There are so many buzz words that circulate when we talk about ethical fashion, but one that has well and truly caught my attention is the ‘circular economy’. I was quite confused about what a circular economy meant when it came to fashion, but the more I learned about it, the more and more fascinated I have become.
So what exactly is a circular economy? The Ellen Macarthur Foundation sums it up beautifully.
“A circular economy is one that is restorative and regenerative by design, and which aims to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times, distinguishing between technical and biological cycles”
Did you catch that? I feel like the concept of a circular economy is an onion. There are layers. But I best understand the concept by breaking it into 2.
Onion Layer One – The technical side
The circular economy is the overall utilisation of resources between different companies and bodies through creative collaborations.
If I have learned anything from my obsession with sustainability, it’s that collaboration is key to a successful circular economy. A great yet unexpected example of a successful collaboration, was that time that KFC here in Aussie land transformed 60,000 KFC uniforms into 25,000 m2 of carpet underlay.
Woah! Can we just take a moment to appreciate how epic that is? Unfortunately, most work uniforms cannot be resold in op-shops, so I am sure you can imagine the hundreds of thousands of tonnes that old work uniforms alone make up in landfill each year. The mass production of uniforms is something that I never even thought about which I think goes to show just how unfathomable the amount of textile waste on this earth really is.
Most importantly, how the heck could KFC pull off such a large logistical feat? well, KFC partnered with their existing food delivery suppliers, Cut Fresh Salads and Unifresh to tackle the challenge of returning 60,000 uniforms across the country. Instead of transporting empty loads after a regular delivery, KFC utilised the empty space in their supplier’s delivery trucks by backloading 7,000 kilograms worth of materials to Pacific NonWovens from their distribution centres where they could then be recycled and turned into carpet underlay, thus saving money and using the resources already available to them through creative thinking.
That’s 60,000 tonnes of clothing NOT adding to the already unfathomable amount of landfill that exists on this earth. It is this innovative collaboration and utilisation of resources that really characterises the technical side of the circular economy.
Onion Layer Two – The microbiological side
The circular economy goes even deeper than that, as deep as the fabric that makes up your favorite dress. Technological growth and changes in lifestyle have demanded and driven the growth in the production of complicated fabrics, but unfortunately when it comes to recycling man made, synthetic clothing, the technology needed to break them down in a sustainable manner simply does not exist yet. This then means that complicated, mixed fabrics have less recycling options as they take much longer to breakdown and are either limited to donation (If it makes it) Rags, or yep you guessed it, landfill 🙁
Cotton is one of the most biodegradable fabrics you can own, so much so, you can compost your old 100% cotton shirt and it will breakdown in as little as 2 weeks (Under the right conditions of course)
Ok maybe my hippie is showing, but how RAD is that! composting your clothes!?
I don’t imagine everyone running out to start a compost to compost their old cotton clothes, buuut just in case you do, know that clothing made from synthetic fibers such as Polyesters/nylon and acrylic shouldn’t be added to your compost as these will not breakdown naturally like cotton, linen, pure wool, silk and hemp will.
What our clothes are made from is very telling as to where they will end up. Think of it like this – when you purchase a piece of clothing, you are having a direct say in its end life. Will they go straight to landfill and take years to breakdown contributing to CO2 emissions? Or will they be recycled back into its original form to then make up another piece of clothing with an awesome story to tell?
It’s hard to know what our clothes are made from and which fabrics should be avoided, but here are 2 super cool clothing brands that have made this their mission-
Mud jeans really encapsulate what the circular economy is. Firstly they are based on a lease or buy outright system. If you lease a pair of jeans from Mud you usually pay around 7 pounds a month, but the awesome thing is, when you decide you no longer want them for whatever reason, you can return them! (This is pretty frikking cool considering you can trade them over for the next best style without adding to landfill) Mud will then break them back down into their original properties and turn them into a ‘new’ pair of Mud jeans.
But this awesome concept is only possible because Mud jeans are made out of the one simple fabric,100% organic cotton and the technology to re-use 100% cotton actually exists. There’s a bunch of other really cool things that Mud do and represent but I’d be here all day, so you should really check them out for yourself 🙂
Rumi X are an awesome company which makes beautiful active and yoga wear out of recycled bottles. If that’s not zen AF, I don’t know what is? The process starts with non-recyclable materials being removed from the bottles. The bottles are then shredded, melted and dried into flakes. The flakes are then pulled into yarn and the yarn is then spun into the Rumi X fabric. Unlike Mud Jeans though there doesn’t seem to be a reuse system in place where you can return your Rumi X clothing to be recycled again. (Perhaps this recycle process is more difficult compared to cotton) but the fact that Rumi X use existing resources which would have only contributed to landfill and water pollution this makes them a pretty awesome contender in the circular economy fashion sector!
Do you know of any cool Australian brands that are based on the circular economy business model? If so give them a shout out here as I would love to highlight our local conscious talent!