste. It is estimated that around 92 million tons of textiles enter landfills or are incinerated every year globally. This puts huge strain on waste management systems. Textiles like synthetic fibers do not readily decompose in landfills and release toxic fumes when burned. Incineration plants are also resource and energy intensive. Recycling rates for textiles remain dismally low at around 1% globally due to difficulties in sorting, collecting, and processing mixed textile waste. Poor waste management has negative impacts on the environment through pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Rise of Fast Fashion Alternatives
Young consumers, especially Millennials and Gen Z, are increasingly conscious about sustainability and the impacts of fast fashion. This has led to surging interest in more eco-friendly alternatives like renting, reselling, vintage shopping, and support for sustainable brands. Clothing rental and resale platforms allow underutilized garments to be reused by others instead of lying idle or ending up as waste. Popular platforms like Rent the Runway, Armoire, and ThredUp are expanding globally as more shoppers adopt sharing models. Vintage and thrift shopping offer unique pre-owned finds at affordable prices and promote reuse over “new” consumption. Specialty sustainable brands designing clothing to last longer through high-quality natural materials and circular design principles are also seeing considerable growth in demand.

The Business Case for Circular Fashion
Going circular makes both Global Circular Fashion environmental and business sense for the fashion industry. It allows valuable resources trapped in post-consumer clothing to be recovered through reuse, remanufacturing and recycling. Advanced sorting and fiber-to-fiber recycling technologies can extract high-quality raw materials from garment waste. Closed-loop manufacturing reduces dependency on virgin raw materials and offers cost-savings. Designing for disassembly at the end of use-cycles allows garments to be easier to repair, remake or recycle. This improves resource productivity and creates new revenue streams through resale and extended producer responsibility models. Major brands that have incorporated circular strategies like product lifecycle tracking, longer warranties and buy-back programs report boosts in brand loyalty, engagement and customer satisfaction too.

Government Support and Policies
While many fashion brands have started adopting voluntary sustainability initiatives, government support through policies and regulation is critical to accelerate the large-scale transition towards a circular fashion system. The EU has enacted the Circular Economy Action Plan in 2020 with a framework for sustainable product design and extended producer responsibility provisions for packaging and textiles. It aims to establish common EU-wide qualitative collection targets for textile waste by 2025. France has taken pioneering steps through its anti-waste law that bans mass destruction of unsold non-food products and obligates brands to find alternatives like recycling or donation. Other nations are also rolling out national circular economy roadmaps and policies focusing on ecodesign standards, extended producer responsibility, investment in recycling infrastructure and landfill bans for recyclables. Harmonized global standards and guidelines can help streamline circular best practices across borders.

The time for change is now. With rising awareness, enabling policies and growing business incentives, global fashion is poised to adopt more responsible, circular models. Brands need to reevaluate design and production processes, collaborate with innovators across the value chain, and establish take-back programs. Governments must stimulate investment in closed-loop infrastructure and innovation through regulations and incentives. Only through a multi-stakeholder approach involving industries, non-profits, policymakers and citizen participation, can we successfully mitigate fashion’s environmental footprint and transition to a truly sustainable industry that is restorative and waste-free by design.

*Note:
1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it