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Why Do We Need a Circular Fashion Industry?

Updated: May 22

‘Circular fashion’ is not yet a mainstream term. You might have heard it before but still wonder what it means. In this post we will cover the basics and explain why it is critical to transition to a circular fashion industry.

What is a circular economy?

“The circular economy eliminates the notion of waste, and seeks to recirculate materials to retain the embedded value within them” – Braungart and McDonough, 2009.

Making the most out of the products we already have is the best way to preserve our resources. As a society we use the linear model of “make, use, dispose.” We do not thoroughly use what we have. Items are manufactured with little care for quality. They are sold at cheap prices and do not last long. It is easy to be convinced that a perfectly good item should be replaced by its successor. For a number of reasons, instead of recirculating our materials, we throw them away to end up in landfills or incinerators.

This is especially true in the fashion industry.

Less than 1% of textile waste produced re-enters the system. Over 73% of textile waste is burned or thrown in landfills (see the figure below.) London alone contributes to over 11 million items of wasted clothing every week. (1)

“In a circular fashion system the goal is to ensure that “clothes, fabric, and fibers are kept at their highest value during use, and re-enter the economy after use, never ending up as waste” – Ellen MacArthur, 2017. 

This system works through several circular waste management practices: reusing, upcycling and recycling. This means when you don’t want an item of clothing anymore, instead of throwing it away you gift or sell it, make it into a product of the same or higher quality, or send it to a recycling facility.

Why is it important to transition to a circular fashion system?

The current development of the fashion industry is continuing down an unsustainable path. Every year the demand for clothing grows. This directly results in a larger number of textiles produced. They are then eventually discarded after increasingly shorter lifespans (see the figure to the right.)

Each unsustainable item of clothing produced requires an incredible amount of resources. The higher the demand for clothing, the higher the supply and the more precious resources wasted.  

The combination of these factors has made the fashion industry the second most polluting industry globally. It is on track to account for 26% of the carbon budget in 2050.

In order to avoid this outcome, we must make systemic changes. We must use natural and organic materials, provide safe conditions for workers and reduce the use of toxic chemicals. If we are to decrease the pressure on our resources and end the exploitation of workers, we must make these changes. 

A system can be somewhat circular without being sustainable or ethical. This is where slow fashion plays a key role. Fast fashion companies could implement certain elements of a circular system while still wasting precious resources (energy, water) or treat their workers unfairly.

There must be a combination of both circular and slow fashion practices to achieve true success for years and years to come.

Next Chapter

We know that all this information can be overwhelming, so in the NEXT CHAPTER we will talk about how you as a consumer, can contribute to making the fashion industry both slow and circular!


1) https://www.lovenotlandfill.org/

2) Daily Mail – June 2015

3) Ellen MacArthur Foundation, A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future, 2017. http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/publications

4) BOF – The Business Of Fashion 

5) www.fashionrevolution.org


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