Preference for circular and sharing business models over recycling

UK fashion brands, designers, and retailers are stepping up to promote sustainability and responsible consumer choices, according to a recent report by the British Fashion Council’s (BFC) Institute of Positive Fashion (IPF) and Vanish. The focus is on adopting circular and sharing business models (CSBMs) that prioritize reusing existing garments over traditional recycling practices. [1] Vanish’s research reveals that, In the UK, 64% of consumers wear clothing items only once, resulting in 350,000 tons of clothing being sent to landfill yearly. Additionally, 50% of consumers own an item they have never worn.

To thrive in the future, fashion brands and retailers must adopt circular and sharing business models (CSBMs) that prioritize reuse and service provision over traditional consumption. Circular models promote keeping products in use for as long as possible, but their implementation beyond resale remains limited. However, recent initiatives by leading brands indicate an opportunity to drive change in the industry. By focusing on garment utilization and offering services like styling, maintenance, repair, redesign, and rental, businesses can reduce environmental impact and find more stable revenue streams.

To embrace circular and sharing business models (CSBMs) in the fashion industry, brands and retailers should focus on the following key recommendations:

Manufacturing on demand: Brands should adopt technology like predictive analytics to produce only the exact quantity of clothing needed, reducing waste and overproduction.

Repair and care services: Brands should form partnerships with repair providers to offer affordable and accessible repair services, incentivizing consumers to shop with them.

Rental and subscription models: Brands should offer convenient and affordable short-term clothing options to meet consumer demand for trendy styles and occasions, reducing the flow of lower-quality new items through rental and subscription models that prioritize low-carbon logistics and sustainability.

Product take-back and circular innovations: Brands should implement take-back schemes and circular economy innovations to increase revenue while minimizing the need for new materials.

Boosting re-commerce: Brands should actively promote the resale of their products through existing platforms or by launching their own resale platforms, encouraging consumers to buy and sell used clothing.

“There is momentum now on resale, and making sure items retain their value is one of the best ways to ensure products are kept alive for longer,” said Simon Platts, Responsible Sourcing Director, ASOS.

Figure 2: Restyle the clothesCourtesy: Collected

The fashion industry’s environmental impact, highlighted by the IPCC’s (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) warnings and staggering emissions statistics, calls for a shift to circularity. Embracing a circular economy presents opportunities for sustainable growth while tackling these challenges effectively.

The fashion industry is on a mission to become more sustainable, and three key target outcomes are driving the change. First, reducing the demand for new clothing to minimize the environmental impact. Second, maximizing clothing utilization through circular practices to capture more value from garments. Third, investing in recycling technologies to optimize material recovery and reduce harmful inputs. Let’s make a difference today for a better tomorrow.

Figure 3: The circular fashion ecosystem map. Courtesy: Collected

Achieving the target outcomes in the UK fashion industry requires significant changes across the value chain:

A – Brands and Designers: Use circular design principles through digital prototyping for virtual and physical garments.

B – Digital Tracking: Track garment characteristics and journeys accessible to all stakeholders.

C – Raw Materials: Use renewable or recycled inputs for manufacturing.

D – Manufacturing: Implement zero-waste manufacturing, on-demand production, and reuse of materials.

E – Retail: Mainstream pre-owned, virtual, rental, and subscription options online and offline.

F – Users: Consumers buy less, opt for pre-owned, higher-quality items, and wear them longer.

G – Repair: Consumers actively maintain and repair clothing.

H – Re-commerce Platform: Consumers return clothing to retail for resale, rent, or re-commerce platforms.

I – Donation and Collection: Expanded, convenient access to clothing collection and donation channels.

J – Sorting: Utilize sophisticated sorting technologies for efficient determination of the next garment destination.

K – Recycling for Other Industries: Non-reusable materials utilized in agriculture, homewares, and construction.

L – Textile Recycling: Non-wearable garments channeled to mechanical recycling facilities, with chemical recycling as a long-term destination.

M –Fibre manufacturing (polymer filament extrusion): Increase fiber production from recycled chemical inputs using polymer filament extrusion in the long term. [3]

“We, driven by the fashion industry and considering the government and consumers, set out to envision a circular fashion ecosystem for the UK’s future. Our goal was to create a practical plan that would propel the shift towards a thriving circular fashion economy, setting an example for other countries to follow and take inspiration from. This blueprint aims to accelerate positive change in the fashion industry,” said Caroline Rush CBE, Chief Executive, British Fashion Council (BFC).

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