What is Circular Fashion | Challenges in Circular Fashion Movement

Long have terms like Industry 4.0, fast fashion, etc. been a buzzword in this fashion industry. It is agreed that concepts like Industry 4.0 will improve a great lot in production ultimately boosting fast fashion throughout the world, but have anyone thought of the consequences that it will bring to the environment. 

Circular fashion should be the next big thing as it goes in tandem with the upcoming sustainable model of the fashion industry. In this article,  Soumyadeep Saha has discussed all this term, what it symbolizes and what the difficulties in achieving this are.

Circular fashion

Definition of Circular fashion

According to Dr. Anna Brismar, head, and owner of the Swedish consultancy firm Green Strategy and owner of circularfashion.com, circular fashion can be defined as clothes, shoes, accessories that are designed, sourced, produced and provided with the intent to be used and circulate responsibly and effectively in society for as long as possible in the most valuable form, and hereafter return safely to the biosphere when no longer of human use.

The circular fashion revolves around the idea of enabling the products of today to become the resources of tomorrow. What it means that for a fashion to be referred to as circular, it has to be (www.greenstrategy.se/en)
  • Designed so that its sub-components can be disassembled or separated to facilitate repair, remake, reuse and recycle at the end of its use.
  • Designed with high-quality materials with maximum durability, longevity in a timeless style.
  • Designed in a custom made way to increase its value and appeal to the customer
  • Produces keeping sustainability in mind and be ethical through its production stage without any abuse of available resources.
  • Produced, transported and marketed using renewable energy wherever possible
  • It can withstand more than one hand in its lifetime through swapping, borrowing, rental, redesign or second-hand service.
  • It can be safely recycled without any further effect on the environment and society itself.

Challenges in circular fashion movement

But as easy as it sounds there comes a lot of factors and difficulties in approaching this movement.

1. Misunderstanding of the second-hand market: 
There often comes doubt in the mind of the customer when purchasing something that is used. For apparels, these concerns consist of quality, longevity, presence of any contaminants, hidden defects in the garments. This limits the approach of the consumer to this system of fashion making its purpose limited in use.

2. Maturity in the sense of responsibility in buyer: 
As a buyer/ consumer, the purchase of any apparel means the use of the product for himself only. With an increase in products in the market there comes a shift in the mind-set wherein there is a sudden drop in the value of the product to the consumer. This makes him search for newer products in the market thus ending the lifetime of the products in hand. For them throwing the old products becomes a much viable option than thinking of reusing in any other form or returning them to correct channels.

3. Ineffective business model: 
The present business model towards fashion is to push the products into the market making it available for the consumer to buy on choice or necessity. Circular fashion involves retrieving a product from the market to renewing it again and pushing it back into the market with ways like reusing, reselling, charity donations, etc. and these functions are missing from the present business model making it a need of the hour for modification.

4. Absence of technology required: 
This is becoming one of the major problems/hurdles toward circular fashion. Circular fashion in one way requires the fabric to transform into fiber and again back to fabric without any loss in quality. This process is at its very infant stage making its use very limited. Again there is the problem with the blends as they are almost impossible to separate making further separation and process difficult.

5. Design limitation: 
This can both be in the form of garment design as well as fabric design. With increased demands in trends fashion, designers have shifted more towards designs which are very short-lived losing value to customer drastically. Gone are the days of classic fashion where designs were long-lived and garments had longer shelf life than it is today. Then again fabric design/construction has to be so made such that further procurement of the fiber becomes as easy as possible. This can be the key to unlock the hidden possibilities of circular fashion.

6. Obvious loss in business with people shopping less: 
Since circular fashion believes in the ideology of recycling, reusing, etc. people are going to keep hold on to their clothes much longer than they currently do. This poses a threat to the on-going market as sales will come down making business owners, manufacturing industry out of work as an extreme scenario.

7. Recycling becoming a down cycling process: 
This can be justified with the fact that at present recycling a textile means breaking it down to yarns or fibers and using in mattress production, send to flockery industries to produce filling material for furniture padding, panel lining, loudspeaker cones, car insulations, etc. again recycled fabric like denim is used for accessories design, home furnishing products etc. to think of it very negligible portion of worldwide garment use gets used in this way, sending rest of them down to landfills.

8. Loss of quality:
With present technology, procuring the fiber from the fabric has a high impact on the fiber as during crushing or separation fibers also get broken down into much smaller strands. This intern affects the quality of the fabric produced.

Possible solution

Circular economy
Credit: www.slideshare.net/AnnaTar1/circular-fashion-workshoppptx

With so many problems hurdling the way towards circular fashion, solutions have to be figured out to make this possible. Some of the possible solutions can be -
  1. To make people more responsible for circular fashion rewards can be given on products being returned to the respective retail store.
  2. Designers have to get inclined towards more classical designs that become valuable to the users for a longer period of time.
  3. Improvement in procurement technology to extract the most out of a product without any loss in quality and negative impact on the environment thus maximizing the value of recycled materials.
  4. Further efficient down-cycling with greater innovation and wider product range is to be done to make circular fashion even more efficient.
  5. Total revising of the business plan has to be done and it should include retaking of sold products, reuse of resources like that of raw materials instead of using virgin raw materials, etc.
  6. Creating trust among people regarding second-hand products by issuing certificates from trusted bodies with the product. This approach would help a lot, in the long run, helping circular fashion reach out to a much wider customer base.
Diana Brojt thinks Circular Fashion is the future of Fashion. A Forbes article has shown a few points why the circular economy will not fix the fashions sustainability problem.


Prasanta Sarkar

Prasanta Sarkar is a textile engineer and a postgraduate in fashion technology from NIFT, New Delhi, India. He has authored 6 books in the field of garment manufacturing technology, garment business setup, and industrial engineering. He loves writing how-to guide articles in the fashion industry niche. He has been working in the apparel manufacturing industry since 2006. He has visited garment factories in many countries and implemented process improvement projects in numerous garment units in different continents including Asia, Europe, and South Africa. He is the founder and editor of the Online Clothing Study Blog.

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