Circular Fashion & Big Players

by Alice Beyer Schuch – Jun/2017 (shared with Slow Fashion Next (Spanish). Cover image: Pixabay).


Circular Fashion & Big Players – The role of the big names in fashion on the road to circularity.

#ModaCircular is a recent term, introduced in 2014, and unifies sustainable practices with the concept of Circular Economy in the context of fashion. And this year the concept began to be boosted with more emphasis, with big names in fashion investing in various initiatives that promote this vital change towards the circularity of the world fashion

I do not want here, in any way, to open discussions about the ability of big brands to do more for sustainable fashion. However, what cannot be denied is that, although not enough for many, those big names are doing something. And this is important, as this “something” can promote positive changes to other companies in the value chain.

In fact, the “Pulse of the Fashion Industry” report – released during the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in May – mentions that “the clear driver of sustainability is the size of the company, not its placement or price level“. The report regrettably reports that small and medium-sized enterprises, which together account for more than half of the market, have very little control over their supply chains, reducing opportunities to promote effective change in the system without strong collaboration between them. The (im)pulse to the action would be, according to the report, in the hands of big companies. What, fortunately, is already under way.

Graph with the pulse of action of different companies, separated into four groups according to their revenues. Source: Report Pulse of the Fashion Industry

At the end of March, the “Fashion for Good” initiative was launched – with a laboratory of innovation and practical action in Amsterdam – which aims to inspire the industry to re-imagine the way fashion is designed, made, used and reused. Big names are driving this initiative, such as the C&A Foundation, Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, McDonough Innovation, Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) and the conglomerate Kering. Joining large companies of the fashion industry, the initiative seeks to support the application and extension of technologies, methodologies and business models with the potential to completely transform the industry in five aspects:

Healthy materials;
Reuse of materials;
Renewable energy;
Water treatment;
Social justice.

Leslie Johnston, Executive Director of the C&A Foundation explains: “Open and inclusive, the Fashion for Good initiative will share all the knowledge and lessons learned from its activities. In this way, we want to inspire all those interested in the fashion industry working for a future in which all farmers, workers, customers and communities can flourish. “

During the launch of the initiative, C&A also announced that they were the first retailer in the world to launch Gold Certified Cradle to Cradle™ garments, which are already available, and cost less than €10. C&A has also partnered with the C2C Certified™ for the “How To” Practical Guide – an open-source self-diagnosis and step-by-step tool that shows manufacturers and suppliers how to improve their products and facilities to produce certified Cradle to Cradle. In my view, extremely important steps for the development of a sustainable democratic fashion – which can reach everyone.


C&A: C2C Gold T-shirts. Source: C&A Online Store Spain


Still, in the first week of April, H&M has announced its ambitious plans for circular fashion. They have launched the Change-Makers Lab – a new collaborative research project to address textile circularity – between the H&M Group, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Stockholm Resilience Center. The project aims to define a new vision for the production and use of textiles in a circular system, which has a positive impact on natural resources (knowing that 80% of our clothes are discarded). H&M hopes that the methodology, once developed, will be applicable to other industries. Words from Karl Johan Persson: “At H&M, we want to use our size and reach to lead this change and help create a circular and renewable fashion, being a fair and egalitarian company. The Change-Makers Lab is one of many ways to put that into practice and provide a forum for change agents in our industry, like you, to discuss, inspire, collaborate, and challenge ideas and myths”.

The brand has also announced as a goal during the presentation of its sustainability report:
Becoming a wholly circular business – considering discarded clothing as valuable resources and, therefore, giving them a long life, whether in its original form or through recycling. This includes the commitment to use 100% recycled materials or sustainable sourced by 2030. And reuse and recycle all the collected item that, by 2020, must reach more than 25000t annually (since 2014 have collected 40000t.).
As part of this plan already under way, we can cite the Global Change Award that, in its second edition in 2017, distributes a prize of € 1,000,000 among the 5 winners and seeks to accelerate innovative ideas of circular fashion. 

The term was also debated during the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in May this year, which annually brings together strong representatives of the industry. Beginning with the presentation from William McDonough, one of the creators of the Cradle to Cradle concept, which said that “if we talk about the end-of-life of a product, it may be that one day we achieve it.” He suggests that our path to circularity must begin with the correct selection of materials, replacing “bad” alternatives with positive and beneficial materials, such as those presented by Fashion Positive+ – an initiative of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute. Dame Ellen MacArthur has also presented and mentioned the Circular Fibers Initiative, which is supported by names such as the C&A Foundation, H&M and Nike to define a new vision for the global textile system. During the event, visitors were also able to see the Solutions Lab exhibit, with innumerable alternatives – new or current – that cater to the circularity of fashion in different aspects. An example: a small sample of Future Fabric Expo – with sustainable materials already available in the market.

“Why should we be less bad if we can wish to be 100% fabulous?” (William McDonough)


Presentation from William McDonough during Copenhagen Fashion Summit. Source: author


The year of 2017, with no doubts, has begun with a lot of buzz. How much of all that is a real vision of a better future or maybe just a marketing strategy, I would not know. But I, optimistically, wish that all the goals and changes mentioned are applied and that, in this way, can bring to the small brands and autonomous designers more options to choose materials and circular alternatives. But a moment! We are not going to wait! There is much that can be done* faster and more effectively in small and family businesses. Let’s do what we can, what we achieve with all our options, limitations, power. In the end, as Albert Einstein once said, “the world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything


* Want to know more about Circular Fashion? Get in contact!

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