Everybody is talking about the importance of the ‘circular fashion economy’, but what is it, why is it so critical and more importantly, how can you be a part of it?
Trendy buzzwords and phrases are great for social media posts but unless they’re explained in simple, relatable terms, they have the tendency to feel exclusionary. There’s no Urban Dictionary equivalent for key sustainability terms, so consider this your straightforward definition of the circular fashion economy.
In short, all the term means is that we should be pushing for a culture of long-term use, followed by effective recycling of all of our clothing. You buy a product, wear it until it can’t reasonably be called a garment any more, recycle it via appropriate collection points and the material is used to create new season pieces. No landfill waste, no earth-damaging virgin fibres, reduced energy consumption in the production phase and happier people all round.
It’s a fantastic and positive concept and if more people can get onboard with it, huge change will follow, but how can we get started? By trying the following:
Repair what you have
You don’t need to be the most talented sewist to take on some simple home repairs. A patch here, some visible mending there and before you know what’s happened, you’ve prevented a host of perfectly wearable clothes from hitting a landfill site. You’ve also added a little personality as well. We don’t cut off a limb when we get a scar, so why discard usable clothing when it gets a blemish?
Second-hand clothing is a great way to embrace the circular fashion economy and allows you to make positive changes on a budget too. You can pay the savings forward even further by selling on or donating your used clothing, as long as it is all in wearable condition. (see below).
Online auction sites, swapping apps, vintage outlets and charity shops are all excellent places to find bargains and unique pieces that deserve a second life.
Invest in ethically produced and recyclable items
Really, this is a comment about avoiding fast fashion, because that’s what has contributed the most to the current landfill issue. Cheap clothing, made in dubious locations by underpaid workers, has led to a disposable mindset being instilled in many consumers. If a t-shirt is €5 or less, why bother mending, donating or keeping it? The sad part is that they can’t usually be recycled as they are made from materials that can’t be reworked.
Ethical clothing companies seek to use low impact materials (usually already recycled or not virgin fibres) that can be recycled at end-of-life. The cost of these items is always more than a fast fashion option, but with better quality comes longer life, more care, a willingness to mend and cost-efficiency is reached through long-term ownership.
Buy vegan-friendly clothing
The circular fashion economy is predicated on making as small of an impact on the planet as possible with our manufacturing and purchasing habits. With this in mind, switching to animal-free clothing is an easy way to vote with your feet.
When big fashion houses start to see significant decline in demand for leather, suede and fur-trimmed pieces, they will naturally move over to more environmentally-friendly alternatives. And it’s not that hard. Pineapple leather trainers already exist. Mushroom leather handbags are being made and responsible faux fur is now a thing.
Donate or repurpose at end-of-life
You’ve bought from an ethical designer, loved a piece of clothing for as long as you can but now, it’s just not your style or size anymore. It’s time to close the circle by donating it to a good cause/new owner/charity shop, selling it on or repurpose it completely.
For clothes in reasonable, wearable condition, donating is an excellent option, as it allows people with perhaps a smaller budget than your initial one to discover new, ethical brands. For pieces that have seen little or careful wear, selling could help to recoup a portion of your initial outlay so you can buy something more suitable. Anything that has been worn out, repaired and worn again might be better either recycled or repurposed. Repurposing can mean anything from being cut up and transformed into clothing for kids or pets, to handy dusters etc. As long as the fabric is being put to good use, it’s not a waste and if it’s recyclable, it still will be in a few months time.
The circular fashion economy is so easy to embrace. Buy ethically (including second-hand), use as much as possible, dispose of appropriately. It’s as simple as this, but of course there are ways to up the game, such as creating capsule wardrobes and shopping for shared wardrobes. But these are topics for another day.