In a world that’s more conscious of its environmental impact than ever before, it’s no secret that the fashion industry plays a significant role in textile waste. The staggering truth is that every second, a garbage truckload of clothing is either burned or buried in a landfill. While this is an enormous problem to tackle, there are positive steps the fashion industry is taking to address this issue through the vital role of collaboration to achieve a circular economy.
A Shift Towards a Circular Economy
Pioneering apparel brands have been taking initial steps towards achieving a circular economy, but a collaborative ecosystem is needed to create a scalable model. In this ecosystem, stakeholders from across the industry are encouraged to come together and share their learnings, both from their successes and their missteps. These shared insights can guide us towards creating an infrastructure that effectively recovers and recirculates the value of textiles.
One key question that these collaborators must consider is whether brands should design for sustainability using today’s recycling methods or the innovative technologies of tomorrow. It’s not a simple question to answer. Clothes designed for recyclability today may not be recycled for several years, by which time recycling methods will have evolved, rendering today’s garments potentially unsuitable for tomorrow’s landfill.
Looking Beyond the Obvious
One of the challenges in achieving sustainable design and circularity is our focus on fiber-to-fiber recycling over other recycling methods. Currently, less than one percent of textile waste is fiber-to-fiber recycled. While there have been fascinating advancements in this field, such as the use of fungi, the issues of cost and scalability remain.
However, it’s essential to understand that no single solution can tackle this complex problem. The fashion industry is multifaceted, recycling is a complex process, and the planet itself is a complex ecosystem. Many garments are a blend of synthetic and natural fibers and often include components that cannot be recycled, like zippers, buttons, velcro, or elastic. Identifying and breaking down each type of fiber and recycling them, often into lower-value products, is an expensive and labor-intensive process. Therefore, fiber-to-fiber recycling should not be the only approach to solving our climate and environmental problems.
Why We Need a Collaborative Ecosystem
To accelerate the adoption of a circular economy in the fashion industry, we need a collective mindset. Designers, brands, manufacturers, recyclers, and consumers all offer unique perspectives, and breaking down the silos that separate us is essential to find sustainable solutions that benefit us all.
Collaboration should be integrated into every phase of the process. R&D design teams can focus on innovation, stay updated on recyclable fabrics, and learn from other brands and industries. Material traceability is another area where collaboration is vital. It provides brands with a comprehensive view of the origins of their materials, allowing for better monitoring of materiality and responsible sourcing.
Consumers are also pivotal players in the journey towards circularity. Through a collaborative ecosystem, brands can educate consumers and raise awareness of the challenges associated with textile waste. Ultimately, consumer choices will influence designers and brands, shaping their sustainability policies.
We all share the same planet, and it’s our collective responsibility to preserve it for future generations. The road to sustainability and circularity in the fashion industry is a journey best travelled together. So, let’s start talking, listening, and collaborating for a better and more sustainable future.
This article originally appeared here.