What circularity in the fashion industry means and why it’s more important than ever now
Updated: May 15, 2020
A year ago, almost to the day, I spoke at the 22nd forum for eco-innovation on „Closing the Loop: delivering circularity in the textiles sector“1, for an awesome company going by the name of Nudie Jeans Co. There I got the opportunity to present Nudie Jeans as a great case of how circularity and sustainable transformation are successfully engaged within all parts of a fashion supply chain as well as the people within and around it. I also got major insights on extended-producer-responsibility (EPR) concepts from other industry experts.
This year, I want to speak to you about why circularity is more important than ever in the face of the corona pandemic, shaking up interlinked business models.
So what’s circularity?
Simply put, in my opinion, it means to use your resources.
To RE-SOURCE. And to throw away the thought of a worn, off-season garment to be „waste“. In six sigma terms, waste is considered as excess material or a process step that doesn’t feed any cause or doesn’t add value to the customer.2 Looking at the huge potential of second-hand clothing markets3 or the proven success of repair&reuse systems4, I struggle to believe the definition as waste is accurate for clothing hitting the end of its first lifespan.
Once again, it all comes down to putting the parts together, seeing interconnectedness. And to reconsider the purpose of a product’s end-of-life phase way before it hits this point in time. It means to consider circularity at source, from the very first step on. spoiler: transparency is key. We’re talking concepts like design-to-recycle. This also includes recalculating demands and avoiding overproduction, which is directly interlinked to selling products for low prices and weakening consumers’ strength to purchase consciously and at moderate terms.
So what makes second-hand/vintage clothing so successful from a business point of view? Simply put, it’s selling the same product several times, for a little extra cost. Which is only possible when the durability of a product allows it. The durability of textiles comes with high quality. The same goes for repairable items. Quality, that needs to be considered, when sourcing the materials for the garments and within the whole production process. when handling, selling, and caring for the items. Just like a cake can only be as tasty and nutritious as its ingredients, it’s the same with textiles. Sounds legitimate, right?!
Why is this so relevant right now exactly?
Because brands are sitting on tons of seasonal stock, they consider „waste“.
Well, waste is only waste, if you waste it.5
The cause of potentially having excess stock that cannot be sold for whatever reason commenced long before COVID-19 started to breakout. In my opinion it’s about tracing this imbalance back to the roots, its source. And to re-source end-of-life garments as a new commodity. Take this situation as a lesson and reconsider how, what, and why you want to feed into the oversaturated market of the garment industry. Coming back to six sigma principles, 2 out of the 8 major waste categories identified, are overproduction and inventory.
Excess inventory might be waste from the current point of view, but could be pivoted into a new resource.
One, that adds value to the customers' demand, which has doubled for second-hand clothing within the last 12 months.6 This is not only a recent trend, it is also changing consumer consciousness for durable, high-quality clothing in the long run.
Reconsider how to add value, to the customer and your business.
Clothes are way more than a practical item serving a cause these days. They are part of one’s expression, of a lifestyle, a creative outlet. They can be a piece of art on the canvas of an individual.
In conclusion, as individuals we are all consumers in one way or another. Meaning, when our mindset shifts towards a more conscious and moderate way of consuming, companies will eventually shift towards a more efficient and considerable approach to producing. Not only as a reaction to an obvious demand but as an effect of the simple fact that they are made up of individuals, too.
Of course, the current situation needs to be viewed from two standpoints:
First, initiate immediate action to survive as most brands already are doing. Second, use long-term problem-solving for real, structural changes in how to go about our economy. Learn from brands that have a good chance of survival in an extreme situation like this, as preparation for an unlike event is always tricky and you can’t protect yourself fully from unpredictability.
We need to restructure how we go about producing, selling, and consuming.
Instead of exploiting our resources to a degree of imbalance, that harms our eco-system in a way that will make it impossible for humankind to survive, I think it should be considered to supply in line with demand volumes, which will automatically leverage the effect of selling goods for a price that is simply too low. Too low to pay the actual cost of production without exploiting other humans to a degree that basic needs cannot be covered. prices, which are too low to show a customer what it actually took to get this supply to face their demand. I already know, a lot of you may think „this is impossible!“, „what about the scale effects of unit prices?!“ , „we have no choice because of this and that and so on.“
And I hear you. I am sure in an outdated reality, this is all true. But I don’t believe it’s true today.
A lot of brands are already choosing differently.
Companies like Nudie Jeans, Indigo Luna, dariadeh to name a few. What they have in common? Operating with transparency and responsibility. I know a change this fundamental won’t happen overnight and it sure does not have to. But, change starts today (or actually it started yesterday), it starts with what you set your mind on and the choices you decide to make.
I am sure, it is not exploitation and excess.
I am sure, it sounds more like integrity and intellect.
This is my gentle reminder to use it.
Don’t know how to?
Contact me for a holistic approach to sustainability consulting.
1 hosted by the European Commission’s Directorate General for Environment and the Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism of the Republic of Austria
2 https://www.sixsigmadaily.com/8-wastes/ 12.05.2020
4 e.g. Nudie Jeans repair system as EPR approach
5 wording from woodstrk.com who recycle their shipping boxes