Whether you’re a fashion designer or consumer, through what could be considered small decisions, you are shaping the future of a sustainable fashion industry.  Let me explain how;

Already in the initial design process, designers and brands, make choices that will determine the length of a garment’s lifetime, its usage and ability to be reused, upgraded, remade or recycled. However, whatever choices that are made at this stage, the lack of circularity within the fashion industry is an issue that is equally shared between the supplier and the consumer. The supplier is responsible of and has the power to influence the issues connected to the creation of the garments, from idea, design and production process to the final product sold to the customer. However, the customer bears the other half of the responsibility through their consumption, needs, wants and demands. Once the garment is owned by the customer, it is up to the customer to ensure that the garment remains within a circular system, i.e. does not end up in landfill or incineration – but it is the supplier’s responsibility to make this possible.

Since it’s the supplier who creates the garment, the supplier must also ensure that this is made possible through design for longevity or recyclability. If these two aspects are not considered in the design process, the customer will either not be able to make smart choices, or they will act with the belief that they contribute to circularity when they’re not. For example, by recycling garments made from mixed and low-quality materials that cannot be reused, recycled or remade.

But by being better informed as a consumer, by understanding how or if a garment’s lifetime can be extended or its textile can be reused, you can also make better choices on your own, and by doing so, also influence the suppliers’ future choices and help shaping a sustainable fashion industry. Here are four ways to circular fashion explained:

Four ways to circular fashion:

  • Applying a circular perspective on the textile industry, the reuse of clothing and textiles is the best option – so if you’re already a thrifter, keep up the game! Reuse is not only fun, creative and circular but it’s also an effective solution because, apart from maybe repairing and cleaning the garments, not much more is needed to pass on the garments to a new wearer. However, this is only made possible if the producer made the clever decision to design and produce a garment in a timeless design and of good enough quality, so that both physical, and aesthetical characteristics of the garments will last long enough to be passed on to several wearers over time. But what if these conditions aren’t met?
Photo by Charles Etoroma on Unsplash
  • Don’t despair, if the garment does not directly qualify for reuse, then the next option is to upgrade the garment. By upgrading a garment, e.g. By replacing plastic buttons with wooden buttons, a garment’s lifetime could be extended which, just like reuse, is effective both from a cost and energy perspective. And on top of that, in case the garment is designed in a mono-materials (i.e. the whole garment; fabric, threads, zippers, and, buttons, are made of the same material) the garment’s lifetime could be extended even further as it could be upgraded without having to compromise on the garment’s future ability to be recycled. Yay! However, some garments are still compound by low quality or mixed materials, and their overall quality might just not be good enough to be reused and passed on to a new wearer or its design might simply not enable an upgrade. If this is the case, there’s still a chance that the garment could be redone and used in new ways which brings us to a third alternative.
  • Remake – This option could open for new ways of usage and a greater variety of new design than what is possible when reusing or upgrading a garment. Yet, choices made in the initial design process do limit the ways the garment can be remodelled and reworked. This solution requires more thought power, work and energy from the designers and the production, both in the initial design phase, but also in the subsequent “re-production”. In many cases, remake is not physically or financially possible, which then makes recycling our last circular option.
  • Recycling might make room for increased flexibility and many new possibilities. A garment compound by monomaterials could if recycled, at best, return to its initial form or perhaps be transformed into a completely new garment. However, this process puts pressure on both the design process – to design a garment that can be recycled effectively, but also on the recycling process as it is costly and requires greater investments, time and labour. Also, it’s important to understand that many garments produced today, will not, nor can be recycled. If the garment I made out mixed materials for example, it is often cheaper put garments into landfill than to recycle them which, unfortunately is the strategy of many fashion business today.

So, just by knowing a little bit more about a garment’s preconditions, you can start applying a circular perspective on your next fashion investment and by doing so, help shaping a sustainable fashion industry.  

Source: “Re:Textile- Feasibility of conditional design”. Feasability of conditional design – Re:Textile