FT Rethink

Creating a circular economy for fashion

Madison Darbyshire - Journalist, Financial Times

Madison Darbyshire

Journalist, Financial Times

As more and more of us come to understand that the only future for society and our planet worth having is a sustainable one, pressure is growing for businesses in every industry to demonstrate both that they share this vision and are changing to help bring it to life. While different industries face different challenges, few have a more significant gap between what its customers want and what it actually delivers than fashion.

Fashion now faces some of the most significant sustainability challenges of any industry.

 

This situation has been exacerbated by the rise of fast fashion. In the early part of the 20th century, the aesthetic was a secondary consideration to need. Most of us only bought new clothes when our old clothes wore out, and the fashion industry effectively had only two 'seasons' per year—warm and cool. But as prices fell thanks to increasingly easy access to cheap labour in emerging economies, apparel brands began to encourage their customers to buy more clothes, more often. And we have been only too happy to provide the demand that would further stimulate the supply.

So rose 'fast fashion', in which clothing has come to be treated as a disposable commodity. It is no surprise, then, that fashion now faces some of the most significant sustainability challenges of any industry. And with so much of our clothing purchased for reasons of desire instead of need, perhaps the most significant of all these challenges is waste.

Today, less than 1% of used textiles are recycled as new, wearable materials. Most of the rest ends up in landfill.

Today, less than 1% of used textiles are recycled as new, wearable materials. Most of the rest ends up in landfill. But as public consciousness around the issue of waste continues to grow, so are the economic incentives for fashion brands to rethink their operating models to minimise their use of materials and take ownership of ensuring that as much of what they sell as possible is recycled. In short, eliminating waste is becoming a business opportunity. And the fashion industry is beginning to respond.

In this latest FT Rethink film, the Financial Times' Madison Darbyshire takes a look at three businesses that are each exploring novel ways to make the fashion industry circular. Join Madison as she visits Rapanui's Teemill, Worn Again Technologies and Brothers We Stand to discover the innovations that could help transform one of our most wasteful industries into a contributor to our sustainable future.

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