For our grand-parents, fashion was still slow. Clothes were few and repaired as long as possible. The single nice Sunday suit or dress was expected to last a lifetime. For us, fast fashion is the norm and we too often close the eyes on the social and environmental impact of cheap clothes made to last a season at best.
To understand the current environmental issues resulting from fast fashion and how to make fashion more circular, I have interviewed Alice Beyer Schuch, founder of Cirkla Modo and expert partner of CircularScout24.
Cirkla Modo is an agency fostering the change towards a more circular future in the fashion industry. Alice focuses her work on the dissemination and implementation of the circular economy concept, specially related to design strategies and materials. Fashion industry professional since almost 20 years, she lives in the sustainable fashion universe for a much longer time, applying words such as vintage, redesign, customisation and waste reduction even before they came into fashion. For her, circularity was the missing link. An add-on to the technical and chemical part of sustainable processes and products, as circular economy promotes an easier way for businesses to start working towards a better future. Especially for SMEs and creative independent designers, she mentions, it opens-up lots of possibilities of value creation, using mainly ‘’waste” as resource, or promoting exchange and reuse of items!
Circular Scout: Alice, could you mention 3 main reasons why fashion is currently detrimental for the environment?
Alice: we have seen in the last decades lots of actions in process optimisation - gas emission reduction, less energy use, water stewardship plans, and more recently attention to better sourced and recycled materials… But it is still not enough:
1. Conventional cotton and polyester: these are still the main fibres used for textile and fashion products currently. It means lots of toxic pesticides and fertilisers in the field, high water usage and its contamination, as well as high energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and resource depletion. Not even mentioning the release of micro-plastics when talking about synthetics, which may end up contaminating our water streams, oceans and marine life (till our plates).
2. Toxic chemicals: there are many toxic chemicals broadly used in processes as dyeing and finishing, for example, which should be completely wiped out to guarantee healthy material options, offering alternatives which neither harm the environment, the related community, nor the user of the final product.
3. Consumption x waste: the march the fashion market entered in the last decades was never seen before. It relies on selling more and cheaper products for more people in a shorter period of time. By itself, it is already unsustainable, considering the social and natural resources and our planetary boundaries. Besides that, this approach leads customers to under-valorise their items and throw it away in a blink of an eye, causing tons of waste yearly.
Circular Scout: which 3 actions would you suggest brands can take now to become more circular?
Alice: to work towards circular fashion, it is necessary to evaluate each company and its environment carefully, to check local diversity, alternative materials and industrial structure available. But in any case, basic overall actions can be mentioned: 1. Start in your own backyard: check the improvement potential within your company. Ask those people directly involved where they see an opportunity to increase performance, reduce resources used, find new input materials or build new cross-sector collaborations dealing with emergent issues. Consider the energy and water usage, the office materials and packaging, the food the company offers, and any type of generated waste. You may be impressed how sometimes easy applicable small changes can give an interesting amount of positive feedback to business.
2. Evaluate materials and certifications: starting an open conversation with all suppliers about the sustainable aspect of the materials is a must. Transparency is the enabler of a proper selection of new materials for circularity. A constant search for alternative options, with lower impact, better or reduced processes, recycled and recyclable textiles, and non-toxicity shall be part of any design concept and sourcing. Make a list of the most used materials by volume or value and search for options with a better footprint. Certifications can help you make the right choices.
3. Design for circularity: products should be then developed using those better sourced materials, but also considering a next cycle. Applying different design strategies, accordingly to their purpose of use and life time span, allow these products to feed new business models in the circular economy and, when comprehensively done, to be recycled and/or biodegradable after many life cycles without causing any waste or harm (check two examples with rami and cotton).
Circular Scout: are some companies already doing the right thing to switch to more circular fashion?
Alice: Sure, and with completely different approaches!
1. Natural Cotton Color: this Brazilian company supports fragile agricultural communities in settlements in the dry northeast area in Brazil (check out more sustainable Brazilian companies at Cirkla Modo’s Brazilian Hub!). NCC works with a special local product: the natural coloured cotton. The plant is born in a range from beige, greenish, up to red-brownish shades. All organic plantation is done by family farmers without any artificial irrigation. Besides that, NCC does not use any type of hazardous chemicals in dying or finishing processes, as the textiles and garments developed by the brand are only exploring the beautiful colours of nature. The gives assurance that a healthy material input so important for the circular economy takes place.
2. MUD jeans: the young Dutch company has the vision of a world without waste. Their main product, the jeans, is offered with a leasing business model - clients pay for the service of using a garment which they will return to the company for further recycling. It means the brand had to check materials and design strategies which allow future recyclability. All jeans are organic certified, with minimal blend content, and designs are simplified to reduce pre-recycle processes and waste. This is a great example of a new circular business model and how the design supports circularity.
3. circular.fashion: this German start-up is a solution provider, rather than a product producer. The design for circularity is the core of their business: they offer to brands the connections between proper material input, design strategies and recyclers. At the same time, through its circular.ID, an open certification presented via a scannable label in the garment, brand’s customers can transparently check product, processes and even learn how to extend the life cycle of a purchased item. Such a business can facilitate and scale up the application of the circular concept for the B2B platform.
Circular Scout: any last thoughts to share?
Alice: many are the possibilities and benefits of applying circularity! From approaches which tackles at least one principle of the circular economy concept, up to comprehensive approach incorporating all 3 principles of:
1. Regenerating natural systems 2. Designing out waste and pollution 3. Keeping materials and products in cycles
Only being aware of, merely circulating stuff which already exists is not a definitive circular solution! It is, rather, a path towards circularity and, with no doubts, a valuable starting point promoting the life-cycle extension of materials and products. However, it is only when we consider during the new product design stage the needed resources, impacts, toxicity and next cycle, that we can fully tackle the potential of the circular economy.
For more info and exchange with fashion industry actors, join the Fashion Group on CircularScout24! For information material, you can have a look at Cirkla Modo’s Library or contact directly Alice! Keep in touch!