Renewable Matter # 21 / May-June

Make Fashion Circular

by Joe Iles

What type of careless customer only keeps clothes for a few weeks before throwing them out? You’ve guessed: babies. Even though the negative impacts of the fashion industry are becoming increasingly well understood, babies, toddlers and children of all ages just won’t budge. They buy new stuff, wear it a few times and then decide they’ve had enough. An entirely new wardrobe is required.

You’ve probably guessed by now that this isn’t really a fair interpretation. But, the underlying principle still holds water. As children grow, their needs and sizes change frequently. It’s estimated that the average baby grows eight sizes in its first two years of life. The result is a continual need for new clothes, at the expense and inconvenience of parents, driving a constant demand for resources and energy to make garments, and the inevitable need to dispose of clothes that no longer fit. 

However, would you say that the users of those clothes, or even the parents that buy them are themselves inherently wasteful? Of course not. It’s all down to the system that underpins the way that we design, make, buy, use and dispose of clothes. It’s the same linear, take-make-dispose system that most industries are founded on, from food to phones to homes.

In Denmark there is a company that is looking at baby clothes from a completely different angle. Vigga produces high quality garments using organic materials. They look good, are well-designed and made to last. However, this pushes up the price. So, instead of just selling these items – which would reduce the number of people able to use them – the startup provides their clothes with a subscription model. For a monthly fee, Vigga sends customers the right clothes in the right sizes for their babies. When they grow, they get the new collection in the post, and the outgrown clothes are sent back and washed in a professional laundry, ready to be used by another child.

Founder Vigga Svensson, says that getting clothes in this way saves time and money for parents, whilst delivering a higher quality product. Furthermore, unlike businesses that sell clothes in the traditional way, designing clothes that last actually helps Vigga too: high quality garments can be circulated more times, between more customers, increasing the businesses profits. Hence creating an incentive to produce something that never ends up as waste. 

Why stop at baby clothes? Why can’t more customers satisfy their fashion and clothing needs this way?

Worldwide, the average number of times a garment is worn before it is thrown out has decreased by 36% compared to 15 years ago. This is a big waste of money: customers are missing out on 400 billion euros in value each year by throwing away clothes that they could continue to wear; and it is even estimated that some garments are discarded after just seven to ten wears.

The report A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future states that “for garments where practical needs change over time, for example children’s clothes or those for one-off occasions, rental services would increase utilisation by keeping garments in frequent use rather than in people’s closets.” Along with better resale models, these sorts of activities could help break the pattern of increasingly disposable clothes.

This is one of three main areas of innovation needed to create a fashion industry that can thrive in the future. Along with developing business models that keep clothes in use, we need to increase demand for materials that are renewable and safe, and join forces across the industry to turn used clothes into new opportunities. 

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Make Fashion Circular Initiative, is now bringing together actors from across the fashion industry to make this vision a reality. Together with Core Partners Burberry, Gap, H&M, HSBC, Nike and Stella McCartney, and made possible by C&A Foundation and Walmart Foundation, the initiative will deliver the solutions needed to meet the changing demands and expectations of society, and address the issues that have seen fashion become one of the most polluting and wasteful industries operating today. 

 

vigga.us/order-vigga

A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future, www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/programmes/systemic-initiatives/make-fashion-circular

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