• Monica Buchan-Ng

How can circularity change the way we design fashion products?

The global fashion industry of today predominantly operates on a linear production model. We take natural resources from the earth, we design and make them into products, we use and wear and love them – and then we dispose of them. Historically, the fashion economy has had very little interest in what happens once a product leaves a store. Value is defined by how much the product sells for, and not by any other stage in the product’s lifecycle.

But this linear model is not the only one available to us.

The circular fashion economy is an alternative system that aims to ‘close the loop’ on resource use through three principles: eradicating waste and pollution, by keeping products in use for as long as possible, and by regenerating natural systems. It focuses on all stages of the product lifecycle, from resource extraction to end of life. Rather than discarding unwanted items through landfill or incineration, the circular economy considers how materials can be cycled back into the fashion economy – for example through re-use or recycling.

The circular economy has a critical role to play in getting the fashion industry to address its destructive ecological impacts. It focuses on environmental and economic sustainability, addressing the former through its circular principles and the latter by decoupling revenue from resource use and by shifting to alternative business models and income streams. However, the circular economy is not the whole picture – it does not explicitly focus on cultural or social sustainability, leaving topics such as human equality and labour rights to other movements. If you’d like to know more about these, visit our Fostering Sustainable Practices resource page.

The fashion sector has seen the beginnings of an industry-wide shift from linear to circular, in part guided by movements and organisations such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s leadership and research (including their vision for a circular economy for fashion); and the Global Fashion Agenda’s 202