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Applying circular economy thinking to redesign the fashion industry to make it work beneficially for the people and ecosystems it touches will challenge professionals on the industry’s material sourcing, chemical choices, manufacturing decisions, business models, and end-of-use options. It means putting in place a system in which safe materials for both people and the environment are used endlessly, water is kept clean, energy derives from renewable sources, and people work with dignity.
There are still many barriers to the fashion industry achieving a circular and collaborative business model, some of which are essential for a new and more sustainable model to be achieved. Especially urgent is the transformation of the traditional, linear supply chain, as well as a change in the business culture, which today is dependent on fast fashion. To this end, much progress must be made in recognizing where consumer demand is for better products and for sharing and service models and, thus, focus on deepening current knowledge on how to implement more circular approaches.
But how could the fashion industry scale the adoption of circular business models and accelerate the transition to a circular economy?
The “Circular Production and Consumption in Fashion and Beyond”* report, a summary of expert perspectives from the GlobeScan—C&A Foundation SDG Leadership Forum on Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, held in March, presents some insights from the sector itself. According to the document, three elements are needed to make further progress:
1) Collaborative action from key industry players, which can create and define a purpose and structure for circular initiatives;
2) Demonstrable proof of successful initiatives that have visibly employed the circular model, which can help gain support from the industry;
3) Creative expertise and a future-focused mindset, which are already characteristics of the fashion industry.
A wide range of solutions are needed to tackle these challenges. It is also necessary to develop several key competences focused on four lines of action: strong leadership, comprehensive approach to problems, collaboration and partnerships, and innovation.
First, a strong business case would bring on board the wider industry and help show benefits to consumers. Educating designers, merchandisers and suppliers to help instill an understanding of circular processes and principles, and also creating actions to make consumers aware of the impact of their shopping habits and educating them on the circular economy are critical factors for developing and scaling new initiatives in subscription, service and repair models. In parallel, it is necessary to identify which incentives and regulatory changes will have a crucial role in accelerating the shift to circular principles and will act to influence the government.
Finally, in order to raise awareness of circularity, encourage change, and accelerate the uptake of circular and sharing models, an urgent need has been identified to create sharing platforms that enable progress across the value chain.
Alexandre Gobbo Fernandes is a Circular Economy specialist and a member of the ModaCER collective (Circular and Responsible Fashion). He is also a consultant with the By Brasil Institute.
*Circular Production and Consumption in Fashion and Beyond, C&A Foundation and GlobeScan, 2019.