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Circular Fashion: How It All Began and Where Is It Heading

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Clothes and fashion accessories are a way to express our taste and individuality. These should not be a source of harm to the environment and others. Yet they are, and if we do not take drastic steps, they will continue to be. Luckily, both producers and clients have started embracing a sustainable mindset, which they implement in daily life.

Circular fashion has been a game-changer in the industry. This eco-friendly and ethical model is a strong driving force that deters fast fashion, which has taken hold of the segment for too long. The fresh model offers viable proof of business growth fueled with a cyclical and environmentally friendly approach to design. 

What Is Circular Fashion?



Circular fashion is a term that (luckily) is popping up more frequently in talks about the industry. But what does it mean? The term can refer to clothes, accessories, or any fashion item designed with a sustainable mindset. These are produced with minimal resources in an environmentally conscious way, and they should be worn for a long time (as opposed to fast fashion). 

To make the cycle complete, customers must also wear these items according to their intent. Designers put a lot of thought into preserving the value of products. However, this responsibility is also shared by the client. Once the item has outlived its use, it should safely return to the environment, from where it came.

An item that belongs to circular fashion can be described with the following attributes:

  • Longevity
  • Non-toxicity
  • Bio-degradability
  • Good ethics
  • Efficiency

Yet putting these principles into practice can be more difficult than it sounds, particularly when it implies changing the tide in a trillion-dollar industry. Many designers, producers, fashion brands are up for the fight. 

Also, it is important to mention that consumers play a crucial role in this change. After all, the biggest names in the industry race to meet client demand and find new ways to stand out. One way to rise above a lot of the competitors is by taking a sustainable approach to fashion.

Circular Economy

money tree


Circular economy is one of the pillars of this fashion model. It is a form of industrial economy with the following defining traits:

  • Aims to restore
  • Relies on renewable energy
  • Diminishes waste (with the hope of eradicating it)
  • Minimizes toxic chemicals (with the hope of eliminating these)

The principles of circular economy have a sustainable approach to all processes. Products used by people are created with minimal resources and environmental impact. These are meant to be used for as long as possible. Waste has a different meaning than what we are used to; it is viewed as a resource itself, a fresh start. 

While on the topic of waste, we should note that a circular economy promotes two types of cycles, biological and technical. The first cycle refers to such items that are made from natural components and are biodegradable. Synthetically manufactured products that are not subject to decomposing are part of the technical cycle. 

In the fashion industry, a biological cycle includes fabrics from natural fibers, like cotton, canvas, wool, and silk. Textiles that are part of the technical cycle have synthetic fibers and should be processed separately. The latter category includes nylon, polyester, plastics, and acrylic.

Sustainable Development

cactus reading a book


This is another foundational pillar that holds circular economy. In fact, sustainable development branches out far beyond the fashion industry into all areas of life. This organizing principle for human development simultaneously sustains the natural world and its resources. There is an intrinsic link between the economy and the ecosystem. A link we must cherish and protect.

The United Nations (UN) has prepared The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which should be adopted by all member countries. This plan of action is meant to protect and bring prosperity to both the Planet and its people. There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals and a total of 169 targets that aim to bring theory into practice and change the lives of many (if not all).

Circular Fashion: Origins

woman looking at a shirt


The concept implies a cyclical approach to fashion; everything returns to the point of origin and then prepares for another cycle. This circular system stands opposed to the standard linear model that has been widely implemented across the world. In this, objects have a clear beginning and end, defined by their limited period of usefulness. 

While there are a set of advantages to this model, like high manufacturing rates, the environmental impact is quite vast. In fact, the linear model is close to becoming unsustainable through our limited resources. 

The term circular fashion was coined in 2014 by two independent experts in Sweden. One of them was the owner of the consultancy firm Green Strategy, Anna Bismar. She first used the term at a June meeting, preparing for an eco-friendly fashion event held in the capital city. Around the same time, the term also started circulating among the H&M sustainability staff at Stockholm. Although circular fashion was first used internally, the big brand went public with the term at a seminar later that year.

One of the catalysts for the birth of circular fashion was the widespread use of circular economy in 2014 across Sweden. This was to be one of the foundation stones of this new take on fashion. 

Circular Fashion Models That Work

woman in blue dress walking among flowers


Starting from the main principles, there are many outbranching interpretations on circular fashion. Different actors from the world of fashion are experimenting with various expressions of this sustainable model. However, success depends on the collaborative efforts of producers and consumers. 

The year 2017 was marked by The Make Fashion Circular initiative, launched by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. This was a call to action and collaborative work among top fashion designers and producers to implement the principles of circular fashion. Transformation is never easy, especially if it implies a systemic change of a complex and vast industry.

Today, there are more and more big brands embracing sustainable fashion. Transition is pretty difficult, and it can be slow. Some designers and producers are using a hybrid model. The biggest names that have joined the circular fashion movement include:

  • MUD Jeans
  • The R Collective
  • Etiko
  • BEEN London 
  • Näz

Consumers’ Role Within Circular Fashion

woman at a shopping center


The consumer is a key actor in the circular economy. To make the model not only viable but also successful, all actors need to become active participants. Significant change can be made by taking small steps at our own pace.

One of the most important things is nurturing a sense of awareness. While designers and critics are responsible to share knowledge, clients should stay informed. We live in an age when information is readily available to most of us. It is our shared duty to stay informed and up to date with news.

When buying an item, we should do some research about the product and manufacturer. Try to find out whether or not the clothing was created based on sustainability criteria. Also, consider purchasing garments and accessories from second-hand stores or thrift shops. Implement the principles of reuse. Try not to buy in excess. Stick to only what you need or items that have a strong impact on you. Many customers purchase clothes that they will never wear.

Longevity is one of the main elements of circular fashion. Items are designed to have a long life. However, the wearer is also responsible to offer proper care and maintenance for clothes. If a shirt tears, consider sowing it rather than throwing it away. 

Once the items have served their use, rather than discarding them, consider the alternatives. If the pieces are still in good condition, you can donate them to friends or charities. However, if the clothes are past their due date, recycle or repurpose these. Many big brands now take in old garments, which they deconstruct and rebuild into new pieces.

The Environmental Impact of Circular Fashion

protecting nature


We are currently facing a series of global crises, including overpopulation, hunger, and poverty. There are people all over the globe who continue to live under sub-par conditions. At the same time, nature is struggling to survive. 

To put things more into perspective, consider the following facts:

  • 10% of the global carbon emissions can be traced back to the fashion industry.
  • Approximately 20% of wastewater is due to textile treatment and dyeing.
  • 93 billion cubic water is used by the fashion industry yearly.

Circular fashion is just one initiative meant to help bring balance to our living conditions and heal nature. Clothes are supposed to be made from natural materials, manufactured in a safe way, used for as long as possible, and finally, once these have served their purpose, everything should be recycled; and so a new cycle begins.

To implement such a strategy, a new model in the industry is needed to sustain it. The apparel industry is one of the areas that need fundamental restructuring. Beyond being environmentally friendly, circular fashion also aims to help people have stable and respectable jobs. As many of us are all too aware, the fashion industry sustains quite a few workplaces with more than difficult conditions.

Towards a Greener Future

Clothes and accessories are at the intersection of utility and esthetics. Beyond their practical function, these are also a means of expression. However, this should not cost us the well-being of our peers; nor the silent destruction of our environment. Circular fashion is just one viable model (out of several) that offers a solution for a deeply rooted problem and promises a greener future for all.