If ever there was an industry crying out for a more circular model to drive growth and prosperity it is the fashion sector. The way clothes are made, sold and used can be highly wasteful, as well as polluting. The Millennial generation might claim to prefer fashion made in a more ethical and less environmentally damaging way, but price and speed-to-market continue to trump conscience fueling business-as-usual practices across the industry.
So, the news that the C&A Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the high street retail chain, has committed more than £1m to a host of circular fashion projects has been warmly welcomed.
Five pilot schemes will share in the pot, using the money to further their ideas for ways to help move fashion away from cradle-to-grave models. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the sector loses more than $500 billion in value every year due to a lack of recycling infrastructure and the underutilisation of clothing. One rubbish truck of textiles gets wasted every second, with less than 1% of clothing recycled into new clothes. The organisation claims that the fashion industry could use up to a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050 if brands do not take action and change how they do business.
The C&A Foundation has been leading the charge for a revolution – something it believes will only happen when circular business models are implemented. It put out a request for proposals in early 2018, looking to find projects that might ‘bridge the gap’ in the adoption of circular business models in companies across the apparel value chain.
It is hoped that the “critical, practise-based insights” the five funded initiatives develop and share will bring the industry a significant step towards new circular models, “moving the discourse on circular fashion from words to action,” says C&A Foundation’s head of circular transformation, Douwe Jan Joustra.
So, what are the five initiatives?
- The London Waste Recycling Board’s Creative Circular Economy Business Models programme
This will give one-to-one support to four London-based retailers that want to become more circular. It will also help to support three companies as they pilot new business models by 2020 and pledge to permanently offer circular products by the end of 2021.
- MADE-BY and Global Action Plan’s Love Every Fibre of Your Being campaign
This brings brand execs of British retailers together with female customers to co-create circular business offerings – and find ways to communicate sustainability issues. The best ideas will be made into installations and shared with the public at fashion events.
- Circle Economy group’s Circular Activation Project
This will attempt to build a circular innovation process that will be piloted by six brands or retailers by October 2020. A multidisciplinary team will help brands increase their capacity to overcome barriers to adopting models such as re-selling, renting or leasing clothes. Lessons learned throughout the process will be used to develop tools that can be used across the sector.
- Forum for the Future’s Circular Leap Asia Programme
This will support the uptake of circular business models in Asia by developing six new types of partnerships between upstream and downstream apparel companies. The aim is for the new partnerships to enable joint innovation and the collective sharing of lessons learned through a summit for practitioners of circular fashion.
- WRAP and the World Resources Institute’s (WRI) Market Makers
This hopes to demonstrate the market demand for clothing reuse models for brands in the US, the UK and India. It will assess consumer demand and identify policies, regulations and incentives that increase clothing reutilisation in each country.