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Closing the Loop: How Sharing Circular Materials Fortifies Fashion’s Future

Circular materials could be a solution for the industry’s growing waste dilemma.

Today, nearly 85 percent of clothing ends up in a landfill. What’s more, the apparel manufacturing process remains detrimental to the environment, with rampant water contamination, unaddressed child labor and harmful carbon dioxide emissions.

Despite these drawbacks, industry-wide organizations, including the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, are remedying textile waste with their circular materials approach. By establishing a collaborative material catalog, brands can reduce their carbon footprint and foster a more circular economy in the future.

“We represent where the fashion industry is going and where there is a circular system where is no such thing as waste,” said Annie Gullingsrud, textiles and apparel sector director at Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, speaking at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Summer Institute on Tuesday. “We help companies and brands along the way improve those materials.”

Gullingsrud discussed how brands need to think beyond garments and collaborate on the future use of materials. She noted how material selection should be sustainable, the apparel production process should be transparent and clothing materials should “go back into the system.”

Fashion Positive, an initiative of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, supports this shift by enabling brands to collectively share materials through its Fashion Positive Materials Collection.

“When we launched Fashion Positive three years ago, brands and designers came to us and said we don’t have the basic building blocks to create fashion,” Gullingsrud added. “We said let’s use this standard to create materials for the industry.”

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Listing Cradle to Cradle Certified Materials, the digital resource enables industry members, including brands and suppliers, to collectively use circular and eco-friendly materials for their apparel needs. The collection’s 70 materials, including dyes, fabrics and trims, are verified according to five Cradle to Cradle Certified criteria—material health, material reutilization, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship and social fairness. By assessing materials, industry members can identify materials’ second lifespan, understand how materials’ chemical ingredients impact the planet and determine whether materials can be reused down the line.

Gullingsrud also discussed how scale is the difference between sustainability and a circular economy.

PLUS, Fashion Positive’s membership collaborative, accelerates circular materials access across the entire industry through a community of brands, designers and material suppliers. Using its volume collaboration approach, PLUS members will identify in-demand, “building block” materials and work together to ensure they fit into a circular economy model. Last month, top global brands, including Eileen Fisher, H&M, Kering, Loomstate and Zero + Maria Cornejo joined PLUS in its circular material efforts.  While Fashion Positive continues to grow its membership base, it also aims to expand the Fashion Positive Materials Collection in coming years.

“When we think about a circular material, we aren’t just creating it,” Gullingsrud said. “We are verifying that it is ready for a circular economy and how we can set up the right partnership to make sure they go back to the system on repeat.”