FASHION
Clothing the Future: How Circular Fashion is Redefining Wardrobes
Words by
KATIE ROBINSON
Published
May 16, 2024

You’re probably familiar with the term ‘fast fashion’ by now - companies producing mountains of cheap, polyester clothing designed to be worn once or twice and then replaced by something new.

According to the British Fashion Council, “There are enough clothes on the planet right now to dress the next six generations of the human race,” - and we’re still churning out more daily. You may also be aware of the numerous problems caused by such a wasteful system: from the exploitation of millions of underpaid garment workers and tragedies like 2013’s Rana Plaza which are still happening today; to waste colonialism, which allows the ‘Global North’ to ship our discarded clothing to massive landfills in the ‘Global South’ (the biggest of which in Chile can now be seen from space).

The solution to Fast Fashion

Whilst ‘Circular Economy’ or ‘Circular Fashion’ are less common terms, they’re easy to understand.

The fashion industry is responsible for obscene amounts of air, water and land pollution, according to the UN, and it’s clear that we need a new system if fashion is to ever be sustainable. Rather than treat clothing as disposable (a linear ‘take-make-waste’ system, as it’s called in the industry), a Circular Economy keeps a garment in use for as long as possible before breaking it back down and remaking it into something new.

The biggest challenge to a Circular Economy is the mindset-shift required from both brands and consumers. How can we go from paying less for a t-shirt than a cup of coffee to viewing our clothes as long-term investments? Turns out, it’s quite easy - we just need to reevaluate our relationship with our wardrobes.

The global pandemic was a catalyst for many to experiment with this new mindset.
Stuck at home with little to shop for, many of us instead became creative with our existing wardrobes - ‘upcycling’ and DIY fashion became hugely popular, with Gen-Z eagerly sharing their successes on social media.

The Circular Fashion Movement

Likewise ‘thrift with me’ videos have become commonplace on TikTok in particular - where it may once have been embarrassing to shop secondhand, now creators like Darina (@dieselslave) show off their best vintage finds - and often resell these to their viewers for profit.

Just like the consumer-driven rise of upcycling, many of us are voluntarily choosing quality over price when it comes to fashion. Research shows that Gen Z is beginning to turn away from fast fashion and instead look to luxury brands, small businesses and resold vintage as a way of ensuring their clothes will not only look good but also last longer. They’re also responsible for the rise in luxury fashion rental as a more affordable way of dressing - over a third of Millennials and Gen Z having purchased second-hand luxury goods and 26% having rented luxury goods over the past year. 

Whilst Gen Z are looking to luxury for better quality offerings, they’re not above shunning bigger brands that lack their sustainable values. Coach was one of the brands named and shamed by the masses: a TikTok by @thetrashwalker showing new Coach bags slashed and discarded prompted the brand to publicly apologise and commit to ending the practice. One comment on the original viral video calls out the brand, “@Coach purposefully destroying products doesn’t sound very circular to me.” It’s clear this generation won’t let brands off lightly. 

Already we’re seeing brands taking note of consumer’s behaviour and beginning to implement circularity themselves with great success. From the explosion of rental and resale schemes to the success of on-demand repair services like Sojo, supply and demand for circular-based solutions has never been so high. 

At the ground floor, start-ups are beginning to revolutionise the way fashion views waste. Previously it was almost impossible to recycle polyester textiles due to how often the fibres are mixed with other materials in garments. Now companies like Ambercycle have proved that large-scale polyester recycling is a possibility, which could lead to much less plastic clothing finding its way to landfill in the future.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Rave Review (@ravereviewclothes) has grown from a mutual passion for sustainability shared between two university students to a cult-classic. The brand offers, “a better way of consuming,” as they put it: each item is made from pre-existing materials (from printed bedsheets to vintage blankets) sourced from industry deadstock, and then transported to their atelier to be reworked, upcycled and transformed into something new. Their success proves that circular-based fashion brands are not only scaleable, but highly desirable (at least, their 50k+ instagram following thinks so!)

How to make your wardrobe circular: 

Our easy tips for making the most of your clothes, from ‘add to cart’ to end of life: 

1- Know what you already have

The phrase “shop your wardrobe” is a godsend here - before you write off an old top in the back of your wardrobe, try styling it in three new ways. Often this makes you see the item in a new light, and encourages us to wear what we already own rather than buy new.

2- Prioritise quality over quantity

When you do feel like you need something new, opt for natural fabrics (think organic cotton, linen or silk) over synthetic fibres. Not only are natural materials better for the planet and your health, they can also be broken down and recycled into new clothes much easier.

3- Make your clothes last

Caring for our clothes is often an overlooked step in making them last longer. Double checking the laundry instructions or folding your sweaters instead of hanging them can preserve the look and feel of your garments, and mending rips can stop them being thrown away prematurely! 

4- Don’t throw it - swap, rent or donate instead!

Sustainable fashion spaces can be an amazing place to find a community of like-minded individuals. Try attending (or hosting!) a swapshop to meet people in your area and switch clothes, or list your items on a rental platform to make extra money and keep your clothes in use (this is perfect for clothing you may have only worn once or twice!) 

5- Avoid big wardrobe clearouts

Spring cleans and new-year-new-me mentality can encourage us to throw out tons of items at once, all in the name of a “fresh start”, and secondhand shops can become inundated with our castoffs (here’s why that can be bad). Instead, try a wardrobe tracking app like Whering, which allows you to mark how often you wear an item - if you find you haven’t worn something all year, then ask yourself whether it may be better to donate, upcycle or rent it out instead. 

6- Choose secondhand where possible

Not only is secondhand clothing cheaper on the whole, it gives garments a second, third or fourth life! Whether you buy from thrift stores, go along to swap events or choose to upcycle a vintage piece into something new, it’s never a bad idea to check if you can get something used rather than firsthand.

Whether you choose to dip your toe into circular fashion with more secondhand purchases or dive fully into the lifestyle, leaving fast fashion and virgin polyester behind, our collective actions can bring monumental changes to the fashion industry. From brands committing to better materials and renewable systems, to consumers doing their part to care for, mend and eventually pass clothes along to their next part of the cycle, we can all work towards a more sustainable fashion economy.

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