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Circular Fashion: Creating Conscious Consumerism By Lisa Kaari

Updated: Oct 11, 2020

Source: Instagram (@mindful_mending)

What is Circular Fashion?

If you live in the US, I’m willing to bet you were taught this slogan: “Reduce, reuse, recycle.” In your mind, it’s likely associated with images of plastic bottles and green arrows… However, it also relates to fashion. Circular design is a production structure that centers the life of a garment around “reduce, reuse, recycle.” In a circular system, pieces are crafted with minimal waste, mended for longevity, and remade into new items. Some strategies you might recognize include “zero-waste” campaigns and assured biodegradability. Thanks to the current eco-savvy trend, the fashion industry is finally onboarding such crafting methods… but it doesn’t end there.

The slow fashion movement is also calling for “closing the loop” which refers to extending product life even further by reintroducing pre-loved products back into the supply chain. The thought is that the popularization of clothing take-back initiatives will successfully create a closed circuit system of reintroducing used garments back into the market to be reinvented and then resold as entirely new items. While “closing the loop” would be ideal, there are more immediate result efforts underway. Some brands have disassembled and redesigned textiles to cut down time on garment deconstruction. This way, products have a better chance at being upcycled rather than prematurely ending life.

Greenwashing: An ASOS Case Study

As the slow fashion gains public favor, many fast fashion brands and retailers have been scrambling to change their images. Mind you, they aren’t actually trying to become more conscious: it would defeat their entire business model. Fast fashion survives by selling the cheapest product possible in return for high profits. It’s all just kitschy cash grabs.

The term “greenwashing” has been coined to describe their failed attempts at “eco”-lines. You might think, shouldn’t we be supporting them for at least trying? No. No, we should not. Fast fashion and conscious fashion can not cohabitate. We must remember that these are the same businesses that don’t pay their workers a living wage. If they don’t even care about the negative impact their shady practices have on their workers, what makes you think they would care about the impact their pieces have on the environment?

The latest greenwashing offender is ASOS in the form of a classless “circular” collection. These items are promised to be their “most responsible styles ever”... how low is their bar? Genuinely, this line does the bare minimum to be considered anywhere near “circular”. Circular fashion is about having a responsible supply chain, yet this collection only accounts for 0.035% of their 85,000 item catalogue currently up for sale. It’s absolutely appalling. This one case alone makes it downright ridiculous to think that anything coming from ASOS could be remotely conscious. Sadly, this is not nearly an isolated incident. We could spend all day breaking down the most popular examples of greenwashing coming out of the fast fashion industry. Instead, let’s now focus on what we can do to dodge the deception.

Source: Instagram (@thesustainablefashionforum)

Spotting Shady “Sustainability” Standards

Before supporting any retailer, I ask three questions:

  1. Can I verify their “sustainable” claims?

  2. Do they use “green” stock images for promotions?

  3. Are they transparent about worker compensation?

First, their website’s “about” section is where you can find information about production. Sustainable marketplaces will include statistics about sourcing materials and their environmental impact. In addition, any brand can claim to be “eco-friendly” which is why you should always check for GOTS or B Corp certifications. Another tell-tale sign of a disingenuous line is one that’s littered in green imagery. If that page is the only one branded with leaves and wildlife: buyer beware. Lastly, sustainable and ethical practices are intersectional. To reiterate, if they don’t care about how they impact their workers, they aren’t going to care about their impact on the environment.

Circular fashion is the key to a better future, so please go support brands that are making a genuine effort to be conscious crafters. There’s a reason we’re taught to “reduce, reuse, recycle”... it’s because the change can start with you!

Source: Instagram (@thesustainablefashionforum)

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