The Circular Economy is Here to Stay for Luxury Fashion

Editorial TeamEditorial Team
December 7th, 2022

From Gucci to Valentino, new laws and strategies to enable the recycling of unsold garments and separation of textile waste is being seen amongst various luxury fashion brands. 

Fast fashion will go out of fashion. The rules of the game are changing for textile producers, and both the EU and Spain are determined that this sector will no longer go almost unnoticed as a major polluter.

Clothing shops are springing up in towns and cities all over the world in an uncontrolled manner. Most of them sell products of dubious quality, practically throwaway garments whose low prices make this possible. Increasingly, we tend to wear the same clothes only one season at a time and change our wardrobe almost completely from one year to the next.

The average European throws away 11 kilos of clothes, shoes, and other textiles every year, according to the European Commission. The textile sector is the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after food, housing, and transport. As if these figures were not enough to make us aware of the polluting scope of this sector, there is more: almost three-quarters of the clothing and household textiles consumed in the EU are imported from elsewhere.

Research by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated that 33% of microplastics - small pieces of plastic that do not break down in the ocean - come from washing synthetic textiles such as polyester.

The reason their impact is so great is due to several factors: their supply chain is long and complex, starting in agriculture, with plant fibers and petrochemical manufacturing, synthetic fibers, through manufacturing and logistics, to retail.


How Does the Circular Economy Apply to Fashion?

The fashion industry is starting to move away from a linear system to a regenerative one. This is not just for brands, but for designers, retailers, operators and customers. Circular fashion is about eliminating pollution and waste, reusing, recycling and extending the life cycle of products. It is about caring for the planet and people. To achieve market transformation, some tangible factors need to be made in the circular fashion ecosystem.

Lablaco x Vogue's Circular Fashion Report 2020 recognized three main fashion actors in charge of shifting toward circularity. The first is the supply chain, which is responsible for using circular materials such as renewable energy, non-toxic chemicals, agricultural products and low environmental impact processes.



The second is the designers and brands, who are responsible for creating fashion pieces from regenerative materials, eco-friendly manufacturing, recycled packaging and even supporting local craftsmanship. The third is practically everyone else - customers, content creators, retailers, etc. They can be enabled for resale, rental, exchange, donation, repair and upcycling.

For example, Eileen Fisher is a brand that shares its knowledge about sustainability and the circular economy. Its journey towards circular business models translates into some initiatives. It creates sustainable designs using less energy, fewer chemicals and raw materials such aas regenerative wool.

In addition, Eileen Fisher Renew system is a way for customers to return their branded garments and earn some money so that the company can resell them after expert restoration.


The Digitalization of Fashion

Circularity is difficult to measure, and putting a figure on the results is complicated considering that it involves social changes. However, there are a few pillars that provide an overview of the transition. Calculating gas emissions, energy consumption, employment rates, and manufacturing costs comes closest to analyzing the benefits of the circular economy for businesses.

The Circularity Gap Report 2022 worked to link a figure to the circular economy, which in its conclusion only accounts for 8.6% of the global economy. A percentage that can certainly increase to 39% in the coming years.

The usual benefits of including the new industrial model vary from sector to sector, but at least in fashion it consistently reflects material efficiency: minimizing waste by reusing and recycling materials, leaving all virgin materials to be replaced by secondary ones. Or extending wealth by doubling the lifespan of long-lasting consumer products.

One of the most innovative strategies of the circular economy is the digitalization of fashion. A specialization of some brands that decide to adapt their services with digital tools. A digital strategy for big data and analytics helps to understand consumer behavior.

In addition, it offers 3D models of garments to reduce the waste of fabrics and materials, thanks to these simulations designers take less time to create garments which leads to smart production only on demand. Although it is not widely used right now, it will be at some point.


Gucci’s Online Shop: Gucci Vault

In September The Circularity Gap Report 2022of last year, Gucci created the experimental online shop Gucci Vault, featuring vintage and second-hand pieces. A new digital concept store where the brand will sell second-hand and reconditioned vintage pieces, selected by Alessandro Michele, Gucci's creative director. On the digital platform, inspired by the multimedia concept shops of the 1990s, Gucci offers for sale items from emerging designers from around the world as well as exclusive pieces that will only be available through e-commerce.



Valentino Vintage

In June, Valentino announced that it would start selling vintage items collected from customers in exchange for shop credit. The Maison's past merges into its future with Valentino Vintage. The initiative will take place in selected vintage shops that will host special events, allowing people to discover Valentino garments from different decades. This is in addition to carrying Global Recycled Standard certification for its recycled materials.

Each of the venues will be located in legendary thrift shops that have earned their fame through the authenticity and exclusivity of the pieces on offer. The value of each of the Valentino Vintage garments lies in their individuality, immune to the passage of time, ready to become relevant again, and to re-tell stories that inspire and continue Valentino Garavani's legacy.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation

This company addresses environmental, social and economic challenges in many ways. It has collaborated with other fashion brands to create clothing resale campaigns with The Real Real and Reformation. It also supports Patagonia's service to repair and restyle its outdoor products. The foundation works to promote a circular economy mindset by constantly creating reports, organising events and shows, providing essential information and cooperating with policy makers.