What is Circular Fashion?

A fashion ecosystem or value chain which is not consuming any fresh resources and producing waste is called circular fashion. On the other hand, an ecosystem or value chain which is consuming fresh resources and producing waste is called linear fashion.

Let’s first understand what is linear fashion value chain.

A linear fashion value chain starts with consumption of natural resources like cotton from cotton farms, crude oil extracted from earth to make synthetic fibres, etc. These raw materials are then processed to convert them into a garment. These garments are designed and marketed by brands which add different kinds of values to the product. Post branding, these garments are sold through multiple physical and digital channels. Once a customer buys these garments, they use them for 2-3 seasons and then either donate them or use them for cleaning purposes. Eventually, all these clothing end up in landfill.

A circular fashion value chain starts with advanced manufacturing units which are using new age technologies to convert used materials into new ones. For example, cotton is chemically recycled to make new cotton fibres, plastic is used to make new recycled polyester fibres. These raw materials are then used to make garments. Now, brands using the circular design principles design the garments for prolonged usage and easy reusability, up-cyclability and recyclability. Post branding, these garments are sold through multiple physical and digital channels. Once a customer buys these garments, they use them for 2-3 seasons and then discard them. Now, most of these discarded garments have strength to be used for many more seasons. Thus, in circular fashion, usage of these garments is extended by multiple business models like thrifting, re-commerce, etc. Once, a product starts losing its strength it is taken back by ‘take back programs’ and channelized to the same manufacturing units which will convert them to new materials.

In circular fashion, no new resource is extracted from the mother earth and nothing moves out of the value chain and get wasted.

6 Strategies to move from Linear to Circular Fashion

Now, let’s talk about transition from linear to circular fashion. We have extensively studied this transition process and classified all transition strategies into 6 categories. 

  1. Preferring used materials: When a company starts using used materials, it reduces pressure on new natural resources. Now, there are different ways in which a company can start using used materials.
    1. Upcycling post-consumer clothing to make new one
    2. Upcycling garment industry waste like cuttings, etc. to make new clothes
    3. Using recycled cotton or polyester yarn (or other recycled fibres) to make garments
  1. Design for circularity: Circular design principles help brands to keep reusability and recyclability of product in mind while designing it. For example, garment made from 100% cotton including labels, stitching thread is easy to recycle than a cotton garment with polyester stitching thread.
  1. Retail for return: Companies which are involved in different kinds of physical and digital retail can design their systems to enable tracking of products even after customer usage. This will help them with efficient take back programs, re-using and recycling.
  1. Promoting prolonged usage: A garment should be kept and used in its best form as long as possible. Companies can enable prolonged usage by encouraging swapping, thrifting, renting, re-commerce, etc.
  1. Take back programme: Even a garment which is used for 20 seasons need to be channelized to right recyclers for renewing the material. This responsibility cannot be taken by individual users. So, companies should come forward to take this responsibility.
  1. Renewal of materials: Companies should use state of the art technologies to convert these post-consumer materials into new raw materials.