Fashion industry and the circular economy

Suman Kunwar
4 min readNov 12, 2022

The fashion industry is a global industry worth near about 3 trillion dollars, with a labor force of 3,384.1 million. This immense industry includes garments, footwear, jewelry, and cosmetics. Historically, clothing has been a way of expressing one’s status, desire, and status. Half of the fashion industry is based on it and another half, production and natural resources play a more valuable role. McKinsey and the World Economic Forum estimate that garment production has at least doubled since 2000.

Manufacturers and retailers generate about 13 million tons of textile waste every year, which accounts for most of this waste. Approximately 92 million tons of textile waste are created by the fashion industry every year. Textile waste is also expected to rise by approximately 60% between 2015 and 2030, generating an additional 57 million tons of waste every year, bringing the total to 148 million tons per year.

Landfill by Tom Fisk

About 30% of the clothes produced every season are never sold. Retailers started producing clothes at breakneck speed when fast fashion became popular, to get the newest styles on the market as soon as possible, so shoppers could buy them while they were still at their peak, only to toss them out after a few days. As a result of overproduction and consumption, the fashion industry has become one of the world’s largest polluters.

These days, most clothing is made from plastic, which takes hundreds of years to decompose. In landfills, clothes made from natural fibers don’t break down as well as those made from plastic or other household waste. Methane emissions from landfills account for three-quarters of US methane emissions, resulting in global warming.

In today’s modern world, we have adopted a linear approach style: we take, we make, and we dispose of it. The linear approach is finite and is not sustainable in long run. Instead of doing this, we can increase the life span of the resources, maintaining their value and limiting waste by the circular economy. In line with sustainable and circular economy principles, clothing and textiles should remain in circulation as long as possible. As part of the 9R framework, the reuse of clothing is a preferred circular economy strategy as it extends the clothing’s lifecycle.

Circular economy strategies. Source: PBL (2017). Circular economy: measuring innovation in the product chain, J.Potting, M. Hekkert, E. Worrell et al.

Global Second Hand Clothing (SHC) is around us for a long time and is seen as a sustainable practice in the Global North (GN) as keeps textiles in circulation through reuse. It raises issues of social and environmental justice when low-quality SHC products are exported to the Global South (GS). Some countries have banned SHC due to hygiene concerns.

Despite popular belief, a lot of our clothes can’t be recycled. Approximately 13.6% of the clothes and shoes thrown out in the US end up being recycled, and only 12% of the materials used to make clothing are recycled. Most of this 12% will be shredded and used as furniture stuffing, insulation, or cleaning cloths. A mere 1% of what is collected will be used to make new clothing.

In some cases, even if we donate our clothes to thrift stores or charities, they are forced to spend money sorting and disposing of these materials, of which 25% go to landfills. Additionally, 40–50% is exported into the problematic global second-hand clothing trade, which swamps the local textile market of countries like Ghana and Chile and ends up in landfills creating mountains of trash.

Brands such as Hugo Boss have said they will stop producing physical samples as design samples are commonly wasted in fashion. It has come up with the technology that showcases its design, saving resources, time, and money. The Scrap-Less program implementation of Gucci to reduce the quantity of leather treated has placed that saves water, energy, waste, and chemical use in its leather supply chain. MUD Jeans, DeadWood, and A.BCH are examples of brands leading environmental action and have integrated circular thinking into their policies and products. Being truly circular, however, is a challenge. Particularly when it comes to integrating higher-level circularity strategies such as refuse, rethink, and reduce.

To succeed in a circular economy collaboration is needed between managers and customers. By communicating with customers, they can increase the adoption of new programs, such as repair services. Additionally, materials and suppliers can provide companies with inputs, such as waste from another company. In a circular economy, waste can be recognized for its value if we recognize its potential.

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Suman Kunwar

Innovating Sustainability | Researcher | Author of Learn JavaScript : Beginners Edition