Fashion and the circular economy

A new Fashion Brands’ Activism

The term "circular fashion" entered the language of fashion for the first time in 2014, it was coined in Sweden as "cirkulärt mode", but it remained for a long time confined to academic discussions and environmental campaigns, materializing at most in pioneering initiatives of small brands and startups, so much so that at the beginning of 2022 the journalist Rachel Cernansky on Vogue Business defined it as an “elusive concept”, about which we talk a lot but of which few practical applications have been seen in the past.  


Indeed, among the hot topics of sustainability in fashion, that of circular production models for a more efficient use of raw materials and the enhancement of waste as new raw materials to replace virgin ones, remains among those explored and on which there is still a lot to learn and do.


However, there is a new activism today. The idea of circular fashion has now firmly entered the interest of consumers and the radar of fashion brands, so much so that in the report "The state of Fashion 2022" by McKinsey and Business of Fashion, it is identified as one of the dominant themes in the 2022 fashion conversation.


The progress made in recent years by main fashion brands, which the COVID pandemic has not slowed down, but has actually accelerated, has mainly concerned the use of recycled materials (see this link).


On the other hand, in the field of design for circularity, the activism of the brands is currently mainly concerned about training designers and style offices in new design models and in designing limited edition collections. Many brands claim to have carried out training projects on the principles of circularity for their style offices, including for example: Adidas, Dechatlon, Ecoalf, Esprit, Filippa K, Gap, Guess, H&M, Hugo Boss, Inditex, The Kering group, Lacoste, Lindex, Marks & Spencer, Nike, OVS, the PVH group (Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger) and VF Corp (North Face, Vans, Timberland, Napapijri, Eastpack). Training designers is a fundamental step, a challenge and a necessary "food for thought" without which it is difficult to imagine the development of collections that make the concept of circular fashion less elusive and more concrete.


In the fields of second-hand business models development (see this link) and clothing end-of-life management and recycling, brands have just committed to goals which, however, at least in Europe as early as 2023, will have to be translated into practical actions due to the implementation of the norms set by the European Extended Producer Responsibility Directive.


After the elimination of hazardous chemicals, dangerous for the environment and health, from the fashion supply chain, after the commitments and progress on cutting greenhouse gas emissions to fight climate change, after the heated debate on the environmental impact of various textile materials, a new key front has now opened that involves not only the brands but the entire production chain. The fundamental keywords are: increased use of recycled materials, circularity oriented design of garments, zero waste, responsibility of producers for the management of post-consumer textile waste.