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What is Circular Fashion?

A young woman stood in a wheat field wearing the RED J A t-shirt with a title over the image that says What is Circular Fashion

Circular Fashion is the re-imagining of the manufacturing process. From a linear one of make — use — discard, to a circular one of make — use — remake — reuse. This is achieved through enduring design, re-use, repair, up-keep, remanufacturing and recycling. Known as the Circular Economy, this system of continuous re-use of materials means manufacturers are creating as little waste as possible in production, and recycling as much waste as possible. But it doesn't stop there. To be truly circular you also need to be sustainable. Considering how the raw materials of your product are produced ensuring eco systems are kept intact and environments aren’t polluted. Replacing any materials that you do use, by planting trees for example, and to look at the whole lifecycle of your product, ensuring that when it is finally discarded, it is recycled properly, back into the industrial system not into landfill. One further point to address is ethical and moral issues, such as ensuring that workers are treated and paid fairly.

The Four Goals of the Circular Economy

For J A, circular fashion means a whole system approach of reintroducing garments back into the industrial cycle, by repairing, recycling or up-cycling. This is directly based on the Circular Economy model which contains four main goals:

  1. Phasing out substances that cause harm;

  2. Increasing clothing re-use through design and clothing durability;

  3. Improving recycling (especially mixed fibre items);

  4. Making better use of resources, including switching to renewables where possible.

A recent report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation sees these goals as paramount for the fashion industry to follow in the next 30 years. We know that the clothing industry is worth more than 1.3 trillion USD, employing more than 300 million people worldwide, and the Circular Economy not only protects the planet, but is also a business opportunity. It is estimated that only 1% of all clothing is recycled into new clothes, meaning at least 100 billion dollars worth is being discarded. The disposal of garments has a significant cost on the environment as well. The release of non-renewable resources like oil, synthetics and chemical finishes add to CO2 emissions.

How We Got Here

The Circular Economy was first introduced by Walter Stahl with his seminal report for the Commission of the European Communities ‘The Potential for Substituting Manpower for Energy’ (30th July 1977). This idea was progressed by William McDonough and Michael Braungart in ‘Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things’, which expanded on the ‘closing the loop’ analogy. This principle is based on closing the loop in two different cycles; biological or technological. A product is created to have multiple life cycles or to biodegrade. Where are we now? In March 2019, the EU adopted the ‘Circular Economy Action Plan,'. The action plan shows how a circular economy benefits people, the planet and prosperity. Products should have a longer lifetime due to improved design and should be manufactured, using the minimum amount of energy, water and raw materials. If a product breaks, it is repaired not discarded. When no longer required by one consumer, it is re-used by another or recycled in a sustainable way. The United Nations Environment Programme calls this ‘value retention processes.’

Circularity and The Economy

Being circular makes good business sense. One of the many benefits of using recycled materials is to increase your resources. The ‘Circular Economy Action Plan, states that in a circular economy, materials are recycled by injecting them back into the economy as new raw materials, thus increasing the security of supply. The more we work in a circular manner, the more we increase sustainable material use.

An orange and black diagram depicting the industrial process of Circular Fashion

What This All Means for Fashion

This means moving away from the idea of ‘fast fashion’ to a more sustainable manufacturing model. Fast fashion is cheap, poor quality clothing, designed to be worn one day and discarded the next — often straight into landfill. Which means, non-renewables such as oil for fertilisers and chemical finishes are added to global emissions. As well as that, microplastics shed from synthetic fabrics during laundry and wear, could equal 22 million tons of pollution in our oceans by 2050 with negative effects including poisoning wildlife and entering the human food chain.

Recent start-ups, claiming to be sustainable, have missed some of the fundamental elements of what it means to be circular. Environmental activists Vanessa Nakate, Greta Thunberg and others, call this ‘green-washing’ — where companies claim credentials that they’re simply not due. To be truly sustainable means becoming part of the Circular Economy and following its four main goals to ‘close the loop.’ At J A, our brand is looking at fashion manufacturing in a wholly sustainable way, from source to end of life. We are following the four goals of the circular economy by:

  1. Phasing out substances that cause harm - Our t-shirts use certified Fair Wear organic cotton, using less water and no pesticides and we print our original designs with organic, water-based inks.

  2. Increasing clothing re-use through design and clothing durability – At J A we run a rehoming scheme for your old garments. Once returned to us, garments in good condition are re-homed to be re-loved. Damaged garments are repaired or up-cycled.

  3. Improving recycling – We will recycle garments that cannot be re-used by giving them a second life as wash rags or insulation, thus avoiding landfill.

  4. Making better use of resources, including switching to renewables where possible - Our manufacturing process uses renewable energy sources and less water.

Nobody’s perfect and there is always room for improvement, but we believe that being wholly sustainable should be everyone’s aim. It’s certainly ours.


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