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Experts Call on the Canadian Government to Advance Circular Fashion

During a talk Tuesday at the Kingpins24 Canada event, an online gathering geared toward the Canadian denim industry, panelists presented some good news: The fashion industry is inching closer to circularity.

But according to Sabine Weber, Ontario Textile Diversion Collaborative (OTDC) founder, real change won’t come until everyone—particularly the government—is aware of fashion’s role in the climate crisis. Though textile waste is a major environmental threat, the government currently fails to acknowledge it as such.

“The government is mainly involved in defining waste materials, and right now textile waste is not a waste category,” she said. “So this means the municipalities don’t really have to separate textiles from the rest of the waste stream.”

Without separation, it’s impossible to measure the scope of the issue and, as a result, difficult to create recycling solutions for a circular fashion industry. Panelists referenced an initiative instilled in other parts of the world where people can recycle clothing the same way they recycle plastic bottles, glassware and cardboard: in a bin that’s collected by government-run programs and sorted appropriately.

But acknowledgement is just the first hurdle in the industry-wide adoption of circularity. According to panelists, other challenges include investing in the appropriate—and costly—infrastructure. Currently, the recycling model requires humans to sort through garments and judge their condition. Infrared sensors and RFID threads are being developed and tested to help with the fiber identification process, but not at scale.

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Fashion Takes Action, a nonprofit organization focused on sustainability in fashion, is currently working on research for a textile recycling feasibility study that will be presented to the Canadian Federal Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.

“We hope to present the business case to the ministry, as to whether or not it makes sense for them to invest in developing that kind of an infrastructure in Canada,” said Kelly Drennan, Fashion Takes Action’s founder.

This is far from the first time the fashion industry has called on the help of the government. At the end of 2019, Levi’s head of innovation Paul Dillinger explained how progressive governments can foster a circular fashion industry.

But government aside, consumers can also play a role in circularity. According to Philippe Cantin, senior director of sustainable innovations and circular economy at the Retail Council of Canada, secondhand retail is a market that typically grows in popularity during times of economic uncertainty—and should serve as a source of optimism for thrift stores and platforms.

“There is still a lot to leverage in terms of opportunities in the thrift industry,” he said. “There are more and more agreements between brands and second-market retailers to go down the path of reuse, and with the current economic crisis, there’s definitely momentum building.”