Firstly, what is a circular fashion industry? In brief, it is a regenerative system in which garments are circulated for as long as their maximum value is retained. Thereafter, the material is returned safely to the biosphere.5 In this vein, ramping up recycling processes and plants is an important next step, as less than 1% of clothing is recycled into new clothing.6 One of the areas that is making big strides thanks to designers, retailers and consumers’ growing open mindedness is knitwear.
“Historically, our recycled knitted jumpers with different shades would deter customers. But now, changing attitudes and greater social awareness means the uniqueness of each recycled jumper is now a selling point. Customers know they are buying something that is good for the planet – and they want to play their role and support that change,” said Justin Thornton, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Preen by Thornton Bregazzi. Adding to this, Sanal Kumar, the Chairman and Managing Officer at the Classic Fashion Apparel Industry, said his customers are also eager for more environmental visibility as they look to make constructive changes in their own lives. For example, they can now see how many water bottles have been recycled per garment – an important step to deepening brand loyalty among existing customers, workers and stakeholders.
Scaling up the use of biodegradable materials – those that can be used in compost at the end of life – is another critical step to explore in 2022, roundtable speakers stressed. So is looking at the holistic impact of a garment, not just the item itself. This encompasses the fuel used to transport the item – i.e., by road, air or sea – and the sustainability of the packaging and labels. It also includes how often the garment needs to be washed, how easily it can be repaired, the durability of the buttons and the recyclability of the label, for example. As a very basic equation, an item that is washed less often immediately supports a more circular wardrobe – every action counts, no matter how small. The same applies to energy and water usage.
“We plan to consume at least 50% of our energy via renewables and we have already switched from heavy oil boilers to gas-powered systems. So far, we are also reusing 97.2% of our wastewater,” said Kumar.
Such proactivity speaks volumes for boosting the confidence that Classic Fashion’s workforce of 26,000 people has in the company’s environmental evolution – a valuable example for the fashion community. We are all very familiar with the importance of customer loyalty, but the value of workers’ environmental empowerment is also rapidly climbing the agenda. Employees today, especially younger generations, want to be agents for positive change in the companies they work for – to be proud of their company’s environmental credentials. The same applies to upskilling and reskilling existing and potential employees’ knowledge of sustainable practices in fashion, with circularity at the core of this curriculum. Overall, employees increasingly want transparency about not just the supply chain, but their “green role” within it. This all directly feeds into their level of emotional commitment to their role – thus their appetite to innovate – and their longevity with the company. The fashion community must pay as much attention to this fast-emerging dynamic as it does to customers’ desires and the bottom line if it wishes to find environmental equilibrium in the 2020s. It must focus on the social power that lies within its workforce – a people-centred approach is vital.