The Role of Circular Economy in the Oversaturated Fashion Industry
There’s no doubt that clothes and fashion have long been an integral part of almost every aspect of our culture and society. The global fashion industry is estimated to be worth around 2,6 trillion euros, which represents 2% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Nevertheless, the sector’s significant use of finite resources and materials, makes it the second most destructive industry, after oil, for the environment. Considering this, the fashion sector alone accounted for the release of 654 kilograms of CO2 per person in the EU in 2017, as stated by the European Parliament, this amounts to 10% of overall greenhouse gas emissions, more than the accumulative effect of international air travel and maritime shipping combined.
This industry is also responsible for landfill generation and water pollution. To put this into perspective, 79 billion cubic meters of water was used by the textile and clothing industry in 2015, taking around 2.700 litres to produce just one t-shirt, this is enough drinking water for one person for 2.5 years.
As such, there is an increasing urgency for new textile initiatives to be linked with the concept of circular economy!
How the EU is tackling these issues
Awareness for this problem is slowly growing. To tackle these issues and the impact on the environment in 2018, the EU adopted a circular economy package that will, at the insistence of the European Parliament, for the first time ensure that textiles are collected separately in all Member States, by 2025. In March 2020, the European Commission adopted a new circular economy action plan, which includes an EU strategy for textiles, aimed at stimulating innovation and boosting reuse of materials within the sector.
The new Commission strategy also includes measures to support circular material and production processes, tackle the presence of hazardous chemical substances and help consumers to choose sustainable textiles. The EU also introduced an Ecolabel that producers respecting ecological criteria can apply to their items, ensuring a limited use of harmful substances and reduced water and air pollution.
Beyond that, Horizon 2020 is funding RESYNTEX, a research project which aims to create a new circular economy concept for the textile and chemical industries. Using industrial symbiosis, it aims to produce secondary raw materials from unwearable textile waste.
How you can contribute for the green fashion transition
Alongside the policy developments across Europe, some projects and fashion retailers are also moving towards more sustainable approaches to clothing and textile in order to reach consumers and increase awareness towards the subject while educating the general public to shift towards more sustainable behavioural practices.
In Denmark, based on a circular concept where no clothes are wasted and no new ones are bought, a company called Veras is changing the views of customers about the textile’s industry linear model. The company runs several initiatives to reduce waste in the fashion sector by making it easy for everyone to swap and sell clothes. Veras is also primarily an online shop shipping to all of Europe, where users can send in their own clothes. According to their website, you can use Veras in 3 different ways: 1) Exchange your clothes for new; 2) Buy all of their second-hand clothing handed in by others; 3) Sell your clothes with a stall at Veras Market. This gives the consumers the opportunity to shop without having to compromise the environment and encourages enduring sustainable behaviours.
Similarly, in Bulgaria, a clothing shop named Remix is encouraging the second-hand clothes market and preventing the accumulation of textile landfill by discouraging throwing away used clothing. Remix believes that consumers can look elegant without harming nature, and the easiest way to do this is to stop the overproduction of the fashion industry and choose used products and outlets. They prioritize green fashion and giving a second opportunity to clothes whenever possible. Moreover, the online platform provides a wide range of discounts and promotions to encourage its customers to get on board with circular economy principles. This should be done more often by other companies in order to educate the public towards green fashion and the reuse of textiles. Their slogan says it all: “Reuse, reduce, remix”!
Initiatives like these deserve to be promoted and pushed forward. Apart from the environmental and health benefits, a new textile economy could also contribute to the vigorous growth of the economy and the industry itself. A green fashion transition creates smaller costs for companies along with an improvement of the working conditions of their employers. Moreover, it contributes to create a flourishing ecosystem of small and large enterprises, retaining and then keeping enough of the value created, so that business owners and their workers can participate in the wider economy.
Whereas the linear model results in an oversaturated and oversized fashion system with a big environmental impact, it is critical to learn how to make better use of resources and alter the system. It’s imperative to create a refined balance and use all raw materials and resources more carefully and wisely. Closing the loop and building a new understanding of how fashion can be redesigned in the context of a circular economy and the green transition is essential and should be the goal of every clothing brand or company, no matter their size.
Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2020) Fashion and the Circular Economy. Available at: https://archive.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/explore/fashion-and-the-circular-economy
European Parliament (2021) The impact of textile production and waste on the environment (infographic). Available at: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/society/20201208STO93327/the-impact-of-textile-production-and-waste-on-the-environment-infographic
Icons (2021) Sustainable fashion: Young people have the power for change. Available at: https://euagenda.eu/publications/sustainable-fashion-young-people-have-the-power-for-change
Niinimäki, K (2018) Sustainable Fashion in a Circular Economy. Aalto University. Available at: https://aaltodoc.aalto.fi/bitstream/handle/123456789/36608/isbn9789526000909.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y