Circular Fashion?

The fashion industry produces around a billion garments a year and the rapid rate of consumption is no small part of the climate crisis that the planet is now facing. The fast-fashion industry supports and promotes overconsumption powered by overproduction, with brands such as Pretty little thing and Misguided who will show around 639 products just in ‘New in this week’ . Since 2000 the fashion industries production has roughly doubled. However, is the consumer mindset changing, with movements like extinction rebellion (started in May 2018) taking the conversation mainstream?  The damage that we are creating is no longer something so easy to brush under the rug. More and more brands are begging to take responsibility and discover ways that they can limit the impact of consumerism addressing the issues. This Essay will explore the potential answers within recycling and upcycling. Examining the consumer mindset and how some brands are hoping to change it — investigating the benefits and good that can be achieved and analyze how impactful it may be on the future of fashion retail? 

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Who is doing what?

As the problems caused by the fashion industry are pushed further forward into the zeitgeist of the time, brands are rapidly starting to make positive transitions. The importance of recycling and upcycling has become apparent to them through a mixture of customer demand and an industry push. Brands such as Re/done who are a company that specializes in upcycling denim to make luxury goods claiming to be “a movement to restore individuality to the luxury fashion space”. All products that the brand makes are entirely one of a kind, upcycled from ether vintage of unwanted denim. 

By making upcycled clothing a luxury item with an average pair of jeans retailing at around £250, they are making the concept of re-wearing and adjusting old garments fashionable. There are many brands now that are recycling or upcycling such as, Patagonia, Planks, Ecoalf and Girlfriend collective with outdoor/ activewear. Reformation, Asos Reclaimed vintage, Triarchy Atelier and Will and Pop with everyday apparel.  What this proves is that the circular fashion industry, along with the concept of expanding the lifespan of a garment is becoming more popular.

One of the significant issues when it comes to garment manufacturing is that the industry is consistently producing materials. This is an issue as there is already so much fabric in circulation that ultimately ends up in landfill. According to Good on you “We currently send over 500,000 tonnes of textiles to landfill every year.” If so much is being thrown away, why are companies still producing so much fabric and not reusing what is already available and not being used? As a result, some of the more conscious brands are starting to ask for their product back after the customer has had their use of it. An example of one of the brands doing this is highstreet retailer Monki. They encourage customers to do their recycling through them. The brand then sends these clothes to their partners “I: Co” who will recycle these materials into usable fabrics for Monki. 

The shoe store, Melissa is working toward having recycling points in all of its stores by the end of 2020, where consumers can return old and unwanted shoes. The brand then grinds up the shoe and makes it into a new one, a great example of a circular product. There are also plenty of smaller brands that are doing similar great things, such as the fashion label Raeburn. The brand states that it is ‘Fashioning new apparel from landfill.’ They use surplus materials such as transit blankets and military parachutes to create their garments in a move toward a zero-waste industry.

Will it make any difference?
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With so much damage and so many potential solutions being shoved in the consumers and brands faces it begs the question will recycling/ upcycling make any difference? One key concern is greenwashing. This practice is damaging as it convinces the consumer that their purchase decision is ethical when perhaps it is not so. H&M is one of the high street giants pushing itself to the front of the sustainability conversation, just like the previously mentioned brands, it has recycling drop off points in its stores. However, according to WGBH ‘only 5 to 10 per cent of collected clothing is recycled into fibres that ultimately make new clothes. The rest is “downcycled” into lower-value products like insulation’. Never the less, Good on you still gives H&M recognition for the effort that they are making. 

According to ‘More than half of fast fashion garments are disposed of in under a year.’ So, in theory, a few brands doing some minor ‘recycling’ is not making a massive difference. Despite this, it is a positive part of the movement for big brands to do anything in regards to recycling and upcycling in facilitating some form of change. It is essential for brands to be transparent in their sustainability. That they are open with the fact that they are not perfect, but they are on a journey and learning all the time. Then of course, there is the topic of downcycling, which is reusing something but the result having a lower value than the original item and reduced functionality. Something integral to the

issues of overproduction comes from the corporations. The problem being Planned Obsolescence which is highly profitable for brands but costly for the consumer by making things to break so they will need to be thrown and repurchased; things are no longer made to last. Apple has been accused of doing this by slowing down their old product as new phones are released; however, this issue perpetrates many products, including apparel due to the profit growth for the companies. 

What difference can one person make?

The potential answer to overconsumption and a move toward a more circular fashion industry may lie in a change in mindset. This could be done by making the idea of curating old garments 

into something new, fashionable. The preconception of ‘New clothes=Good and old clotes= Bad.’. 

In a recent survey, when the question ‘Would you buy upcycled or repurposed clothes?’ was posed, 90% replied yes. This proves that the change in mindset is, at least happening; however, it has a long way to go, and the consumer and brands need to put their thoughts into positive actions. 

Then there is how people themselves can make a difference away from corporations and big brands. The idea of Do It Yourself (DIY) is nothing new with thousands of DIY and upcycling youtube videos and Pinterest posts to boost its popularity. If people were to look to their old clothes for new additions to their wardrobe then perhaps their desire to consume so much will lessen. It is not dissimilar to some of the traits of the punk movement, “Punk epitomized a DIY attitude to fashion as a reaction against the consumerism of 70s Post Modernism.” Similar to this mindset, the youth of today want to rebel against overconsumption and think more ethically. According to  “Nine in ten Generation Z consumers believe companies have a responsibility to address environmental and social issues”. Not leaving upcycling just to brands also opens up a load of possibilities for individuals. The idea that fashion is one of the key ways that people express their personality becomes more intimate. It is a chance for people to get creative and hands-on in a mostly online world. However, for those who don’t want to get creative, there are a lot of small Instagram boutiques, Etsy shops and depop pages where others will do the job instead. 

Through one upcycling their wardrobe, they are extending the lifespan of a garment and keeps ‘Stuff’ in use for longer. If not creating something completely new, then the ‘Make do and mend’ concept also keeps the product in use for longer. 

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To Conclude

Perhaps recycling is not the mass answer to the crisis caused by overconsumption, but it is one of the necessary things that needs to become a norm to improve the situation. It is something that if executed correctly by both brand and consumer could change the future of the fashion industry and have a hugely positive impact. Though for it to work and have the necessary effect, it must be combined with other practices such as an ethically considered supply chain and the use of poor quality fabrics. It is the author’s opinion that the issue lies primarily with a flawed system where brands do not want a circular economy or to extend the lifespan of a product as this will decrease their profits dramatically if this was done on a wide scale. The only way that this can make a significant differance is if the way in which business runs were to altert with a sizeable systematic change. However, there are many small changes that an individual can make that may, over time, make some difference.