The Challenges of Implementing a Circular Economy in Fashion

Editorial TeamEditorial Team
March 14th, 2023

Currently less than 1% of clothing is recycled. Here is what fashion companies like Sepiia, Ecoalf, and Stella McCartney are doing in response.

The textile industry is facing a major paradigm shift: changing its linear production to circular production. In other words, the produce-buy-use-dispose equation, which is the prevailing one in the clothing cycle, must be transformed into produce-buy-use-reuse and start all over again.

Traditionally, the industry has been a polluting industry that has wasted natural resources, and now the sector's efforts are focused on reversing this situation to adapt to the sustainability challenges set out in the European Green Deal.

From the traditional concept of renewing the wardrobe in two seasons, spring-summer and autumn-winter, we have moved on to fast fashion: stores replenish their textile offer at least once a week and at a much more affordable price. This immediacy and price drop means that garments quickly become obsolete and more clothes accumulate that will have little or no use. Not to mention the unsustainability of its production cycle, which according to this European Parliament report is responsible for the contamination of 20% of drinking water due to dyes and finishing products.

Another alarming fact reflects that the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions, more than shipping and international flights combined. In addition, the European Environment Agency estimates that textile purchases generate more than 650 kgs of CO2 emissions per person, with a consequent environmental impact.

Currently, less than 1% of clothing is recycled. The remaining 99% pollutes the environment due to the use of toxic chemicals, hazardous dyes, and synthetic fibers that leach into the world's water supply and oceans.



The Challenge in Achieving Circularity

For these reasons, the European Union adopted in 2021 the 'Action Plan for the Circular Economy', in a clear commitment to the philosophy of circularity and the elimination of outdated obsolescence, when companies create products with defects so that their useful life ends earlier and so new ones have to be consumed.

According to this plan, the circular economy is a production and consumption model that involves sharing, renting, reusing, repairing, renewing, and recycling existing materials and products as many times as possible to create added value. This increases their life cycle and reduces waste because they can be used again productively.

To ensure that textiles do not end up in landfill, the problem must be tackled at the source. With this premise, and based on existing models that seek to reduce pollutants, such as carbon or plastic, companies need to develop a formula that measures the textile footprint, and the environmental impact of production. With the data obtained, which also takes into account the traceability of materials, they can then develop a plan aimed at the circularity of fabrics and the reduction of consumables.



What Fashion Companies Are Doing About it

The company Sepiia has partnered with platform T-Neutral to increase its sustainability objectives. The company markets clothing made from a fabric that does not stain or wrinkle and is long-lasting. Nerea Alonso, the firm's communications manager, shares that even with adjustments in the cut, 10% of the fabric is lost before the garment reaches the wearer. They collect the surplus and recycle it, but they still have waste in addition to the garments that are thrown away.

They can end up in a landfill or are incinerated, so what Sepiia has done is recover the garments, so customers can send them back at the end of their life cycle and our same supplier who makes the yarn recycles them.

Last March, the European Union presented for the first time a plan that has a direct impact on the circularity of textiles, the Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles, but its horizon is 2030. Carolina Blázquez, director of Innovation and Sustainability at Ecoalf, argues that the change that the planet needs is far beyond what is being set by legislation.

This brand has been selling garments made from recycled materials for 12 years. Blázquez states that in the beginning, the manufacturers they approached called them "crazy" for wanting to make coats from recycled bottles. Today the panorama has changed completely. Suppliers are proposing new materials and consumers are demanding more information.

A fashion powerhouse based in London, Stella McCartney is dedicated to running a responsible and sustainable business. They employ circular business practices such as using recycled and reworked materials that are 100% organic. Stella McCartney products also use GOTS-certified cotton. The brand is also a part of the Make Fashion Circular Initiative and is also certified by Cradle to Cradle, a program that scores brands on their commitment to a circular economy.