The Circular Fashion Ecosystem

Here we present actions that everyone can take to contribute to a circular fashion ecosystem.

PROGRESS REPORT

INITIAL FINDINGS FROM PHASE TWO OF THE INSTITUTE OF POSITIVE FASHION'S CIRCULAR FASHION ECOSYSTEM. NOVEMBER 2022. 

Since the IPF’s inaugural report ‘The Circular Fashion Ecosystem: A Blueprint for the Future’, was launched in September 2021, the need for a coordinated transition towards a circular business model has become apparent. In this report the IPF has leveraged the convening power of the BFC to conduct a survey with multiple stakeholders from across the fashion value chain, to identify the opportunities and challenges they face in their bid to transition to a more circular model.

CREATING CIRCULAR FASHION ECOSYSTEMS   

Establishing a scalable approach to implement the CFE vision in cities across the UK, by integrating Doughnut Economics principles and applying circular economy strategies. The vision is for these ecosystems to operate in a way that gives both society and our planet the ability to thrive. 

SOLVING FASHION RETURNS – HOW TO KEEP VALUE IN A CLOSED LOOP SYSTEM

Exploring the financial, environmental and societal impact of fashion product returns, in order to identify potential mitigations. The aim is to assess different measures and technologies which minimise returns and handle them more efficiently and sustainably.

EMPOWERING CITIZENS TO ENABLE GARMENT LONGEVITY

Focusing on empowering citizens to care and repair their garments through information on QR codes. By exploring different technology and production approaches, the objective is to increase the number of times a garment is worn, given the trend of declining utilisation rates.

Executive Summary

A blueprint for the future.
Findings from phase one of the Institute of Positive Fashion's Circular Fashion Ecosystem. September 2021. 

Climate change, resource depletion and the destruction of the natural environment are existential crises for humankind. The fashion and textiles industry has a significant adverse environmental and social impact and is cited as the joint third highest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs) globally. Urgency to mitigate climate change has never been more important, with the industry facing unprecedented challenges to serve citizens’ needs whilst reducing environmental impact.

The future of fashion will have to radically transform as the entire value chain shifts towards sustainable and responsible practices in a resource-constrained world.

“Driven by industry, recognising the role of government and the consumer, we challenged ourselves to imagine the future circular fashion ecosystem in the UK. By providing an actions-oriented blueprint for the future of fashion, we looked to accelerate the transition towards a circular fashion economy that thrives in its own right and to which other nations can look for inspiration and guidance.” 

Caroline Rush CBE, Chief Executive, British Fashion Council

 

 

 

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Ten Priority Actions

Urgent, bold, and ambitious action is required from all stakeholders to realise the target state. This report identifies ten priority action areas, each of which involves efforts across many different parts of the fashion ecosystem. Each action area is equally important and has the potential to amplify the effects of the others.

Who needs to act?

Achieving the changes set out in the action areas will require collective action by all stakeholders across the UK fashion ecosystem. The ‘Stakeholder actions and connections’ diagram presents 30 recommendations for leading and enabling stakeholders to kick-start efforts across the action areas.

The need for change

The Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC sends a stark message – time is running out to prevent catastrophic climate change, with some experts stating that society has four years to deliver urgent and radical action. 

The fashion and textiles industry is the joint third highest emitter of greenhouse gases globally, accounting for around 5% of global emissionsc. In addition, it consumes 98 million tonnes of non-renewable resources every year, and uses 93 billion cubic metres of water annually. Fashion is a complex industry with extensive, often opaque, global supply chains whose environmental and social impacts reverberate across the globe. These impacts have been exacerbated by the global pandemic as a dramatic reduction in the demand for fashion items resulted in mountains of unsold inventory. This has exposed just how dependent the fashion industry is on its status quo of overconsumption and has shed light on the critical need for change.

By its very nature, fashion encourages expression, offering the potential to connect citizens to global issues. However, the industry is facing unprecedented challenges to inspire and clothe consumers around the world while dramatically decarbonising and reducing the waste arising from its activities. Fashion has a considerable impact on the UK economy. The industry employs 890,000 people and contributes £35 billion to the UK gross domestic product (GDP). If acted upon globally and across sectors, the circular economy can deliver the reductions in greenhouse gases needed to reach the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. For the fashion sector, this chance to transform the economy to be more regenerative also presents an opportunity to address the systemic environmental and social challenges that exist within its global supply chains, while realising commercial opportunities in its consumer market.

This report presents the findings from Phase 1 of the CFE Project based on research conducted from January to August 2021. The findings provide a framework for how identified actors can work together to lead and enable change in multiple, interconnected areas of the fashion ecosystem and achieve greater circularity.

What we need to do

Presented here are three target outcomes for a future circular fashion ecosystem in the UK. Combined, they make up the target state for the circular fashion ecosystem and allow for its long-term viability, resilience, and prosperity.

Target outcome 1: Reduced volume of new physical clothing

There is a clear environmental case for reducing the flow of new materials and new physical clothing through the system.

Garments purchased in the UK have a significant environmental footprint, with the production of new fibres and manufacture of clothes having the largest contribution to this. Decarbonising and improving the efficiency of production and manufacturing can significantly reduce this footprint. But the most effective way for UK stakeholders to reduce their individual and collective detrimental impact on the environment is through reducing consumer demand for new, physical clothing.         

Target outcome 2: Maximised utilisation and revaluation through product circularity

There is a clear environmental, economic, and social case for reversing the trend of declining clothing utilisation.

The current global trends of increasing consumption and a reduction in the number of times a garment is used before it is discarded means that less value, use, and enjoyment is derived from products that are environmentally, economically, and socially expensive to make. The UK population purchases more clothing per person than many other European countries and throws away over a million tonnes of clothing every year. Circular business models can recover this missed value and deliver greater profitability and stability to the supply chain.                    

Target outcome 3: Optimised sorting methods and materials recovery

Emerging technologies show potential for unlocking closed-loop and regenerative recycling of used clothing at scale in the future if planning and investment starts now.

The net impact of any recycling technology depends on its energy and material inputs, efficiency, emissions, and potential to replace the use of environmentally detrimental materials. Emerging technologies for fibre-tofibre recycling demonstrate potential for replacing virgin inputs for clothing with recycled inputs, thereby eliminating the environmental impacts of many virgin clothing fibres.

The role of the BFC and IPF...

require collective action by all stakeholders across the UK fashion ecosystem.

The Institute of Positive Fashion sits at the heart of the British Fashion Council. The IPF is helping the British fashion industry meet its goal to be more resilient and circular through global collaboration and local action.

The IPF will use the BFC’s convening power to bring together actors across the ecosystem to address the largest climate-related issues facing the industry. Global experts are brought together to share their knowledge and resources to fast-track collective positive change.

The three pillars of the IPF are Environment, People, and Craftmanship & Community. The CFE Project’s goal is to enable a target state which generates positive change across all pillars, offering a holistic blueprint for change for UK fashion.

The British fashion industry is a flagship for creativity, design, innovation, and craftsmanship. The IPF and BFC have a significant influencing power on the global stage and will use their unique position to foster research between industry and academia and become a centre of excellence for innovation, commercialisation, education and cutting-edge research.

Furthermore, the IPF will promote knowledge sharing, the early embedding of circular design amongst the BFC network, and upskilling emerging talent with skills and strategies for their businesses to be future-proofed, responsible and resilient.

Importance of the Report

This report uniquely reflects the diverse ecosystem of stakeholders required to achieve a circular fashion ecosystem in the UK. Led by the British Fashion Council’s Institute of Positive Fashion, it comprises an extensive and multi-disciplinary team of contributors; 3Keel LLP, QSA Partners LLP, Flourish CSR, Adam Smith Business School at the University of Glasgow, and Icaro Consulting. Combined with findings from an extensive review of existing literature, included in this report are rich insights gained from consultations and research into the perspectives of academia, brands, collectors, consumers, designers, institutions, industry bodies and third sector, logistics providers, manufacturers, reprocessors, and retailers.

The report presents a blueprint for the future of fashion, which includes recommendations for these actors as well as for government, digital innovators, and investors as additional stakeholders.

It contributes to wider knowledge on the interconnected nature of circular fashion by proposing meaningful and applied steps to transformation as part of a call for collective action. The Circular Fashion Ecosystem Project is a story about the role the UK fashion industry can play to help build a world-leading approach to circular economy transition.

 

Conclusion

COMING TOGETHER TO DELIVER A BETTER FUTURE

Climate change, resource depletion and the destruction of the natural environment present existential crises requiring fundamental shifts in both how the economy functions and how society acts. The Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC sends a stark message – time is running out to prevent catastrophic climate change with experts stating that society has four years to deliver urgent and radical action. Within this context, the fashion and textiles supply chain is the third most detrimental globally, accounting for around 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, consuming 98 milliontonnes of non-renewable resources every year, and using 93 billion cubic metres of water annually.

Circularity has a key role to play in addressing these challenges. If acted upon globally and across sectors, the circular economy can deliver the reductions in greenhouse gases needed to reach the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. For the fashion sector, reducing the flow of materials, improving clothing utilisation, andplanning and investing in the solutions needed to scale closed-loop recycling, will collectively lead the transition.

In this report on Phase 1 of the Circular FashionEcosystem Project, we have presented our analysis ofthe current state of the ecosystem, the case for change and our vision for a new, circular target state for the UK fashion industry. This vision is centred around three target outcomes:

Target outcome 1:
Reduced volume of new physical clothing

Target outcome 2:
Maximised utilisation through product circularity

Target outcome 3:
Optimised sorting methods and materials recovery

Collectively, the 30 recommendations proposed in this report, across ten priority action areas, provide a blueprint for the future of the fashion industry. They drive change across the multiple dimensions of the system, clearly setting out the areas and initiatives where different stakeholders should take ownership of removing barriers and lead implementation of solutions.

For the fashion sector, this chance to transform the economy to a more regenerative model also presents an opportunity to address the systemic environmental and social challenges that exist in its global supply chains, while realising commercial opportunities in its consumer markets as the balance of products and services shifts. In pursuing partnerships for change, it will be vital to consider which groups, regions or environments might be negatively impacted by the transition. Including them on the journey and re-evaluating strategies as needed, to minimise potential unintended side effects, is fundamental to achieve a circular fashion ecosystem that brings improved societal and planetary wellbeing, resilience, and prosperity.

The way we behave and relate to clothes is shaped by the social, cultural, and material structures around us. However, a shift in mindset is essential to bring about the change required. Wide-scale collaboration by all parties will be critical to success, requiring all stakeholders, including those viewed as competitors, to work together as never before and deliver against the vision.

The transition required is significant, but the ecosystem is ripe for change. With stakeholders aligned behind the need for transformation and the collective vision to achieve it, the UK fashion industry has a real opportunityto drive that transition and create a world-leading circular fashion ecosystem that retains its creativity and emotion, is fair and equitable and provides a radical blueprint for change for others to follow.

This report calls on all those engaged in UK fashion to come together, embrace that vision, and create a circular fashion ecosystem for the UK.