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Circularity at a Distance

Fashion evolved a “distance” problem over the last 2 decades when manufacturing at scale migrated to the Asian countries mainly to re-cost what emerged as an aftermath to democratize fashion to be faster and cheaper. The extremely profound decoupling of where fashion is produced (and #whomademyclothes) and where it is consumed has come to light with the pandemic where thousands of garment makers have been abandoned as the factories received order cancellations one after another from mostly the fast-fashion global brands.

The tragedies become statistics, stories, articles, subject to online panels but the disconnect remained the same – online sales surged, consumers lined at the doors of the brands who opened their stores. How is it that we did not see much systemic change? How come there is no real imminent shift? Or has the shift already happened, and we are not seeing its impact (yet)? It could very well be like the much hidden apocalypse which happened decades ago with the glaciers or the corals and we are seeing the results through our Netflix documentary trainings as glacier retreats or coral bleaching in the now. The statistics are presenting the increased organic, ecological, sustainable, recycled fashion online, the Gen Z are investing more and more into 2nd hand clothing, repair shops are emerging, we are witnessing technological progress and global scale partnerships and we still need more.

The industry is being regulated /bombarded by the formal certifications, factory audits, social compliance schemes and there is an effort to transform the manufacturing processes to be attuned to the already existing and the future upcoming legislations which include border carbon taxation. The eco-labelling, the cradle to cradle declarations, control and reduction of hazardous chemicals, the social responsibility projects onboarded hardly become a part of the common daily use of fashion as expressions or as selling and buying points. The sustainable material and process advancements and investments as well as the greenwashing remain at the same level if they are not a part of the ordinary daily consumption decision making and remain to be treated at a more formal industrial and legislative status. The work that is being done need to be implemented at the market level.

Fashion urges the drive to be the first one to dress like all the others! and this drive has accelerated the demand and desire for fashion to move faster and cheaper with the motivation to get hold of what is “in fashion” the fastest. This is the loop that the fashion consumption has been feeding on – motivating its consumers to buy 2 get one free. Most people know or have an understanding that we should consume sustainably and yet the “in fashion” continues to offer cheap clothes, setting the appetite for the next trend even before the previous one could be digested.

The discounts that used to be a ritual at the end of each of the two seasons that fashion lived on 20 years ago have become a constant expression of overconsumption and waste. Getting rid of the waste has been easier than managing it as the management will require a systemic, dedicated, multi-stakeholder responsibility shared by the value chain. Fashion consumption emerges from our human needs to be both individual as well as to be a part of the community. The overconsumption statistics and the fact that clothes end up in landfills (yes a truck load every second) or get incinerated, indicate that it does not mean that we use what we purchase (or produce) . Consumers make their voluntary (?) purchases with a need to increase their wellbeing, to express their individuality, status as well as to be a part of a community and yet pile jeans and t-shirts in wardrobes.

Today the western countries are embarking on circular economy transformation with targets to mitigate the impact of climate change by achieving net zero emissions and most of them are advancing their deadlines from 2050 to 2030 and even sooner. Fashion is being addressed vastly and authorities are drawing attention for sustainable consumption and production and this is exactly where we might miss the dynamics of circularity if we do not follow a dedicated, applicable, traceable and engaging roadmap. The increase in recycled polyester content denim fabrics have triggered a chain reaction for some companies to purchase unused water bottles to recycle them into fibers or bring in the old clothes to get the new ones campaigns need to demonstrate their full recycling schemes and be accountable.

Circularity in its essence presents a distinction from growth (to a certain extent even from sustainable growth) as it does not solely focus on economic growth but the real need for a product to exist to meet human needs while staying within the stress limits of natural resources. We need to seek all the details before targeting a zero waste fashion future as it will require a wide-spread action which will utilize creativity, partnerships, technology, digitalization, redefinition of fashion and design education, leadership, impact investment and dedication. Communication remains to be at the core of circularity as the story-telling poses fashion`s power to unite, to be a declaration of love and compassion, fashion`s strength to act in community without anyone having to give up their unique way of expression and where clothes could be a way to exchange our humanity.

Image Credit: Alexa Osuna and LaMaría Aguayo
Circularity is where we have the opportunity to humanize fashion and close the distance where it is manufactured and where it is consumed and to introduce and acknowledge the people on the supply chain from the very beginning to the very end.

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