With the climate crisis knocking on our door, fashion is feeling the heat. The industry must re-evaluate its impact on several levels. Fashion contributes over 8 percent of all greenhouse gases, and if things don’t change, that number will be 25% by 2050. It takes the same amount of water to produce a cotton shirt, as the average person would drink in two and a half years. The fashion industry consumes more energy than the aviation and shipping industry combined. At the same time, microfibers are leaking from our washing machines and damaging ocean ecosystems in the same way microplastics do. The scale of the problem is big. People today are buying 60 percent more clothing than they did 15 years ago. Yet the problem is also multi-faceted, with each element of the fashion supply chain in need of a major overhaul. The best way forward is circular.
According to Dr Anna Brismar, who coined the term, circular fashion is broader than just ‘sustainable fashion’ as it means that every part of the life span of a garment is cyclical. Products are designed, sourced, produced, and provided to consumers responsibly and with the intention to keep them in their most valuable form for as long as possible. And when they can no longer be used, to return the materials to the earth without harm. This is a big ask. However, the fashion world is already beginning to tackle it. Over the next decade, we can expect circular fashion to be steadily adopted as the industry model.
Brands like Adidas and Stella McCartney are turning to innovative fabrics such as Econyl®, regenerated nylon made from fishing nets, carpet flooring, and plastic waste or NuCycl™ made from discarded textiles. As vegan leather alternatives continue their popularity, we’ll see the use of materials like Piñatex®, made from pineapple leaf fibre, to expand. Bolt Threads has created a similar product made from mushrooms, MYLOTM, and a bioengineered spider silk called MICROSILKTM.
Keeping clothing out of landfills is perhaps the biggest challenge. Ireland sent over 80,000 tonnes of textile waste there last year. H&M, who has pledged to be climate positive by 2040, offers store credit for used clothing in any condition brought to their stores for recycling. Thousand Fell’s solution is a closed-loop system for trainers. When a customer wears through a pair, they simply send them back to be refurbished and donated or recycled into new pairs. For Days offers a subscription model for cotton basics and makes sure all used clothing sent back as a ‘swap’ get properly reutilised. Second-hand clothing platforms are also gathering more interest. Vestiaire Collective attracts 140,000 new members to join every month. ‘Swap Shops’ and clothing repair workshops are now popular social events and Nuw, a wardrobe sharing app, has rolled out in Dublin.
Fast-fashion is under the harshest scrutiny it has ever faced. However, brands should see this as a sign of what is to come for all industries. It is impossible to sustainably produce waste at the scale we are. Brands have a responsibility to counteract the maximalism they have encouraged for so long. Look to your circular options. Promote quality over quantity. Impart a sense of value in your products that makes them more than disposable.