In a Circular Economy, What Goes Around Comes Around

The Circular Economy will shape our immediate consumption rate by redefining the perception of waste. Say that three times and then believe it to be true.

The linear thinking behind a ‘take, make, dispose’ model relies on large quantities of easily accessible resources and energy, and has become increasingly unfit for the reality in which the world operates. Up against this limited supply of natural resources combined with increasing consumption and population trends, we see in the not so distant future that natural resources will be severely compromised.

While we see pioneering brands like EILEEN FISHER, H&M and others taking back the clothing they sell and offering a discount to consumers on the purchase of a new item, there are few reuse and recycle options available. Increasing consumer participation as well as creating new models for large and small brands to minimize their textile waste is of utmost importance with millions of tons of waste not being used in a cradle to cradle method. And this recycling has to be easy for most people to make an effort.

Consider this: In the U.S., more than 80% of all clothing enters the waste stream directly. Only 20% of those garments sold are recycled.  Most U.S. consumers throw clothing directly into the garbage.

Then consider that when clothing enters a landfill it does not decompose, it is petrified due to lack of atmospheric conditions. And because it’s a massive human health and safety issue, the proposal of going into a dump to recover buried textiles is absolutely against the question.

So while the value of clothing sold in the U.S. yearly exceeds $1T, these viable resources end up frozen in time. Since the late 1960s and 70s we’ve gotten past the stigma that recycling paper, metals, and even food waste in some municipalities, is something only a select few do. Yet with 12 million tons of textiles in the landfill yearly, we have to recalibrate our views to look to clothing as the next recycling frontier. By solving this problem, we solve one of the greatest environmental crises we’ve had since the 90s.

It is undisputed that the textile and apparel industry is one of the most damaging industries on the planet; we’ve seen the reports of wide spread pollution to air, water and soil.

And yet, as an industry professional, I talk to so many of my peers who feel helpless in breaking this vicious cycle. Their primary responsibility in the apparel industry is to get garments to market so they can be sold, in less time and for less money than last season. We have a fundamental business model challenge in the textile and apparel industry: it will take strong leadership with the foresight to support disruptive, sustainable innovation to create a new way of working.

What I'm saying is, we need system innovators and inventors. Lots of them.

Reimagining product design, use, ownership, disassembly and reassembly is the greatest design challenge of our time; it is the foundation of the circular economy. It moves people from an individualistic, scarcity mindset to one of shared value and abundance. It’s a 21st century approach to an industry that services every human on the planet.

Creating a redesigned textile and apparel supply system builds the circular economy through a collaborative network of engagement and has the potential to spark possibility for change in the minds of people around the world. Responsibility to future generations transcends borders; once we get past the fear of change and the greed of ownership we see that the power of the conscious business model is the largest leverage point for delivering reciprocity to all who make, buy, sell, trade and wear clothing.

This is our future.