NO EXIT, NO WAY OUT: close the loop on fashion

Textiles [clothing] have no way out of a circular fashion system.  In a circular system, they are designed with no exit strategy.

The fashion industry uses a linear system of taking resources, making a product, and disposing after use, operating as if there are unlimited resources.

LINEAR = TAKE > MAKE > USE > DISPOSE 

Sustainable fashion is manufactured, marketed and used in the most sustainable manner possible, taking into account both environmental and socio-economic aspects.  In theory, it implies continuous work to improve all stages of the product’s life cycle, from design to manufacturing to consumer use and product end use.  In practice, it is a linear system.

circular system operates as if there are finite resources.  Make, use, and reuse, aligning with the principles of a circular economy, are designed for products to re-enter after use, never ending up in the landfill.  You design out the waste from the start.

CIRCULAR = MAKE > USE > RETURN > REUSE 

Circular fashion is much more advanced and is the ultimate closed loop system to preserve an ecological balance.  We need to reuse what we already have in circulation.  Some brands offer sustainable fashion by using biodegradable or renewable materials, but their supply chain may produce excess materials or overruns, use toxic chemicals in dyeing, or waste valuable resources such as water, resulting in a negative impact.  In a perfect loop no resources are wasted or polluted.  The entire supply chain, infrastructure, including the consumer, is committed to the system.

The importance of a sustainable system, particularly one that closes the loop, is arguably the loudest call to action, today more than ever. This pandemic era presents an opportunity to build back a better future, to design a circular infrastructure.

This topic is not new. It has been in the making for decades. The product in these images represent a circular fashion model.  Karen Glass, founder of Ø [zerøwaste] GLASS, who walks the talk of a circular fashion system believes in using textiles to its highest utility and value at all times. Read her story.

Ø GLASS | Ø archive collection
Ø GLASS | Ø archive collection

How bad is it? How wasteful and destructive are we?

In a September 2018 article, United Nations Climate Change reported a few shocking statistics: 

  • Between 2000 and 2014, clothing production doubled with the average consumer buying 60 percent more pieces of garment compared to 15 years ago. Yet, each clothing item is now kept half as long.
  • The fashion industry emits about ten percent of global carbon emissions due to its long supply chains and energy intensive production.  The industry consumes more energy than the aviation and shipping industry combined.
  • Nearly 20% of global waste water is produced by the fashion industry.
  • To make just one pair of denim jeans, 10,000 liters of water is required to just grow the one kilo of cotton needed for the pair of jeans. In comparison, one person would take 10 years to drink 10,000 liters of water.
  • 85% of textiles end up in landfills or are incinerated when most of these materials could be reused.

Financial Times reports less than one percent of recycled textiles are converted into new, wearable materials.

Ø GLASS | upcycle-jacket3

Ideal Circular Fashion System

  1. Design for longevity and recyclability with no waste. 
  2. Source renewable textiles – 
    1. Recycled post-consumer [design process is upcycling to a new product].  Collect, sort, and recycle can be within Brand infrastructure or within the industry supply system.  Sorter facilities and Recycler material manufacturers are a growing industry. 
    2. Pre-consumer waste [e.g. traditional linear factory overruns or excess materials] 
  3. Communicate to consumer supply chain transparency – “who, where, what, when” – who made their clothes, where made, what material, and when made. 
  4. Educate consumer – label [with QR code] care, repair instructions, and where to dispose at the end of use. 
  5. Consumer end use –  
    1. Brand take-back system – consumer returns directly to Brand 
    2. Community take-back system –  
      1. recycle donations [second-hand stores] 
      2. local waste management collection or drop-off posts via local government infrastructure 

A circular system may seem like a radical transformation from where we are today, but the facts and the science tell us there is no other alternative for saving the planet and people.  This is a game changer and we are due for this one.

Ø GLASS
Ø GLASS

For more statistics – Fashion Industry Waste Statistics – one of the most Google searched pages.

photos: courtesy of Ø GLASS. the designs are a restorative, upcyled process using historical textile artifacts, sourced globally by Karen Glass.