The six Rs towards circularity in fashion

Circularity is the key to obtaining a sustainable fashion industry. Increasingly more businesses are adding this word to their marketing strategies and business models. This is a good thing, right?

At first thought, the answer is yes. But, a recent article called ‘Will the Circular Economy Save the Planet’ (Cline, 2020), published by Sierra Club, made us think. The author shares that many fashion brands are seen creating circular collections or opening up online marketplaces to resell items in order to be more circular.

Though good initiatives, these are not contributing to the main goal of circularity: reduction. Which entails reducing the creation and use of new materials, aka making new garments. As long as these brands keep production of their linear garments at the same level while adding circular products (e.g. creating garments that can be recycled at the end of their lifespan), production actually goes up. This way the same system is preserved: the volume of garment production is still predicted to grow 2.7% per year between now and 2030 (Lee & Magnus, 2021).
The six Rs are a guideline to reach true circularity (more on that later).

The Rs:

  • Reducing — reducing production
  • Recycling — reusing materials
  • Refurbishing — touching up items so they can be sold (again)
  • Reselling — instead of throwing items away
  • Renting — renting out items
  • Repairing — fixing items so they do not have to be thrown away

The goal of these Rs is to bring consumption and production of products made from unsustainable materials down and limit unnecessary excess.

William McDonough, co-author of the book ‘Cradle to Cradle’ (2002), introduces the world to circularity, saying that we need to live in harmony with nature — a harmony without waste. When asked about his ideas on the current circularity trend in 2020 he responded: the current circularity movement is chasing recycling to the point where the materials are not being taken into account (such as plastic or textiles and the microfibers that are released), it is about quantity, whereas Cradle to Cradle is about quality. He goes on stating that “the notion that we can go on making as much as we want as long as we reuse it all is a myth we’ll have to leave behind if we ever want to realise the dream of a circular economy”.

It is important to realise that the goal of circularity and the Rs is to limit production and make products last longer. These insights are useful to keep in mind!

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