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Fashion Trailblazers and Trends are Creating a Circular Economy

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Give yourself a second to visualize your wardrobe. What number of items do you have? How many of them do you wear?

How many times have you found yourself staring at a pile of clothes in frustration and saying, “I don’t have anything to wear.”

Shopping online has never been easier. Shopping online can be as easy as going online. You will receive endless emails and targeted ads telling you to buy immediately or risk losing out. When you step outside, the collection from last week is already being refreshed. You can’t miss the Insta-trends army when you check your phone.

Fashion industry creates clothes that no one wants, in order to support a culture that discards what is not trendy.

This industry is extremely wasteful. According to the 2017 New Textile Economy Report, less than 1 percent of the clothing collected for reuse will be used to create new clothing. The last 15 years have seen a doubling in production and a 40% decrease in the time that clothing is worn.

These trends are not only causing severe damage to the environment but also limit the chances for the fashion industry’s long-term success. Already, the industry is missing out on USD 500 million in value due to clothing being worn less frequently and not recycled enough.

New needs

It is now more important than ever to take action. People are demanding climate justice and calling for “climate change.” They argue that beautiful fashion shouldn’t cost the earth, and urge the industry to be “a force for cultural change”. We live in an age where customers are more willing to make purchases that reflect their values. The pressure is starting to be felt by world leaders and policymakers, and they are responding. One of the most prominent examples is the recently launched global alliance by United Nations to tackle fashion’s greatest environmental and social problems.

Modifying customer needs may be the best way to influence fashion retailers and brands. Those who don’t respond quickly enough could lose their footing. Customers are increasingly concerned about social and environmental issues and demand ethical and sustainable fashion. Many young customers want unlimited access to new styles. Others are seeking tradable platforms that offer vintage and luxury garments. People who are less affected by these trends want better quality clothes that will last.

These new customer segments demand that the industry change. McKinsey and Company’s 2019 report stated that members of the fashion value chains must “self-disrupt” their identities and their sources of success in order to make changes that will win new customers.

Fashion circular

The circular economy can provide opportunities for the fashion industry to respond to new customer needs and offer new growth opportunities. The fashion industry must undergo a fundamental overhaul. It will have to shift from a take/make-waste model to a reuse-based one. To unlock this potential, the fashion industry must take the following steps:

  • Develop new business models to increase clothing reuse
  • Use safe and sustainable inputs

So that worn clothes can be made into new clothing, develop solutions. “Making fashion circular” is helping businesses meet today’s most pressing customer needs, while also circulating valuable materials and reducing pollution.

Unlimited styles without the waste

Young customers are shifting their fashion preferences from owning everything to having unlimited access to new styles. The number of companies offering resale and rental models has increased steadily. These companies are the fastest-growing retail categories. The secondhand market will grow 1.5 times faster than fast fashion by 2028. One third of Instagram users now buy items via social networks. The subscription e-commerce market is growing at more than 100% per year.

US ThredUP and other major players are leading the fast fashion rental and resale market. ThredUP is now the largest marketplace for second-hand clothing in the world, and customers can sell their clothes through their website. They are currently reselling over 100,000 items from 35,000 brands every day and are poised to become one of the top North American clothing distributors by 2020. YCloset, which offers a 5 million member subscription, is taking China by storm when it comes to renting models. According to the company, one piece of durable and trendy clothing can be worn by 40 people.

Other smaller companies are also taking steps to encourage further recirculation of and recycling of garments. Vigga offers a subscription model whereby packages of professionally washed organic cotton baby clothes are delivered at regular intervals to meet babies’ rapid growth. Vigga increases the amount of times that a single garment can be worn. Clothes can be reused to make new products.

New model: Accessible luxury and high quality

People who are looking for novelty have driven the increase in demand to resell, rent, and subscribe models. This trend is also driven by customers who want access to vintage and luxury items. These items are highly prized possessions and can increase in value over time. They are also considered tradable assets that have a high resale price. The most valuable items today are leather backpacks, crossbody bags and winter coats.

These new practices are supported by a shift in people’s value of experiences over material possessions. Kantar Global MONITOR research has shown that 90% global customers prefer desirable experiences to material possessions. Rental and resale models offer an affordable way to access luxury and vintage experiences, as well as a gateway to high-end luxury. The RealReal and Rent The Runway, which were both named as the most disruptive companies worldwide in 2018, have been able to tap into changing customer trends at scale. Rent The Runway offers members access to designer clothing via a monthly subscription. The RealReal provides members with the opportunity to sell luxury consignment online and an authentication and restoration service. Together, they have over half a million members.

These types of business models can be scaled to ensure that more clothes are used for longer periods. How can we prolong the lives of vintage and luxury garments without wasting them?

Levi Strauss has pledged to reduce the industry’s wastefulness through a variety of strategies. You can purchase a pair of jeans pre-worn from Levi’s Authorized Vintage Collection. The jeans can then be taken to the in-house tailors located in San Francisco or New York, where they can be repaired, resized, or restyled. You can personalize them if you have fallen in love with them. You can return the item to Levi’s to have it renewed, repaired, or recycled if you don’t want it anymore. If you’re looking for a pair of Levi’s that are 100% recycled cotton, they will be available by 2025.

Fashionable garments that are timeless and can be worn with pride

Everybody has a few treasured items in their closet. Some are valued for their performance, while others are treasured for the special moments they bring to our lives. These items are durable in both physical and emotional ways.

Arc’Teryx, a company that makes outdoor clothing, aims to make durable gear last longer.

Outdoor clothing companies that sell high-performing gear are the ones most likely to benefit from durable clothing. Feetures, a company that designs high-performance athletic socks, offers a lifetime guarantee and extended warranty.

Houdini, a company that makes outdoor sportswear, has taken it a step further. The Swedish brand ensures that all its garments follow circular design principles. This is in the hope of being a positive and regenerative force for society and nature. Houdini’s durable gear is available new and second-hand. The equipment can also be repaired for free, which allows it to last longer. The company also offers many items as a rental option. Customers with different income levels may be able to access durable, well-made clothing that is previously unavailable.

What about the clothes you love, have a lot of pride in, but they are starting to lose their sparkle? You can send them to The Clothes Doctor if they need a repair, restoration, or style change. Shoespa is a service that can give your shoes a new look. You can customize the fit and style of your shoes right away with Amazon’s custom-made clothing.

Businesses can design garments for durability and refashion them to extend their life span.

Fashion: Taking the fabric out

More young people are expressing themselves online in a world that is heavily influenced and controlled by social media. It is becoming more popular to buy clothes in order to show them off on Instagram. Many clothes are never worn again and end up getting thrown away. This has led to the creation of “digital fashion”. This phenomenon involves virtualizing fashion and dematerializing garments.

The “Neoex” digital clothing collection by Carlings is a new, innovative example. Online stores allow you to buy a digital design and upload a photo of yourself to have it made to your specifications. Customers can share the design via social media without having to purchase the actual garment. Within a week, the digital collection was gone.

These business models allow customers to access digitally Instagram-worthy clothes while also avoiding cluttering their closets with clothes they will never wear. What is the result? Virtualisation reducing the need for physical garment production, while also saving resources and managing waste. This could be the future fashion industry.

Overall, a better system

People are also becoming more passionate about environmental and social causes, in line with the trends mentioned. People are becoming more aware and demanding that the status quo be challenged in order to effect change. Many are fed up with the way industries produce, package, and generate their energy.

Millennials and Gen Z, which represent USD 350 billion in spending power in the US, are the main drivers of this movement. This group is estimated to be 74%, who prefer to buy from ‘conscious brands’. They are more willing and able pay more for products that offer complete transparency. This trend is now being reflected in the fashion industry. More brands are responding by including social and environmental themes in their products and services. Many companies have set bold goals, such as H&M’s commitment to 100% recycled and sustainably sourced materials in 2030. C&A is considering making 50% C2C-certified in the next ten years. Target also plans to aim for 100% sustainable sourced cotton by 2022.

Given the fact that clothing is not meant to last forever, researchers and startups are working together to develop solutions that allow garments to be reused within the economy.

Achroma and Pili, dye producers, have made significant progress towards safe products. Achroma synthesizes traceable dyes using non-edible agricultural and herbal waste products, while Pili uses enzymes and microorganisms for biotech dyes.

C&A released the first Gold C2C certified Tshirt made of 100% organic cotton. It can be composted at home and is fully recyclable. It is a goal to create garments made from sustainable materials that can safely be recycled and returned to nature when they are thrown away. Others have made biodegradable clothes using organic industrial waste such as pineapple leaves, milk, and orange peels. Biotech labs and microorganisms are also used to create biodegradable fabrics from plants, fruits and spider silk.

It is crucial to make sure that clothes that have been worn are not thrown away can be recycled and reused. Re/Done, a company that specializes in vintage jeans, has focused its efforts on making them new. The Renewal Workshop, however, recovers inventory from retailers to make it possible for them to be recycled, upcycled, or renewed.

Others have created new recycling methods. Shoes recycling is a nightmare when you have mixed materials that are glued together. Adidas instead has created a running shoe that is made only from one recyclable material and contains no glue. Each pair can then be recycled to make a new pair. Teemill is leading the way in T-shirts. Teemill’s T-shirts are made of organic cotton and can be returned or remade. The QR codes on the wash care label can be scanned to generate a freepost label. This allows you to return the garment to Teemill for recycling and gives you credit towards your next t-shirt.

These examples are a glimpse into the future where garments can be made to last and not be thrown away. Recycled garments can be made into new garments and others can be used to help our soils biodegrade.

Redesigning the system

It is not an easy task to make fashion more circular. Many years of take, make and waste mentality have led to the current systems, incentives, processes and systems that exist today. A design overhaul across the entire textile value chain is necessary to change the fashion industry’s direction. Designers can ensure that the principles of a circular economy will be considered from the beginning by considering how the product will actually be manufactured, how it will be used and how it will be stored.

This is a good thing. There are many bright spots in the fashion industry. These include large brands that have high ambitions and invest in research. Startups are launching new business models and citizens who demand better products and greater transparency from those who make them. We can make fashion beautiful by harnessing the creativity of the industry to connect these efforts and scale them.

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