The Circular Fashion Economy And How To Get Involved


Last week we published a guide on how to create a sustainable wardrobe. If you have read it already, we hope you enjoyed it just as much as we enjoyed writing it. But there was one thing that was bothering us after we posted it. We shared a statistic, without putting the emphasis on it that we believe it deserved. And that is why we are publishing this article today. To really dive into what it means for our society and how we can try to go about changing it. The statistic we are talking about? That 9513 garments are being dumped in the UK every 5 minutes. If you’re a slow reader like me, reading this article will take you approximately that long. So let me say that in another way. By the time you finish this article, nine-thousand-five-hundred-and-thirteen garments will have been dumped. Nearly fell off your chair with shock there, didn’t you? So let me dive right in, and not waste any of those precious five minutes…

A few more statistics to comprehend the severity of the global fashion crisis:

  1. The fashion industry is ranked fourth in terms of its negative environmental impact. 
  2. The World Bank estimates that 20% of industrial water pollution worldwide originates from the textile industry.
  3. Textile production uses around 93 billion cubic metres of water annually and an estimated 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. This is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined (pre-corona).

It's easy to think that these types of things are happening far away from us. That we are not being affected by, or the cause of it. But unfortunately, this is not the case. Consumption of new clothing in the UK is estimated to be higher than any other European country with 26.7 kilograms per capita. Next to that, over 1.1 million tonnes of clothing was purchased in the UK in 2016. In that same year, the total footprint of clothing in the UK was 26.2 million tonnes of CO2. And the most shocking statistic of all? All this damage is being done to the environment, but less than 1% of all of the materials in clothes are actually recycled into new garments. We can consider the other 99% complete waste. This is because the majority of fashion is currently a linear system: materials unsustainably taken from the earth --> made into goods --> sold --> used --> dumped.

The solution lies in a term that was introduced in 2014: The Circular Economy. But what does it mean? Well, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation refers to it as ‘decoupling economic activity away from the consumption of finite resources, and designing waste out of the system.’ Sounds complicated? It’s not. 

Simply, it means we need to use raw materials sustainably to create a new garment. These items will be used and loved by us in a variety of ways. For example, we buy a piece, wear it, then when we’re done with it, resell, repair or redesign it. And once it’s lived a long and happy life, it is recycled and turned into something new. That 99% waste that we were just talking about? Yeah, that is completely designed out of the system (see below).

circular economy diagram

What can we, as individuals, do to contribute to this cycle? Rent, Reuse, Repair, Redesign and Resell. All of the very best 'R's'. Something that requires no extra effort: prolong the life of our clothing by wearing it as long as we can. It’s been proven that keeping them for an extra nine months could already reduce carbon, waste and water footprints by around 20-30% each. Only nine more months! Can you imagine what would happen if you were to invest in a piece of clothing that will last you two years? Three years? Four years? I can keep going like that forever… But one thing is for sure: the results would be substantial.

Creating a sustainable wardrobe and engaging in the circular fashion economy is not just something ‘trendy' that you hear about a lot right now. It is imperative to the longevity of our planet. And what better time to start to do so than now? We are living a more slow and conscious lifestyle. We are starting to understand what it means to live locally. To not be caught up in the increasingly fast lane we have been in the past few years. Let's take a step back and see what we can do to make a change. Next time you go outside for a walk, take a look around at your beautiful surroundings and make a vow to keep it alive. To care. To be there. We’re all in this together. Let’s create a new normal.


By: Danique van Leeuwenstijn