What Is Circular Fashion?

By Laurie Fanelli in Thinking Sustainably

From bell bottoms to ballet flats, high-waisted jeans to flannels, style trends come and go with the seasons. Not only is this disposable approach to fashion expensive for consumers, it's also detrimental to the environment.

The fashion industry's traditional framework has increasingly found its place in the hot seat for its impact on social and environmental sustainability efforts. In contrast, circular fashion takes into consideration clothing items' reusability and materials through every step of the design, creation, and usability process. It's a holistic approach that reduces waste and prioritizes reuse and recycling.

What Is Linear Fashion?

Historically, fashion has been dominated by a linear model that prioritizes manufacturer finances over environmental impacts. In more recent decades, the fast fashion industry—which sacrifices quality in exchange for quick turnout and cheap prices—has exacerbated this problem. This model encourages consumers to buy items impulsively, wear them a few times, and then dispose of them within a year or two.

Bulldozer pushing heaps of trash

Most garments produced within the linear model aren't made for reuse or recycling. In fact, they're often made with cheap, unsustainable materials that shed microplastics into the environment. Equally as concerning is that they're often produced using hazardous chemicals in potentially dangerous work conditions for those making the clothing. A circular method offers a stark alternative that takes sustainable fashion to the next level.

What Is Circular Fashion?

A circular economy offers a systems-focused approach that reduces material use and recaptures what once would be considered waste, using it as a resource to create new materials and products. By reconsidering the disposable, linear business model and reducing fashion waste, the circular model aims to make the fashion industry more equitable, inclusive, and environmentally conscious.

From the design and production standpoint, circular fashion starts with choosing materials made from natural fibers, which can be safely reused and then decomposed at the end of the product's life. Most clothing on the rack today is made with polyester and other plastic derivatives. While these technically can be recycled more easily, accessibility to textile recycling programs is limited. Plus, these materials shed microplastics into water sources every time they're washed.

Beyond the fiber choice, designers, manufacturers, and brands can take steps throughout the production process to minimize fashion waste, including optimizing inventory management, reallocating resources, choosing natural dyes, offering repair or take-back programs, and more. Shifting to a circular manufacturing model doesn't happen overnight, but by supporting brands that are moving in that direction, you can vote with your dollar and show that environmental sustainability is a priority.

Embracing Circular Fashion as a Consumer

The choices you make as a consumer can encourage businesses to shift their focus to more environmentally friendly practices. You can take many steps to embrace a circular model, including:

  • Supporting brands and manufacturers that have environmentally friendly practices
  • Renting items you only plan on wearing once
  • Swapping clothing with family and friends to keep your wardrobe fresh
  • Shopping secondhand
  • Repurposing old clothing items, such as cutting up old T-shirts to use as cleaning rags
  • Learning to sew or finding a local tailor to help you repair or alter clothing
  • Donating old clothes or selling them on consignment
  • Sending unwearable clothing to a textile recycling organization

Jeans hanging on a laundry line

All of these steps can help improve environmental health by reducing the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. Supporting brands that emphasize circular fashion also minimizes the harmful byproducts of linear fashion—like greenhouse gas emissions, hazardous chemical use, microplastic pollution, and more. Fashion trends come and go, but embracing circular fashion is a sustainable style choice with real staying power.

To learn more ways to reduce fashion waste, consider starting a capsule wardrobe.

Image Sources: PxHere | RawPixel | RawPixel

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Why It's Good

Circular fashion considers the environmental impact of every garment, from its initial design to its final fashion statement. Timeless trends and sustainability combine to create style that's truly sustainable.