What does circularity mean?
– The fact of being shaped like a circle.
– The fact of constantly returning to the same point or situation.
Systemic industry change is of the upmost importance for a sustainable fashion industry. We believe circular systems have huge potential to form inclusive and supportive infrastructures for sustainability. The linear model is soon to reach its physical limits, making circularity an increasingly vital consideration, being something that both industry leaders and citizens have the power to participate in.
The circular economy framework is restorative and regenerative by design1 and challenges fashion’s linear production line that ends with clothes being discarded in landfill. It means that every part of the garment’s lifecycle is cyclical. You design, produce, sell and collect products that enable the reuse and recycling of post-consumer textiles at scale.
The term circular fashion was coined by two actors in Sweden, independently of each other and almost at the same time in spring 2014: the sustainability staff at H&M’s headquarters (now H&M Group) and Dr Anna Brismar, owner of consultancy firm Green Strategy2.
Watch our Circular Fashion explainer here:
Up to 73% of the world’s clothing ends up in landfill and less than 1% of the material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing.
We are selling more clothes than ever and wearing them less than ever. While the number of times clothes are actually worn has been reduced by a third compared to the early 2000s, total clothing sales are expected to reach 160 million tonnes in 2050.
Fashion’s linear model of “take, make and dispose” has to change! A circular system restores and regenerates materials, in addition to providing opportunities to reduce environmental pressures and ease demand on natural resources while securing future supply and capturing the value of a product to the greatest extent possible.
In a completely circular system, waste is obsolete because products and materials are looped indefinitely in technical cycles or biological cycles.3
Image: Global Fashion Agenda, Circular Design Toolbox, 2020
However, following Covid-19 and as consumers are becoming more environmentally aware, circular models, such as repair, resale, buying second hand and renting of clothes are increasing in popularity. 70% of surveyed women globally were open to buying second-hand in 2019 compared to 45 % in 2016.4
In fact, the total second-hand market is projected to grow to almost twice the size of the fast fashion market by 2029.
According to McKinsey & Company5, 31 % of Gen Z consumers are willing to pay more for products that have the least negative impact on the environment, compared to only 12% of Boomers.
How can fashion become fully circular?
7 things you as a can do as a citizen to contribute to circular fashion
1. Treasure what you own to extend the longevity of your clothing
2. Borrow don’t buy – if you need something for a one-off occasion rent it or borrow from a friend
3. Resell clothes so they get a second life (a resold dress reduces its CO2 impact by 79%)6
4. Repair clothes if they break
5. Recycle garments beyond repair – do not throw them out!
6. Shop less and buy smarter by shopping vintage, second-hand and ethical
7. Make it last – invest in high quality and timeless pieces
How designers can play a part:
“We as an industry are underestimating the importance of designers in the circular economy and in creating circular models. Designers play a critical role in making certain that consumers find circularity easy. It is easier for them to digest. It is easier for them to figure out with all the myriad of options that they have, how they can engage. And I really think for us as Avery Dennison, finding ways of working with designers and incorporating technology. to really simplify and demystify circularity is what is really interesting.”
– Michael Colarossi, VP Product Line Management, Innovation and Sustainability (Avery Dennison Apparel Solutions)
Watch the CFS+ Designer Challenge “Enabling Circular Systems” here and follow Creative Director Priya Ahluwalia’s work on solving the challenge of enabling circular systems together with Avery Dennison, by using innovative labelling technology. You can watch Priya Ahluwalia talk more about her challenge here.
7 things you as a producer/brand can do to enable circular fashion
1. Target overproduction and reduce discounting
2. Educate and guide consumers by clearly labelling products and materials and including instructions on how to recycle/handle by end of use. Consumers must be clearly informed about the positive impact of circular design and how to take care of their garments.
3. Adopt sustainable materials and technologies
4. Facilitate closed-loop recycling opportunities
5. Set actionable sustainability roadmaps and goals
6. Increase transparency of the materials used and how they can be repaired/upcycled/recycled
7. Design for longevity and circularity: durability, repairability, disassembly, biodegradability and fibre recycling
An example of how we can collaborate:
The Circular Fashion Partnership is a cross-sectorial project lead by Global Fashion Agenda with project partners REVERSE RESOURCES and BGMEA, to accelerate the transition to a circular fashion industry, by demonstrating a Circular Fashion Business Case in Bangladesh. The project is made possible in collaboration with P4G.
The partnership is currently open to join & facilitates collaborations between major global fashion brands, textile and garment manufacturers and recyclers to develop and implement new systems to capture and direct post-production fashion waste back into the production of new fashion products. In addition, the partnership tests solutions for the COVID-19 related pile-up of excess stock.
Learn more about the partnership.
You can find more information about circularity on our website under Circular Actions, where we have collected our latest reports and toolboxes on the topics of Circular Design, Garment Collection, Resale as well as Textile Recycling. You can also read more in our CEO Agenda 2020 report.
 Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2017) The Circular Economy In Detail.
 Green Strategy (n.d.). Origin and definition of circular fashion
 Global Fashion Agenda (2020). Circular Design Toolbox 2020.
 Thred Up (2020). 2020 Resale Report.
 McKinsey & Company and Business of Fashion (2020). The State of Fashion 2020.
 Thred Up (2020). 2020 Resale Report.