In order to change the end result, it’s best to start at the very beginning. There’s no doubt the fashion and textile industry is one of the world’s greatest polluters. Time and time again we see statistics being thrown around—carbon emissions, clothes going to landfill, water usage. The list seems endless. As manufacturers, brands and increasing number of consumers embark on the journey towards sustainable practices, it’s clear we need both a shift in thought processes and a change in actions.
What has become clear over the past few seasons is that fashion needs to shy away from the traditional take-make-dispose linear model and steer towards enabling a circular economy. Each week there seems to be a new tool available to help navigate this journey, but at the end of the day, the key to designing out waste starts with fiber choice.
“Globally, we are all guilty of over-producing and over-consuming,” says John Roberts, CEO of Australian Wool Innovation, the parent company of The Woolmark Company. “We’ve embraced a throwaway culture where frequent purchases are essentially a one-way ticket to the trash can. Yet through education and industry-wide collaboration, we can slow things down, turn to nature, and facilitate a move towards circular design principles.”
To change the textile industry’s method of production from this wasteful linear model towards a sustainable circular model, there is a global push—led by the European Union—to adopt a circular economy. Wool offers a material solution for brands, designers and manufacturers looking to shift into a circular business model and create circular products.
This comprehensive policy and legislative framework to achieve circularity in the textile industry is being developed through the EU’s European Green Deal and its Circular Economy Action Plan.
Addressing waste and pollution in the textile industry is a key goal of the EU’s plans. The strategy aims to help the EU shift to an economy in which fashion and textile products are designed to be more long-lasting, reusable and recyclable, and encourage sustainable production. Furthermore, through the EU’s Extended Producer Responsibility legislation, brands will soon be responsible for the entire lifecycle of their products, including take-back, recycling and final disposal.
In essence, brands must start designing for circularity.
“Our brand partners are increasingly asking, ‘How can we design for positive change?’” Roberts says. “And while embracing truly circular design practices is no easy feat, we are confident in promoting Merino wool as the original circular fiber thanks to its intrinsic benefits.”
Wool: a circular fiber
So, what makes wool a circular fiber? Wool is designed by nature: from the earth to your wardrobe, and back again. Versatile and recyclable, wool allows design for long life. The inherently circular nature of wool includes: renewability at the start of life; high levels of reuse and recycling during life; and biodegradability at end-of-life, when the fiber’s nutrients are returned to the soil.
“This is more than just recycling; it is true circularity, with the potential to reduce environmental impacts such as carbon emissions and biodiversity loss. It’s these inherent properties of wool which perfectly align to the basic principles of the circular economy.”
In contrast, synthetic fibers are derived from non-renewable petrochemicals and fossil fuels, which, when extracted, de-sequester carbon stored in the earth millions of years ago. It’s the same synthetic fibers that clog landfills and contribute to microplastic pollution.
To help designers make the shift towards circularity, The Woolmark Company has launched a Circularity hub on woolmark.com, aimed at empowering the supply chain with up-to-date information, downloadable toolkits, guides and resources to implement the principles of circularity.
“We’re not saying this is the answer, but it is a step in the right direction,” Roberts said. “Our aim is to educate and connect. This hub is not a one-stop-shop, and, like the humble circle, it is ever-changing and constantly evolving. There is no start nor end.”