Fashion industry from the lens of Circular Economy

Fashion came into existence as soon as people started exploring clothing, since then fashion has formed an important part of an individual’s identity, isn’t it?

If you are a Bollywood junkie, then you’ll be familiar with a popular phrase “Roti-Kapda-Makaan” which translates to food-clothing-shelter and is commonly linked to basic necessities in life. Indeed textiles and clothing industry plays an important part of any economy and India is no exception, especially with our population of 1 billion.

Gone are the days when runway fashion were only available to the elite; today fast fashion has bridged that gap by making latest trends available and accessible to all across the globe in no time. However this reduced inequality came at a higher environmental cost because today the fashion industry is the second-largest generator of pollution on the planet after oil. According to data from Greenpeace, this industry is said to produce 92 million tons of solid waste and 150 billion tons of clothing end up in landfills each year.

Did you know, when clothing made of natural fibers ends up in landfills, it behaves just like food waste, producing the greenhouse gas methane, whereas synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon and acrylic don’t biodegrade at all. Once they are in landfills, these chemical leach into the soil and groundwater thereby polluting our surroundings.

Lets look at some obvious examples that we know, contribute to fashion wastes in India;

  1. Infant clothes;

  2. Wedding / traditional wear;

  3. Leather clothing;

  4. Low durability seasonal / micro-season collections;

  5. Low durability bags & shoes;

  6. Jeans that are not jeans

In the 90s hand-me-downs were quite popular in India-why because the clothes were of good quality, families had limited cash flow therefore 2nd hand use was encouraged and due to this the wastes were manageable. However today throughout the year sale, accessible runway trends and micro seasons have changed the buying and consumption patterns of consumers empowering them to own their desired fashion!

In such a scenario what would be the right way to manage the whole eco-system?
What could be the possible solutions to this linear operating model?

One promising way is to have innovative business models that are restorative and regenerative by design. According to Ellen MacArthur Foundation we need new textiles economy where everyone has access to clothes that they need, when they need them. Imagine a world where every cloth is designed and produced at high quality / are made durable and are also flexible for customization and modifications!

In this new textile economy, the manufacturing of clothes and its linked supply chains run on renewable sources of energy. Manufacturers / governments should start offering people environment credits as incentives for making conscious choices and yes carbon tax should become a mandate in order to encourage manufacturers to invest in better operating systems.

Think about this, when creativity, fashion and trends go hand in hand, why then are our operating systems still old fashioned? Today many raw materials for this industry are finite, therefore using less / recycling is not a sexy option, it may only buy you time and delay the process by a bit longer and that is not a long term solution.

Today consumers demand more trends however they also want those trendy wears to be sustainable and this opens up a whole new realm of opportunities. Future of fashion with digital integration may redefine this industry as we know today and soon we will start seeing more and more fashion brands operating on product as a service model.

In episode 4 of Circular Business Podcast-India, Kanika Ahuja, Director of Conserve India & Conserve HRP brings to you a different take on sustainable fashion. I loved the way in which her organisation has created an alternate to leather by using single use plastic in addition to creating a healthy work environment for the rag-picker community around Delhi and also playing their part in cleaning river Yamuna. She openly shares with us the challenges faced by passionate brands on their sustainable journey and provides significant call to action on how we can drive change as a consumer.

Join us for more conversation only on Circular Business Podcast-India. Do subscribe to our series wherever you listen to your podcasts, its free and it only means that you will get new episodes automatically. Feel free to share your thoughts and suggestions on our content and do follow our page by clicking on this link.

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