Fashion should not be about fast but about investing in style – The Future of Fashion Is Circular

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Let’s face it; we all have been there buying a handful of clothes off the ‘sale’ rack just because we were getting three T-shirts within the price of two. But most of the time, we ended up using those discounted T-shirts merely once.

Have you ever thought about what will happen to the worn-out T-shirts, handbags, or sneakers which you discard for being no longer wearable? Chances are, you probably haven’t.

Of course, that isn’t always the case. A pair of gloves that you bought for your granny ends up in your wardrobe after her death holds great emotional value, which is why you never think about donating it or throwing away.

Value isn’t just about the price. At times, an article’s value increases manifolds should there be a story or a sentiment or a favorite designer attached to it.

However, if a T-shirt costs less than your Starbucks latte, you wouldn’t even think twice before throwing it out. T-shirts or a pair of sneakers are among the “high-frequency basis” that tend to have a short life and are purchased at a fast rate. Once disposed of the dustbins, they can’t be resold and are too dingy to be donated.

Change the “fast fashion” mindset

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, consumers throw away almost 80% of their textiles directly into the garbage. Similarly, an estimated 50 million tons of clothing, including polyester and nylon garments, are discarded in landfills every year. Unfortunately, these synthetic materials will not biodegrade in a landfill.

In a nutshell, with the growing population of middle-class communities and increased per capita sales in mature economies, there is a massive demand for production. As a consequence, clothing production has almost doubled since 2000.

On the other side, most clothing items end up in the landfills at the end of this chain. There is an awful disproportion between the production and the turnover of these trashed items. For example, to produce a single cotton Tee, there is so much time, effort, and resources required, including 700 gallons of water and travel across several countries

Simultaneously, clothing use has declined by almost 40% – principally due to the “fast fashion” phenomenon. Consumers are offered new, hip styles at lower prices to precipitate the buying process. These often have quick turnarounds due to the increased number of collections per year.

New business models advocating circular economy

The fashion industry is calling out for innovative business models to design and produce clothes of higher quality. It is essential to shift the perception of clothing from a disposable item to a durable product. Fashion industries can employ these innovative business models by introducing subscription services, clothing rentals, and peer-to-peer sharing.

These models are emerging like finding ways to swap clothes to keep them in use. The industry needs to adapt to consumer demands and evolution. Numerous people regularly like to wear new clothes; others are not particularly in favor of donning an article more than a few times as it gets worn out and shabby. On the other hand, a pair of jeans or T-shirt that lasts in quality and design, they wouldn’t get a substantial reason to discard it.

In that scenario, moving to a circular system for fashion can unlock an economic opportunity worth USD 560 billion, as stated by Ellen Macarthur Foundation. This requires innovation and collaboration across the value chain, including production, marketing, and after-sales care.

To understand how business models can work, below are few practical examples to take inspiration from.

Getting rented clothes

The first example of a business model is clothes rental. Customers can get access to a variety of clothes that will automatically decrease the demand for clothing production.

Rental models designed on short-terms offer a compelling value proposition, particularly if we consider changing customer needs. As of now, we have started to see examples of specialized garments such as MUD Jeans that offer high-quality denim, a subscription for babywear by Vigga, and Rent the Runway, which targets working women and offers an ‘unlimited’ subscription service.

As we see, these rental models can apply to specific targets and needs. Vigga addresses babywear due to a baby’s rapidly changing size making countless clothes useless once the baby outgrows them. Similarly, Rent the Runway addresses the need for a stylish look for a party with a branded and perfect princess dress.

Resale Models

According to the 2019 ThredUp Resale report, resale has grown 21 times faster than retail in the last five years. To be more precise, it was found that whopping 56 million women bought second-hand products in 2018, which was an evident surge from 44 million in 2017.

These figures indicate that attractive resale models in which clothes are made to last longer than they originally do can significantly increase clothing utilization suited to a broader customer base.

Likewise, The RealReal is an online marketplace for authentic luxury consignment. It includes products such as clothing, jewelry, watches, fine art, and home décor. For those who don’t know, consignment is a business model in which a business, referred to as a consignee, agrees to pay a seller (consignor) for merchandise only after the item sells.

In 2011, Julie Wainwright founded The RealReal company. In seven years since conception, by July of 2018, the company had raised around USD 288 million in venture capital funding. This is an excellent example of how a circular economy gives new life to used products as a viable opportunity.

Boost Clothing Care

Boosting clothing care can help keep clothes at their actual value. Clothing care includes accessible services and widespread support for users such a repair, restyle, washing, and storing to maintain their premium quality.

It is worthwhile to mention that in clothing articles that hold high physical and emotional durability with the user, the demand for their repairing services would, in turn, multiply. Ultimately, this would open up opportunities to introduce more services, including but not limited, garment restyling, advice on upgrades, customization, and mending at home.

Moreover, retailers can provide the said repair and associated services in-store to their consumers, and forming partnerships with the communities’ local service providers. Several brands are already offering in-store clothing repair and other incentives to keep their garments well-maintained. The brands include businesses such as Bergans, Jack Wolfskin, and Patagonia.

Fixing what needs repair

Founded in 1973 by the rock-climber Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia is an outdoor clothing and apparel manufacturer. The company’s focus has always been on manufacturing high-quality, long-lasting products from the best available materials. Patagonia’s initiative, Worn Wear, is launched to keep clothing articles in extended use through repair, repurposing, and recycling. Today, it operates the largest growing repair facility in North America. It repairs as many as 50,000 clothing pieces per year.

The company has trained its entire retail staff in simple repairing services. The cherry on top is that Patagonia accepts all items returned by customers beyond repair to be either recycled into something new or repurposed if otherwise.


Eleanor Turner, a famous fashion entrepreneur, states the underlying truth that we all have been overlooking: “Future generations will have to deal with a scarcity of resources and the consequences of consumerism in a way that we never have.” 

Compare the two scenarios;

  1. Buying a cheap tee only to dump it a few months later as it gets stained, shabby, or faded; and,
  2. Buying a quality shirt that lasts years, which can even be sent for recycling when worn out.

Which of the two attracts you?

The sustainable fashion industry has become more of a necessity than just an innovative model in the time that we live in. Given the rate at which we dispose of garments, we have high time to replace our linear economy for fashion with innovative business models designed to eliminate waste from the offset and unlock billion-dollar economic opportunities across the globe.

The future of fashion is circular, and it is up to us to bring that future into the present as fast as we can. Speaking of which, how ready are you to transition from a “fast” fashion to a “slow” one or may we say a stylish one?


Previous articles of the circular economy series:

References & Further readings 

Ellen Macarthur Foundation – Fashion and the circular economy

Did you know that one t-shirt guzzles over 700 gallons of water?

What Happens to Your Gear at the Patagonia Repair Center: Photos

MUD Jeans


Rent the Runway

2019 ThredUp Resale report

The RealReal

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