By now, the negative environmental, economic, and social impacts of the Fashion Industry come as no surprise to consumers. The pandemic's effect on global supply chains has highlighted various cracks in the industry's lustrous surface. It is estimated that if the Fashion Industry continues on its current path, it could use more than 26% of the carbon budget associated with a 2-degree global warming limit by 2050 (Ellen Macarthur, n.d). Considering the immediate threat of climate change, fashion’s problems must be prioritized by industry leaders. Luckily, a shift away from a linear economy into a circular one is underway, which will work to promote sustainability and protect the environment for future generations.
A diverse range of activists, designers, and academics are focusing their efforts towards disrupting the fashion status quo by shifting to a sustainable, future-oriented approach. To understand circularity, I look at companies which place sustainability at the forefront of their business operations, doing the work to ensure the industry is changing towards a positive future.
What is the circular economy? Who is leading the change?
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation develops and promotes an economic transition towards a circular economy. Through their work with businesses, policymakers, and leading academics, they hope to create an economic system that delivers better outcomes for people and the environment.
A circular economy is an approach to economic development that is restorative and regenerative - designed to benefit businesses, society, and the environment based on three principles (Macarthur, 2021);
- Design out waste and pollution
- Keep products and materials in use
- Regenerate natural systems
In other words, opposed to a linear system of creation and waste, circularity thinks about a product's end-of-life while it's in the design phase and throughout the supply chain. If you are interested to see companies participating in Making Fashion Circular, click here, many of them were a surprise to me!
Since the pandemic began, the demand for loungewear and casual wear has risen by about 49% as customers opt for comfort over style while working and learning remotely (Hughes, 2020). Prominent and emerging brands quickly capitalized on this trend, releasing loungewear promoted through Instagram marketing to spread awareness. One brand that stands out to me, with its bold pops of colour and effortless comfort is PANGAIA. PANGAIA is a direct-to-consumer material science company focused on textile innovation and patents to improve the fashion industry and environment (PANGAIA, 2021).
| Pan, meaning all-inclusive, especially in relation to the whole of a continent, racial group or religion & Gaia, representing mother earth. |
Their Seven Pop Colours collection, consists of lounge sets of comfortable basics in various vivid colours and are made using environmentally friendly dyes and a recycled water system. Unique to their company, science-based research is at the forefront of their operations.
It's become a fan favourite on Instagram, appealing to those looking to buy comfortable loungewear during the lockdown. It's one thing to be comfortable but another to rest assured your purchase contributed a positive social impact.
A certified B-corp apparel company, KOTN focuses on developing products of considered design, quality, and ethical value to contribute a positive social and environmental impact.
KOTN uses direct trade - a way to source raw ingredients & materials straight from local farmers, avoiding the traditional intermediary. Their intimate relationship with suppliers allows them benefits not typically offered by fast-fashion retailers;
- Fair prices that reflect quality of materials
- Improved prices and business practices for local farmers
- Brand transparency
KOTN has implemented guaranteed prices for their farmers in Egypt and Portugal to better plan their business and avoid market fluctuations. The brand aims to improve the social condition for cotton communities in Egypt and maintain transparency throughout their supply chain - detailed on their website. Their work with suppliers is collaborative, working with farms to set up systems that produce 100% certified organic cotton.
Olivia Rubens - positive knitwear designer
Last March, during the first-lockdown in Toronto, I spoke with Olivia Rubens, a Positive knitwear designer and sustainability and sourcing consultant based in the U.K about her approach to sustainable design.
Graduate of the BA of Fashion Design at Ryerson University and as of 2020, of the MA in Fashion Design Technology Womenswear at London College of Fashion, Rubens has always placed sustainability at the forefront of her business practices.
“I don't believe something is over just because the season is over. I want people to be able to buy into their values & afford them.”
Her materials are recycled, ethical and traceable, and sourced in collaboration with local dyers. She continually researches forms of sustainable & local production to better her practice and invest in the right technologies.
What has been the most interesting collaboration you’ve worked on?
For over a year, I've been working on a garment with a textile scientist working at Post Carbon Lab - a design + research facility, which coats their garments in bacteria that photosynthesizes. The garment we created is less for its wearability and more focused on the narrative behind how we consume things, how we can be positive in the way we purchase and wear our garments, how we wear our clothing, and how we can develop a relationship with them just as we do with plants?
How has the shift towards sustainability within the fashion sector shifted within the last year?
Everything moved so quickly. Within one year, a whole sea of new brands emerged - focused on making sustainability their top priority. I had to ask myself, “How am I one of those sustainable contributors? What does it even mean anymore?” I am still passionate, but I'm open to seeing where things go and branch out a little and help other people make sustainable business decisions.
Do you feel like the word sustainability lost meaning with its frequent use?
It almost never had meaning. It's not even possible to be completely "sustainable." Still, while building my website, I had put “100% sustainable”, which I realized soon after was not accurate. How much do I really know about sustainability, and what areas could I improve upon? Now I use the word “positive”.
Why do you use the word positive instead?
I use “positive” because it means I want to give back and positively impact people and the environment.
As the public becomes acutely aware of fashion's environmental impact, more brands begin to take action. For instance, Tommy Hilfiger released a sustainable fashion plan in the past year, including 24 goals centred around circularity and inclusivity to have a sustainable retail loop by 2030. Their announcement is just one in the string of announcements made by fashion retailers such as French fashion Maison, Hermes, who just this past week announced they are collaborating with Myco-works, a California-based start-up that developed a patented process to turn mycelium into the leather (Deely, 2021).
The Fashion Industry's environmental impact is immense, which means there is much work to be done until circularity can be properly implemented. These companies are meant to highlight the great work by brands who care about their impact and the continued effort that must be made to sustain progress towards a more sustainable and circular economy.
If you know of any brands that are moving towards circularity, we'd love to add them to our list - We look forward to hearing from you :)