Circular fashion: The future of fashion


Tanjina Riya

Our clothes uphold the power to express our mood, emotions, status in society, lifestyle, religious and political impulsion and what not! It is an undeniable fact that Apparel & Textiles industries have been playing such an integral role in a man’s life from cradle to grave. Moreover, with the advancement in fashion and technology in the modern era, it is quite evident that the current generation of people is into possessing more items of clothing than our predecessors ever did. Sadly, our mindset has taken a side-track where one in three young women consider their wardrobes “old” after wearing them just once or twice. Instead of blindly chasing trends, here we can implement the idea of prolonging clothes’ lifespan and creating a long-lasting relationship with them.

Moving away from the idea of “fast fashion” to a more sustainable manufacturing model- that is where applying the concepts of “Circular Fashion” comes in to tackle environmental problems as it takes a comprehensive approach towards how fashion should be produced, consumed and disposed of.

Why is Circular fashion so important?



 Figure: Environmental impacts of textile & fashion industry

It is apparent that fast fashion model is built on exploitation of both people and planet. Now that the global population is about to reach nine billion people by 2030, nature will struggle to meet human demands like never before. The objective of circular fashion is to ensure that clothes are made from protected and renewable substance, maximum utilization of clothes, and abandoned clothes are turned into new. So the absolute purpose of circular fashion is that the lifecycle of products should not create any socio-economic or environmental devastation. We want to evolve the apparel industry to a future where every material is used and reused safely, where ecosystems are protected and where people are provided with honorable work. And this is why it is time to get on board with circular fashion before it’s too late.

But, what exactly is circular fashion?

The latest buzz-phrase in the sustainability wordbook is “Circular Fashion”. Circular fashion is a part of circular economy.

Particularly now, we live in a linear economy that is based on make-use-dispose principles. On the contrary, circular economy is a closed loop based on make-use-reuse/recycle/return/repair principles where we need to produce sustainably, repair what is broken, indulge in swapping, thrift or vintage shopping and renting, recycle or up-cycle worn-out clothes. Simply put, circular economy is ‘one’s waste should be other’s raw material, thereby keeping materials endlessly in a loop form‘.


Figure: Circular fashion: close the loop for fashion

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Why are people engaging in circular fashion more than ever?

People are making their first step towards “Circular fashion” not just out of financial necessity but out of choice.


Figure: Virtuous circle of consumer engagement in circular fashion

Young shoppers are embracing “Circular Fashion” and turning their used products into cash. 42% of all consumers & 53% of Millennials and Gen Z say they will consume more secondhand in the next 5 years.

People are buying “used products” not just because they are cheaper than new items, but they are unique and sustainable. It is quite visible that sustainability moves from perk to priority. 59% of consumers expect to retailers produce clothes ethically and sustainably. It goes without saying that, “nostalgic fashion” holds a deeper meaning for millennials. From Marc Jacobs rereleasing the iconic grunge collection that got him fired from Perry Ellis in 1993, to Tommy Hilfiger rebounding with ’90s-era logo-driven denim and sportswear, fashion is deeply entrenched in nostalgic cycle. Millennials who are often described as the “nostalgia generation” are a susceptive audience for these throwback products. And who can blame them for pulling back to the very things that whip up memories of better times?

Circular fashion: A hope for the future?

It’s no secret that the fashion industry needs to be refurbished with the planet in mind. As the Ellen MacArthur Foundation states, transitioning to a circular fashion economy does not only aim at lessening the negative impacts of the linear economy. Rather, it represents a systemic shift that fabricates long-term stability, creates business and economic opportunities, and provides environmental and societal benefits.

The rise in the demand for secondhand and resold products implies that one of the world’s most pollutive industries is taking the leap towards a complete transformation. Resale has a positive impact on the fashion industry. In the past decade:

6.52 billion items of apparel have been recirculated via the secondhand market.

$390B amount consumers saved by buying secondhand

116B lbs of CO2 displaced by buying used instead of new apparel.

image007According to ThredUp, one of the    world’s largest online thrift stores, resale is thriving 21 times as fast as the broader retail sector and is going to be a $51 billion market. Pre-pandemic estimates initially benchmarked 2023 as the year the resale market would pass over the 50 billion mark, but the peak was accelerated by rapidly shifting consumer perceptions in 2020.

The resale market is currently estimated to be worth $30 billion to $40 billion, with the market predicted to have a CAGR of 15% to 20% globally over the next five years, and even higher in developed markets, which could see a 100% YoY growth. The growth is being pushed by an increase in the number of customers starting to buy secondhand and by the number of secondhand pieces consumers are purchasing. These advancements are leading to a share of secondhand clothing in people’s closets which is predicted to grow from 21% in 2020 to 27% in 2023.


Is Circular Fashion just another trend?

Resale can be an emerging growth channel for retail. Many apparel retail executives see resale as a part of their omnichannel strategy.

  • 62% of retail execs say their customers are already participating in resale.
  • 1 in 3 retail execs say resale is becoming table stakes for retailers.
  • 42% of retail execs say resale will be an important part of their business within 5 years.

Consumers say they will engage more with brands that offer resale. Retailers are embracing resale to satisfy consumer.

  • 43% of consumers say that they are more likely to shop with a brand that lets them trade in old clothes for brand credit.
  • 34% of consumers say that they are more likely to shop with a brand that offers secondhand clothing alongside new.
  • 32% of consumers say that they are more likely to view a brand as high quality if the brand sells both secondhand and new clothes.

As retailers nod to the unique shopping characteristics of the consumers, acknowledge the realities of fashion’s unfavorable impact on the environment, and follow the money, resale becomes an increasingly captivating concept. A brand or retailer must reflect on their brand’s values, customer base, and the economics to examine a conceptual “fit,” but the concept of buy well, made well, and resell may validate to be long-lasting, as are some of those heirloom pieces hanging in the wardrobe that still spark joy.

In May 2017, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched the “Make Fashion Circular” initiative. The main goal of this initiative is to facilitate collaboration among the leaders of the textile industry, brands, innovators and stakeholders to move towards a circular fashion economy. According to this initiative, the entire fashion industry needs to reconfigure its operating model. As the industry transforms into a circular system, it will be able to unhook various economic recourses. However, this transformation is unthinkable with a single brand or individual. To actually make fashion circular, businesses, governments, citizens, and innovators have to come all along to enroll the forces. “Make Fashion Circular” initiative has already pulled many industry figureheads together including GAP, Burberry, H&M, Nike, and Stella McCartney. The “Make Fashion Circular” initiative is yet another buzzer that circular fashion is not just a trend, but a transformation in the industry.

Nobody is perfect and there is always room for improvement, but we believe that being wholly sustainable should be everyone’s aim and it’s time to wake up to the environmental effects of the fashion industry and embrace “Circular Fashion” before it’s too late.


References :

  7. Maria Amália Dutra Machado, Stefânia Ordovás de Almeida, Laura Chiattone Bollick and Gabriela Bragagnolo Business School, Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul – PUCRS, Porto Alegre, Brazil from “Second-hand fashion market: consumer role in circular economy.