When you bring together a cast of sustainable fashion superstars with on the ground experience, you know the conversation is going to be a good one.
What is circularity?
Circularity as a concept seems simple. “Be a creator, not a destroyer,” says Lavinia Muth, Corporate Responsibility Manager, ARMEDANGELS. She’s referring to the regenerative nature of the circularity model, where a product is designed with its own end of life taken into account. When a t-shirt can no longer be worn, for example, how will it be disposed of? Can it be broken down and turned into another fiber? This will depend on how many different materials are in the t-shirt. Is it composed of natural, or synthetic materials? The main idea behind circularity is that, when the end consumer is finished with the product, it returns to the supply chain instead of the landfill.
Sounds great, right? Why then, are ARMEDANGELS among such a small population of fashion brands implementing the circularity into their supply chains?
Challenges in Closing the Loop
Margot Lyons, Director of Sustainability and Sourcing, Coyuchi, notes that unless a product is designed to be reused, it can sometimes take more resources and emissions to recycle than to create something new from virgin materials. She mentions that their recycling partner, TRW, collects data they share to brand partners twice a year. The report has shown “…60% of what has been collected has been made from a blended material…and there are very limited recycling options for blended materials,” says Lyons.
True circularity in a supply chain includes recycling fibre back into fibre. This currently excludes most synthetic materials and is generally only available for cottons, linens, and nylon. Lyons describes the complicated process behind their Full Circle Blanket, a product that contains 52% of recycled Coyuchi cotton. Even using a majority of their own materials, the blanket required extensive research and design due to limitations within the garment recycling industry.
Recycling, or down-cycling?
The lack of technology and resources for recycling garments is echoed by Jessica Schreiber, Founder and CEO, FABSCRAP.
“When we say recycling, right now we really mean downcycling, which is shredding fabric and its becoming this low grade fibre pulp used for insulation or mattress stuffing,” says Schreiber. “But true recycling would be fibre back into fibre. And there are very few companies that are working on that. ”
While these technologies are in the works, they are still new in the industry. According to Kasper Nossent, Commercial Director, DyeCoo “any sustainable technology takes up to 10 years to come to life, but we’re competing against an industry that is fully developed.” Additionally, textile recycling has largely sat with non-profit organizations and has historically lacked funding to scale.
While key recycling technologies are slowly gaining traction and funding, what can brands do to close the loop?
Advice for brands
“Start. Start somewhere. I think there’s a hesitancy to get started because sustainability seems so big, but even just starting with one issue is important.” says Schreiber, echoed by Muth, “Question your business model and get creative. Make it possible. Make resale and rental and repairing possible. That’s what we all have to do.”
While the concept of circularity is an easy one to understand, we can see it’s not as simple to implement. Roadblocks including cost, technology, and resources often get in the way of the circular mission. But as more brands and consumers push for this model, the closer we can get to closing the loop in fashion.