TCM Classic — Lately, we’re thinking more about our collective consumer habits and the impact they have on our future. The more we learn, the more we can understand the issues – and solutions – in a broad context, and make responsible decisions accordingly. Check out this classic piece on a fascinating term: circular economy…

when we shop sustainably, we’re voting for change with our own dollar. More brands are embracing what’s called a “circular economy”, a concept sustainability storyteller and co-founder of Noble Media, Laura Piety, breaks down for us below… 

Sustainability. Transparency. Innovation. Ethical.”You’ve been living under a rock if you haven’t heard these words buzzing around the fashion industry for the last few years. And they’re not just catchy slogans, but words that indicate new DNA slowly being cultivated in the industry, from the coolest emerging brands with sustainability embedded into the fabric of their story, to the larger companies trying to reverse engineer a level of environmental care into their supply chains.

Much of this can be summed up in a new type of terminology and thinking (well, it’s not new at all, but currently on the lips of most fashion-forward brands around): the idea of a circular economy. Simply put, this way of doing business is entirely regenerative. Rather than ‘making and disposing’ of product, there is a focus on recycling, re-using and zero waste — a focus that is intentionally embedded into every facet of a garment’s lifecycle, from it’s design and manufacture, to what happens beyond its point of sale. It’s now (rightfully) hip to be smart about the materials and fabric used (recycled ocean plastic, anyone?) and the waste created (let’s reduce carbon footprint, use renewable energy resources, and minimize or even upcycle waste). It’s about creating products that, beyond their initial use, can be recycled and regenerated rather than sent to a landfill or upcycled and given to a new owner (it’s definitely cool to consign).

If you want to get into the business of building a circular economy, well, it’s also a money maker. It has been estimated that a transition to this new regenerative way of doing things could open up $4.5 trillion of GDP growth by 2030.* Seems smart, no?

So, who is doing this well? There are a plethora of brands in the fashion industry who are taking note. And it’s not just fashion, even fragrance is getting in on the act. As ever, Stella McCartney is on the forefront of implementing these regenerative practices (see her partnerships with The Real Real and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in addition to her use of innovative fabrics, notably with Bolt Threads). You’ve also got Adidas and their work with Parley to recycle ocean trash into the coolest new sneakers around – plastic waste that is otherwise legitimately killing our seas and everything in them – as well as emerging brands like Sana Jardin, the world’s first socially conscious, luxury fragrance house that upcycles its floral waste into new products that their flower harvesters sell and retain the profits of.**

As consumers, it’s easy to zone out when it comes to this kind of talk and think the onus is on brands to adhere to this new way of doing things. But, truth be told, we do hold some level of responsibility (and buying power). So what to do?

Be aware that things in the fashion industry need to move toward this kind of economy. The second is learning about the brands doing it better. And the third is to ask questions of the companies you typically purchase from and set a level of expectation about how they do business.

Ultimately, we have the ability to choose what we buy. As consumers we should be looking for quality over quantity – items that can be worn over and over again (or consigned successfully) – and we should, ideally, be avoiding items that, although cheap and cheerful, will quickly end up in our trash cans.

*Peter Lacy and Jakob Rutqvist, Waste to Wealth: The Circular Economy Advantage, New York and London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
**Full transparency here – Sana Jardin is a client of Noble Media, but their work in the fragrance space is genuinely making waves in the industry.

Learn more about the importance of slow fashion and the need for more sustainability in the industry here.

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