What Is Circular Fashion And How Do I Know Which Brands Are Circular?
Circular fashion is a process of clothing production, shopping and disposal that minimises waste, reduces environmental impact and prolongs the lifespan of garments. A circular process is also called ‘cradle to cradle’. The idea is that by using renewable or recyclable resources to create clothing, items can then be worn and then repurposed, repaired, recycled or safely returned to the environment with reduced damage to biodiversity and reduced human cost.
“Circular fashion can be defined as clothes, shoes or accessories that are designed, sourced, produced and provided with the intention to be used and circulated responsibly and effectively in society for as long as possible in their most valuable form and hereafter return safely to the biosphere when no longer of human use.” says Dr Anna Brismar, who coined the term in 2014.
Brands are waking up to the idea of a cycle of production being the most effective, efficient and ethical way of doing business. At every stage of development, resourcers, garment workers, designers and consumers benefit from circular fashion.
To better understand how this works in practice, we spoke with the team at Funky Kalakar, a fair fashion brand working out of India, to ask – what is circular fashion, how does it impact us and what should consumers be looking for?
What is circular fashion? And how does it work?
Circular fashion follows the concept of a circular economy – that is reuse, reduce and recycle. It entails using clothes, shoes, handbags and accessories for as long as possible and then ending the garment’s lifecycle responsibly by using the raw material in its the most valuable form.
Circularity is also about being transparent. Business transparency means being true to the claims you make. It’s about commitment and fulfilment –commit to what you believe in, believe what you commit to; then fulfil it and make this evident to your customers.
The fashion industry won’t survive unless it holds a strong sense of trust with its community. We believe brands should disclose information to help shoppers make an informed choices. People have every right to know exactly what they are buying and whom they are buying from.
Why is it important to move toward circular practices in fashion?
Fashion is one of the world’s top industries, with one of the largest client groups and a huge production scale. Products are being created so rapidly and in such larger quantities by using the resources provided by our environment and these resources are now on the verge of extinction. Circular fashion can help with protecting, reviving and nurturing the planet.
We know now that circular production reduces waste in landfills, increases the lifespan of materials and products, promotes ethical working environments, regenerates waste products and resources and helps by safeguarding existing resources safe.
How does Funky Kalakar adhere to circular practices?
To develop circularity in fashion, a brand must ensure each step, from the design process to shipping, meets circular standards. So for example, the soles of our shoes are made from discarded car tyres, this prevents landfill pollution by giving the tires a new life and reduces the need for more soles to be created from non-biodegradable materials. We have repurposed more than 1400kgs of tyre material.
Our bags are made of materials which are recyclable up to eight times, our packaging is 100% plastic-free and 100% biodegradable – even the tape, which is made from canvas paper and backed with threading and corn starch glue.
Go Zero is our own circular fashion initiative, wherein we endeavour to take back used bags and footwear to help unclog landfills and give them a second life. As a brand, we believe in creating a completely circular experience. We understand that we are still not 100% there but we believe that being circular itself is a journey and we are taking it one step at a time.
Who benefits from circularity?
Circularity holds the power change entire industries and eco-systems. It won’t just benefit humans but also our environments and the living creatures in them. A circular economy links us directly to nature. If we start living a circular life, we will eventually discard less waste and start using natural resources the way they were intended to be used. This will lead to less production, shopping, spending and therefore more saving, less inequality, stronger communities, stronger ecosystems and healthier people inhabiting a healthier planet – not bad in the long run.
How can shoppers tell when something is made using circular processes?
There are multiple factors to be considered before concluding that something has been made using circular processes and it’s important to avoid greenwashing here. A product must be designed so that it can easily be mended and recycled at the end of its lifecycle.
Unlike sustainability, circularity doesn’t simply demand the use of organic materials, fair wages or environment-friendly process; it requires that a product can be repurposed many times – the product should be durable and the materials used for the designs should be recyclable.
What part do consumers have to play in the circular model?
Consumers have a major part to play in this industry of circular fashion and the circular model for many other industries. Brands are built for consumers so in the end, no matter how circular a brand is, everything depends on how the consumers use its products.
Once consumers start demanding quality products that protect the environment, more and more brands will offer these products. The circular model can only be completed when consumers will recycle, upcycle and reuse the products for as long as possible, instead of discarding them as waste. If consumers don’t take part, there’s a missing link in the chain.
And how can businesses be more transparent about their processes?
A business can be more transparent by simply establishing its core values and delivering these values through its work and working processes. It’s possible to monitor each step and present this information employees, customers and the rest of the world to show fulfilment of commitment.
Further to that, brands are perfectly capable of presenting the customers with the complete inside story of how a product is built and how each of these processes affect the environment.
Transparency is one of our core values – along with circularity, empowerment and veganism. We deliver what we believe in and aim to present our complete journey and processes to our community. On our website, we mentioned every material and the percentage used for all collections and we show our making process on our website, to help our community understand what we are doing.
On social media, we’ve revealed the complete journey of the brand from 2017 to date. We’ve disclosed the number of shoes and bags recycled by us, through Go Zero, and we’ve disclosed our profit margins so our customers know exactly what percentage of sales prices goes towards materials, employee wages, logistics and taxes.
What does this mean for consumers?
Shoppers are growing more anxious, they don’t trust brands. They’ve been disappointed by false claims, greenwashing, non disclosure and exposés. Consumers should be able to make up their own minds and see for themselves if a brand is transparent about materials, processes and impact. All this helps people understand the impact of their purchases and their lifestyles, A transparent business brings shoppers out of the dark and ensures proper practices are observed and upheld.
And what does transparency mean for the wider world? For business leaders and employees?
Consider the COVID-19 crisis – countries that have been transparent on the most significant issues and statistics from the early stages were able to manage the infection spread and control casualties in a far more efficient way than the countries which did not practice transparency. With the help of disclosure, we can all hold each other accountable and find solutions faster, more effectively and in the right ways.
We believe that transparency is needed now, more than ever. Business leaders can and must be transparent with all stakeholders in order to establish authentic brand values and build trust with consumers, investors and their own employees.