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  • Abi Terry

What is a Circular Economy?

Updated: May 12, 2023

What is the circular economy? The circular economy is based on three principles: eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials, and regenerate nature. It is underpinned by a transition to renewable energy and materials. It is a resilient system that is good for business, people and the environment.

The circular economy is broken down into two sections, the technical and biological. In essence the technical element is about recovering the harder non-biodegradable resources such as metals and plastics. Then the biodegradable side is to do with resources such as food, wood and fabrics like cotton. However, the resources on the biological side need to be designed correctly and should not have any technical elements in there which will stop it from degrading. This is something that happens a lot in the fashion industry. When the two sides are mixed together the material becomes non-recoverable. Poly-cotton is one of the biggest examples of this.

In our modern-day age of wanting to consider the planet and to become more sustainable in our living, our ultimate aim as a society is to fully adopt a circular economy. But in order to adopt it we need to understand it.

Understanding more about the circular economy means we can move away from the linear 'Take-Make-Waste' model that fast fashion has become largely accustomed to. Clothing has had one of largest areas of linear growth ever seen, this is partly because shopping has never been easier and brand marketing strategies cater to this. However, there has been a big move to climate justice. So, making fashion circular is the new mission and to achieve this the fashion industry will need a fundamental redesign to shift away from the old model into the reused-based model. This diagram explains how the fashion industry can begin to do this in four simple steps.

For individual consumers it is about achieving unlimited styles, without waste which means becoming more conscious about what it is you are doing with your clothing. There are many brands that are beginning to make a move into recycling fashion. One example is companies such as Vinted, Depop and ThredUp. These sites are leading the way in re-selling fashion and allow people to shop for particular items without buying from fast fashion brands. There are also other ways this fashion circular economy could be achieved, for example by making and mending clothes before it goes past the point of no return. This is another beneficial way of moving fashion into more of a circular economy.

Some other fashion saving options which the Ellen MacArthur foundation suggest are:

- Finding timeless garments offering durability and personality.

- Taking the fabric out of fashion (Many clothes are brought to be shown online once and then they are chucked away. Making the fashion digital for the online space means this could be an option to solve waste.)

Overall, redesigning the system is no small task. There are so many different options that you can do and all require a bit more conscious thought and effort than the fast fashion cycle. All these options are more beneficial for the environment, but also, your wallet. The most difficult challenge will be changing people's mindset from the current linear model of fast fashion to the circular model of reusing and recycling clothing.


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