A circular economy could be what helps transform fashion from an environmental problem into a solution—and with an estimated worth of more than $517.26 billion in 2021 according to market research provider Research and Markets, it’s in the best interest of both the environment and companies throughout the industry to get on board.
Since 2010, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has been dedicated to the cause, leading initiatives like the Jeans Redesign program, which has garnered participation from more than 72 organizations throughout the global fashion value chain. On Thursday, the foundation published a new book, “Circular Design for Fashion,” which sets out the fundamental principles of circular design and outlines the ways in which creatives can implement its principles.
Featuring insight from luxury brands including Gucci and Vivienne Westwood, independent labels like Kevin Germanier and Marine Serre, mass-market players such as Gap Inc., H&M Group and PVH Corp., and more, the book makes the concept of circularity more accessible and scalable to leaders throughout the industry.
“Every year, the fashion industry produces more and more clothing that is worn less and less. This wasteful and polluting way of doing business is fueling climate change and biodiversity loss and cannot continue in the long term,” said Elodie Rousselot, Ellen MacArthur Foundation circular design program manager. “But, as this book shows, circular design gives us an incredible opportunity to change that, and build a thriving fashion industry where waste and pollution are eliminated, products and materials are circulated and nature is regenerated.”
And it’s not just independent organizations that are willing to share knowledge. The book’s launch follows last month’s debut of a circular design book published by U.K.-based e-tailer Asos. Developed through consultation with Asos’ longstanding sustainability partner Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF)—a division of the London College of Fashion—and with input from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, it covers the brand’s nine circular design strategies: innovative materials, recycled materials, minimized waste, zero waste, upcycling, durability, versatility, mono-materiality and disassembly.
Available in a 22-page interactive and 112-page non-interactive format, it provides detailed information on circular design strategies and materials, as well as recycling technologies currently on the market.
Around that same time, H&M also came out with its own circular innovation, an internal “Circulator” tool, which it eventually plans to open source. The tool will help the company achieve its goal to have 100 percent of its products designed for circularity by 2025. The Circulator’s downloadable guide defines what a circular design process is and lays out a four-step process—know your customer, define your product purpose category, choose your materials and select your design strategies—to help product teams make smarter decisions.
It also contains a digital scoring tool, which will be informed by feedback from the guide’s initial launch phase, and piloted with partners including PVH Corp. and Asos. The tool scores a garment’s components according to their environmental impact, durability and recyclability. The finished product’s total Circular Product Score pinpoints where it can be tweaked to become even more circular.
Circularity feeds resale
By designing with a circular economy in mind, garments are more likely to stay in use for longer, which further supports the booming resale market. According to a recent report from research firm McKinsey & Company, the luxury resale market was estimated at $25–30 billion in 2020, and is projected to see an annual growth rate of 10–15 percent over the next decade. The firm also predicts that by 2025, resale will comprise one-third of the total luxury market, indicating that now is the time for labels to join the movement.
“What’s clear is that luxury resale is here to stay—and those brands that choose not to participate risk missing out on a significant opportunity,” the report stated.
Recently, French conglomerate Kering purchased a 5 percent stake in secondhand apparel and accessories platform Vestiaire Collective, while Gucci formed a partnership with U.S.-based resale platform The RealReal last year.
Prada might be the next luxury label to delve in. Earlier this week, Lorenzo Bertelli, the eldest son of co-chief executives Patrizio Bertelli and Miuccia Prada and the future brand leader, told Reuters it has been investigating its options in the secondhand space for the past year, noting that its debut could come in the form of a “partnership with a player or something more in-house, or both of them, a sort of hybrid solution like for e-commerce.”
Meanwhile, New Look, a leading fashion retailer with over 450 stores throughout the U.K and Ireland, is testing the resale waters with an innovative partnership between secondhand fashion website Re-Fashion and tech company Evrythng. On Wednesday, the companies combined their services to debut a solution that makes it easier for fashion brands to keep track of what they produce, ultimately leading to better resale options when a consumer is ready to retire the product.
“We are dedicated to creating fashion circularity and re-use, but needed a way of tracking every item we sell so we could encourage its return,” said Steve Lyons, director and owner, Re-Fashion. “Our partnership with Evrythng is absolutely crucial in helping create a more sustainable fashion industry.”
The Evrythng Product Cloud allows brands to create a unique digital profile for every product item created. By scanning a code on the product’s label, consumers can find the product’s lifecycle story. Products can be traced from point of origin right through to point of use, and ultimately on to recycling and recommerce.
As New Look tests the solution, it opens the realm of possibility for other brands looking for more resale potential.
“By matching our approach with Evrythng’s technology, the recycling method becomes easier to action by creating the digital identities for items either at the point of production or as they’re processed by our team,” said Lyons. “We have a truly circular solution for fashion out in the market, as we speak.”