The Benefits Of A Circular Fashion Economy

by HULA , July 18, 2019
Circular economy Burberry
Photography Thurstan Redding, via @burberry


There are so many buzzwords in the realm of sustainability. One of the most popular terms floating around is the circular fashion economy. We owe it to our earth to learn what this term truly means and how we can contribute to it. So let’s break it down:

The current business model for the industry is a linear approach: take resources, make the garment and throw away. Clearly this is not a model that works. According the The World Dynamics, the production of textiles uses twenty billion pounds of chemicals each year. Beyond chemical runoff, textile manufacturing also affects land use, climate change, pollution and water scarcity. These negative effects are exponentially increasing as consumer habits change and population increases. According to The True Cost, all of these elements lead fashion to be one of the most polluting industries worldwide. 

The key to creating a true circular fashion economy is for consumers and businesses to work together on keeping clothing in the loop. This new alignment will require a complete redesign of how we view clothing, as the goal is to have all textiles re-enter the circular fashion economy. As a consumer, there are a few small changes that you can make to help contribute to the larger cause. 

For example: one cotton t-shirt costs 2,500 litres of water to produce. Just think about that for a minute and then cast an eye over your whole wardrobe and try and figure out the earth-depleting resources each item has taken. We have now only started talking about this and the subject matter is HUGE. We know now that we must all take care of our clothes and pay careful attention to the care labels to get the longest lifespan possible.

When that shirt is no longer of use to you, the first thought is usually to donate it to charities, however sadly we have been doing this for over a decade and most of the third world countries that are getting our leftovers are flooded with clothes they simply don’t want (many countries such as Kenya have now banned these type of imports).

Image result for charities donating clothing to africa
Kenyan ‘Mitumba’, which mean ‘Bundles’ – a Swahili term for these clothing deliveries.

So then surely there is recycling right? While there’s plenty of recycling going on, it’s currently not efficient enough, and most of it results in decreased value – your old jeans might end up as rags or insulation, if they’re recycled at all. Currently, less than 1% of non-wearable textiles are turned back into new ones due to the shortcomings of existing recycling methods. There are so many different fibres, dyes, contaminants, blends that are in each fabric that it is hard to separate them again to make recycling effective, so fibres that can be repurposed or recycled into another textile item are very slim. Although there is now new technology like Worn Again who are pioneering a polymer recycling technology that can separate, decontaminate and extract polyester polymers, and cellulose from cotton, from non-reusable textiles and PET bottles and packaging and turn them back into new textile raw materials as part of a continual cycle; or HKRITA who have just announced the opening of two textile recycling facilities with H&M Foundation, which will put HKRITA’s hydrothermal method for recycling cotton and polyester blends to use. Clever stuff!

> See our post event panel discussion with HKRITA

The idea of repurposing an item can come in many forms and right now these seem more tangible in the short-term, such as the pre-owned market, which is supposedly set to beat fast fashion in a decade. Companies like HULA are able to keep luxury pieces in the fashion circular economy. Apart from the lower price tag, why buy pre-owned designer? The clothes are generally better made and in better fabrications that they are able to retain their value better than say fast-fashion (plus the brand name itself can go a long way, even if the item becomes a 20 year vintage). The best way to utilise this is to buy and resell as often as the garment will last – meaning that you can still have fun with fashion but do it consciously. What’s not to love?!

Luxury brands at the HULA warehouse

Renting clothing has also gained traction in recent years. It started as a model for occasionwear, but has transcended prom and evening wear to everyday pieces. Many reasons for clothing waste are due to people buying clothing that only fit a specific seasonal trend that is quickly forgotten. Avoid the buyer’s guilt and rent! Websites like Rent the Runway in the U.S. and Yeechoo in Hong Kong are excellent resources for getting started in the world of clothing rental. 

There are a multitude of upcycling models that can use old garments, combine them and create a new piece. DIY (Do-it-yourself) has been around since people could sew, but perhaps its also trending now. There are many examples of creative reimagining of old garments. If you are not feeling crafty, there are plenty of smaller businesses (based on the popular Japanese street-style ‘Remake’) that are more than happy to accept donations for their own remake creations.

Jay Ahr Vintage Louis Vuitton Keepall bag

Each model has something to offer and contribute to the bigger picture of the circular fashion economy. Check them out, do your research and find what works for you! 

See our post event featuring Jay Ahr’s Vintage Keepall Collection



BOF, Ellen MaCarthur Foundation, Circular Fashion, Clean Tech, Green Is The New Black, Fashion United and Dazed.