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A Simplistic Understanding Of Circular Fashion

Circular fashion is a term that has been discussed for over a time now, but only recently it has gained popularity. It is claimed to be ‘The Trend of 2021’ by Vogue while it is not just a trend. Touting sustainability as a trend adds to the misconception and takes the movement two steps backwards. While it is encouraging for the industry, sustainability needs to be viewed with a broader perspective and go beyond the “marketing tool” persona. The UN Climate Change Report has called for a ‘Code Red For Humanity’. This is based on the recent assessment that shows the average temperature of Earth will reach 1.5 C by 2030, a decade earlier than projected. The report is alarming and calls for actionable steps. The impetus is on the fashion industry as it is a major contributor to the problem of climate change.


Code Red For Humanity
Image Credit: BBC


There is a lot of jargon floating around in the industry, but very few can capture these concepts in their essence. One such practice is circular fashion. There are several components attached to it, but today, we focus on what it essentially means. What is Circular Fashion?


The traditional fashion system is built on a linear system. It begins with turning raw materials into fabrics, continues with using them to manufacture the end product (clothes & accessories) and ends up with consumers throwing them away. Whilst it depletes the source of raw materials, it also creates a massive waste. As the name suggests, the circular system connects the end of a product’s life with the beginning of another. Upcycling and recycling are different ways of creating circulation although they are often confused with each other. Whilst both aim to repurpose the waste by giving them a second life, the way it is done is different. 


Circular Fashion Ecosystem Image Credit: Vogue Business


To put it simply, upcycling uses waste material, like default pieces, left-over materials or materials that have already been used. These materials or byproducts are used to create something new. Taking the materials from the end of the linear line of the product’s life to the beginning of another one. Much like a ‘best out of waste’ project. Remember when we did that in school? That hour, spent creating beautiful objects out of waste! It does not seem like a waste now, does it? Recycling on the other hand, involves deconstructing the waste material and transforming it into something completely new. Think Bethany Williams ‘Women Of Change’ Collection that used recycled packaging materials from the workshop to create hand-woven textiles. Or the Adidas Parley shoes made entirely from recycled plastic bottles.


Bethany Williams Upcycled Collection Image Credit: Dazed Fashion


Brands like Eileen Fisher and Patrick McDowell have been pioneers in the fashion industry when it comes to upcycling. The former repurpose the items from her previous collections while McDowell’s ‘Firefighting Aunties’ Collection was more out of the box. He used vintage fire brigade buttons with Burberry shirting samples and vintage fire brigade belts along with fingerless fire brigade gloves. The Collection is a reimagination of McDowell’s mum and her five sisters as firefighters. He sees strong women put out family fires and rescue us from our troubles. Both brands have been incredibly successful and popular, especially among Gen-Z consumers who are advocates of sustainable fashion.

McDowell’s Firefighting Aunties Image Credit:

However, circularity practices have been a feature of small and independent brands. These brands have been often perceived as ‘too niche’ and ‘un-scalable’. Although, now, the consumers are increasingly getting more conscious about the importance of repurposing and claiming it from the brands they shop. The Circular Fashion market’ estimated value is 5.3 trillion, with digitization taking center stage. 


Movements for a more circular industry like Orsola De Castro’s Fashion Revolution have relentlessly been asking for a change. Luxury brands like Marni and Balenciaga are among those who have acted to the requests of their consumers. Marni has created a coat by using preloved clothes, and Balenciaga by using shoelaces. On the other hand, Miu Miu has committed to repurposing their vintage dresses from the 1930s to 1980s and selling them in some of their boutiques. These upcycled dresses are one-of-a-kind. This exclusivity and rarity make these pieces pure luxury pieces which in the end serves for Miu Miu’s brand positioning.


Another luxury company that stepped into sustainability is Prada. The luxury fashion brand joined Cartier and LVMH in the Aura Blockchain Consortium to guarantee the authenticity of their pieces to their customers. While this is a step towards transparency, the real purpose behind it is to solve the problem of fake goods and make re-sale easy. 


Apart from the luxury brands that aim to position themselves as sustainable to attract Gen-Z customers, luxury e-commerce giant Farfetch is responding to this demand with a more holistic approach. Thrift+ is an on-demand donation service by Farfetch that promises to raise higher funds for charity than high street charity shops do. In my opinion, this is a great initiative because of two reasons. First, Farfetch makes donating hassle-free for consumers by sending them a bag to fill in with the pieces they don’t want to wear anymore and collecting them. Second, it makes donating appealing for many because

donors get store credits in return. 


It is promising to see luxury brands listening to their customers and stepping up. Employing sustainable practices at a grand scale requires efforts from both ends of the spectrum. A constant demand encourages brands to adopt cleaner practices, and a consistent supply educates the customer and motivates them to make the right choice. As consumers, we need to show some accountability; while also appreciating the efforts made by small and luxury brands alike. Making circularity a norm rather than a trend has the power to change the system for a better one.