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How Sustainable Designs that Reduce Waste Fit Into a Circular Fashion Economy

by Vivify Sales on February 10, 2022

- Grace De Gregorio

You may have heard of the three R’s, ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’, but what about in addition to these, designers, manufacturers and consumers consider adopting three new concepts, ‘rethink, redesign and repair?’. Sustainable designs that reduce waste are another way forward in the aim for a circular economy in fashion, and assist in making Vivify’s vision of zero textile waste come to fruition.

These three new ‘R’s’ tie together the concept of upstream innovation. ‘Upstream innovation’ in a circular economy is what the Ellen MacArthur Foundation refers to as“...tracing a problem back to its root cause and tackling it there”. This means reinventing the way clothing is designed, including: how garments are made, taking into account how the material is cut and what to do with the off cuts for example, ensuring they are high quality so they last longer, and also using sustainable materials that can go on to be recycled and made into new textiles again in the future. 

In the fashion industry alone, it is estimated by the UN Alliance for sustainable fashion that the clothing and textile industry “contributes $2.4 trillion to global manufacturing and is responsible for 2-8% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.” Not only this, but it is also estimated that globally, “92 million tonnes of textile waste”  is created every year. This is why at Vivify, “We envision a world without textile waste, where cultural and technological advancements reduce the environmental and social impacts of every aspect of human consumption.”

Currently the typical life cycle for clothing is linear; it is produced, purchased and eventually thrown away  . That is of course, assuming that the item makes it to the market in the first place. Many items dubbed imperfect such as incorrect colouring, design or otherwise not up to ‘brand standard’ will be scrapped, usually burned or buried in landfill. And while the fashion industry is seeing a shift in mentality by both consumers and brands towards circular fashion, by using the three new R’s, we can achieve a severe reduction in textile waste.

Rethink: Re-thinking the supply chain is a great way for brands and companies to start implementing change to create sustainable fashion. ‘Rethinking’ offers the opportunity to examine the way that the materials and fabrics are created and how the factories they support are managing the waste they inevitably create. For example: are these textile factories conscious and accountable for the waste that they create? Are off-cuts and scraps being recycled? Is the dyeing process using water efficiently? 

This is the first step in creating sustainable designs that reduce waste; taking accountability for the problem. An example of a brand taking accountability is designer Eileen Fisher, who has adopted values such as ‘circular by design’, ‘horizon 2030’ and ‘here today, here tomorrow’. These values all centre around the idea that clothing should be manufactured in ways that reduce the severe negative impact textile production has on the environment, while also ensuring that their garments have longevity and high quality. In addition to this, Eileen Fisher also has a second hand item resell program called Renew. Lightly used garments in good condition are collected, and re-sold. This initiative proves that clothing can, and should be built to last. As for items that have seen better days, they are not tossed away. Instead, as a part of their ‘Waste No More’ program they are deconstructed and used to make brand new items such as accessories or home decor. 

Redesign: The next step to achieving a reduction of textile waste is creating clothing designs with waste reduction as a priority. Fast fashion relies on mass production and ridiculously short turn around times. This often leads to companies taking shortcuts. When mass producing clothing, there is a significant amount of off-cuts and scrap material that is left behind. Not to mention the thousands of pieces that are destroyed before even making it to the stores due to being created incorrectly. If brands take the time to consider things such as: how can this be cut to use as much fabric as possible, or “where else can we send our offcuts”.

Another consideration is taking on a “slow fashion” approach. This would mean making fewer items, releasing new lines less frequently, focusing on the quality of the pieces and a general awareness and consciousness about producing better quality garments. Good On You is a directory that rates the sustainability of brands, and also has various resources about sustainable fashion. This makes shopping for sustainable clothing significantly easier for consumers . As we know, it is estimated that only 10% of textiles being used are recycled. Meaning that companies are basically throwing away brand new fabrics. This is where companies like Vivify come into the picture. Textile recycling is incredibly important, which is why  we produce high quality recycled textiles, which means that using our products prevents additional textiles from being incinerated or ending up in landfill. 

Repair: The final consideration for reducing waste is addressing how designers can create garments with future repairs in mind. Making items that can be repaired or restored throughout their lifetime aids in ensuring a reduction of new textiles and garments being created, therefore inherently reducing waste. If an item has completely. Another example of a brand that takes accountability is Patagonia. While they are known for using recycled materials, they also have a big focus on how the materials are sourced, and the working conditions for those who work in their factories. Their items are backed by their ‘Ironclad guarantee’, meaning that if items are damaged from wear and tear, you can send them back to the company and have them repaired. Under their ‘Worn Wear’ program, items that are in good condition are traded in for Patagonia store credit. Second hand items are available to purchase, there is also a small collection of factory seconds, and  for those items that cannot be sold in their condition, they are repurposed into new items in their ‘recrafted collection’.

 

While reducing textile waste and decreasing the impact the fashion and textile industry has on the environment is no simple feat, small steps can be made such as opting for sustainable organic or recycled fabrics where possible. It is these small steps that over time snowball into leaps and strides towards reaching zero textile waste. By implementing changes, embracing new and exciting technologies, and reframing our mindsets when it comes to the lifecycle of our garments, we can continue to create sustainable designs.

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