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Go Circular or Get Left Behind: Redesigning Strategy for Fashion’s Sustainable Future

With current looks and trends changing on a regular basis, the fashion calendar for consumers is outdated in a matter of weeks. This phenomenon has accelerated the trend for fast fashion and it’s no longer enough to update one’s wardrobe every season. However, such styling trend standards have also created alarming environmental, social and economic impacts.

As part of the fast-fashion trend, this linear “take-make-waste” model is causing harm to the environment. In the U.S. market alone, an average American throws away approximately 80 pounds of used clothing per year, with up to 95 percent of the textiles that could actually be recycled ending up in landfill.

Since consumers have become increasingly concerned about eco-responsibility and sustainable lifestyles, fashion’s detrimental impact on the environment poses a serious challenge to how the industry can adapt, sustain and succeed in the long run.

According to a 2018 Nielsen research report on global consumers’ perceptions of sustainable shopping, a staggering 81 percent of consumers felt strongly that companies should act responsibly for the environment. This is a signal that the fashion industry must act promptly and make the necessary business changes to meet consumers’ demands, or else be left behind.

To initiate this kind of industry change, brands must redesign and rethink business strategies across their textile value chain. This is where the idea of circular economy comes in. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a charity that focuses on environmental issues, circular economy is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.

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Such a model will keep materials in used-rotation for as long as possible, with huge benefits for fashion businesses. Companies will be able to minimize costs and increase productivity while demonstrating stronger eco-consciousness and reducing the negative impact on the environment.

At the Copenhagen Fashion Summit 2017, the industry recognized the potential and necessity of a circular economy with 90 big-name designers, suppliers and retailers, including ASOS, H&M and Nike, signing the “2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment” aimed at accelerating the industry’s transition to a more sustainable and circular system.

The commitment set targets across a number of areas: designing for circularity, increasing the volume of used garments and footwear resold and collected, and raising the share of products made from recycled post-consumer textile fibers.

To uphold the business eco-transformation trend, the industry has made collective efforts to drive growth towards a circular fashion system, be it the apparel, innerwear or home wear segment. For example, H&M has made an ambitious goal to convert to 100 percent circular or sustainable materials across the company’s supply chain by 2030 and U.K.-based charity.

Against Breast Cancer initiated a bra recycling scheme, taking unwanted bras that would normally end up in landfill, to help support small businesses in Africa through their textile recovery project. Apart from efforts made by retailers and charities, industry suppliers who play a key role in the value chain, are also making improvements to become more eco-friendly.

Lenzing is proud to stand at the forefront of sustainability, driving change with contributions towards the circular economy through eco-fiber innovations. One of its pioneering advancements is the award-winning REFIBRA™ technology, which involves upcycling a substantial proportion of cotton scraps and wood pulp to produce new TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers in a closed-loop process.

TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers produced by REFIBRA™ technology are not only used for apparel, but also can be found in intimate-wear collections. Derived from renewable sources and with Eco Soft technology, TENCEL™ Intimate cellulosic fibers provides long-lasting softness to help the wearer’s skin feel pleasantly cool and dry throughout the day and night. This is an example of how a product can be both sustainable and functional. Leveraging the use of innovative technologies, Lenzing can produce high-quality eco-products while driving circular economy at the backbone.

Making the transition to achieve circular fashion is not an easy task and will require the industry’s continuous efforts. While the current pace of the industry’s sustainability performance might not be fast enough to balance the negative environmental impacts, it is still encouraging to witness that a change for the better is taking place.

With collaborative efforts made by fashion industry contributors, the industry can unveil new sustainability standards and produce eco-friendlier economic, environmental and societal outcomes. Lenzing is on track with pursuing these goals and will work closely with industry stakeholders to input mechanisms for a greener planet.