Imagine a fashion industry that creates more good, not just less bad. That uses clean energy, protects water sources and uses only good materials, again and again. We believe that now is the time for a circular fashion industry that restores and regenerates the environment.
Right now, the fashion industry is based on a linear model, wasting nearly as much as is created. It uses hazardous chemicals, polluting manufacturing processes and sends valuable resources to landfill.
Unlocking fashion's true potential means reimagining the way we make, use and reuse clothes. It demands innovation, showing the entire industry what's possible and then taking solutions that work to scale.
In this section
Fashion for Good
William McDonough reveals the innovation agenda that could shift the industry from doing ‘less bad’ to ‘more good’.READ MOREMahmud/Map
Stacy Flynn explains how Evrnu, winner of the Ashoka Fabric of Change award, is reimagining apparel for the better.READ MOREEvrnu
Closing the loop on waste
Can a closed-loop industry be a reality? Gwen Cunningham says yes and explains Circle Economy's plan to make it happen.READ MOREErick Astudillo
Fashion for Good is an ambitious innovation agenda with the power to shift the industry from doing ‘less bad’ to ‘more good’. William McDonough, the man behind cradle to cradle thinking, explains how a bold vision coupled with concrete action can rewrite the business model and make fashion a force for good.
What if we designed products and systems that worked so well they could only produce good? No negatives. What would that look like for the fashion industry, and where would we start?
Two years ago, I spoke to C&A shareholders about the concept of ‘Fashion Endlessly'. It sparked the beginnings of a big idea – a vision that could transform the fashion industry for the good of the planet and everyone on it. Fashion for Good is the result.
At the heart of Fashion for Good is a beautiful, exciting vision of what this industry could be – a circular model that keeps adding more and more good to our world. At the moment, the fashion industry lacks this vision. How can we work together towards something if we don’t know where we’re going?
But without execution, a vision is just a hallucination. At the end of 2016, Fashion for Good kicked off the journey by leasing a building in the heart of Amsterdam. It’s a place that will bring together the right players and tactics for achieving our goals. It is the spiritual home of Fashion for Good’s biological nutrient T-shirt, which has been designed to meet C2C-Certified™ gold criteria, and produced at scale to be sold at C&A stores around the world. This is a first for the fashion industry and proves the opportunity for social, economic and environmental good that a T-shirt can create.
Fashion for Good will also spend the next year convening key partners. We’ll be strengthening networks and refining our concept, making it real. We will build our understanding of what is ‘good’. What is good dyeing or good material? What is a good wage or a good economy?
We already have many of these ‘good’ solutions in place – such as waterless dyeing and an economic model for circularity – but they’re not operating at scale. Fashion for Good will be home to an Innovation Hub, which will support, test and scale-up the technologies, methodologies and business models that will play a role in reaching this vision.
Alongside all this, we’re developing the language for this new era of fashion. When we talk about the ‘end of life’ phase of a garment, we’re immediately limiting our imagination. A T-shirt is not alive; it’s a ‘consumer good’. Instead of ‘end of life’, what if we talked about ‘next use’? You see how quickly that reframes the conversation? Suddenly this T-shirt becomes something that can continue to share its assets across generations.
The average American buys 40 to 60 new garments every year. Just imagine if every one of those billions of transactions added only good to the world – that’s what we’re going for. –
The Five Goods
Imagine a world where there wasn't a choice between good fashion and bad fashion because good was the only option.
Today, the linear system resigns us to the fact that fashion will forever be bad. But by rewriting the business model, we change the rules of the game. We can make fashion forever good.
Fashion for Good is built on these five areas, which are inspired by William McDonough's Cradle-to-Cradle principles.
Cheap, synthetic fibres emit nitrogen monoxide gas, which is 300 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.
More than 80 billion pieces of clothing are produced worldwide each year. Of these pieces 75% will end up in landfills.
Polyester and other synthetic materials require 10 to 25 times as much energy to produce as natural fibres.
It takes 2,700 litres of water to produce the cotton needed for one T-shirt—the equivalent of what an average person drinks in three years.
Untold millions of garment workers are informal employees unrecognised by law. In one study, 9 out of 10 working children in Bangladesh said they became involved with informal garment production to support their families.
Our Fabric of Change partnership with Ashoka Foundation supports innovators with the most exciting solutions. Evrnu, a textile technology start-up, won the Fabric of Change award in May 2016. Stacy Flynn explains how Evrnu is reimagining the way we make and buy apparel, and how the award is helping Evrnu link with other key players critical in taking the technology to scale.
On a business trip in China in 2010, I visited the areas where subcontracting takes place. The state of the air quality was visible. My colleague and I got out of the car and couldn't see one another through the thick cloud. I travelled for 30 days around the country and the conditions didn't improve. It made me think about how many yards of fabric I had personally created. So, my theory was: if one person can do so much damage unintentionally, what can the same person do to turn it around?
I was determined to find a solution. I came back to Seattle, stopped working and got a master's degree in sustainable systems. In 2014, I founded Evrnu with Christopher Stanev. We are taking on the greatest design challenge of the century: transforming waste into something useful and beautiful.
Our technology is the first of its kind. We recycle cotton garment waste to create renewable fibre. So, how does it work? We introduce post-consumer garment waste – the hardest garment waste to break down – to a solvent. That solvent turns the waste into a liquid. From there we extrude the cotton back to a solid. We can reuse the solvent, and the fibres can be broken down again and again.
The material we create is finer denier than silk and stronger than cotton. We're taking what's perceived as waste and turning it into something that outperforms virgin materials, so it's a massive opportunity for brands.
There are a number of early adopters using our technology, including Levi’s and Target. These partnerships are so important to us. It's a lot to ask a large brand to take a chance on a start-up technology, especially as these brands don't usually pay for external R&D. So we're up against a cultural paradigm. But the fact that we're creating the first jean from post-consumer cotton with a band like Levi's marks a big turning point for us and the industry.
Our focus for the immediate future is increasing the number of partnerships. If we want to make a dent in this problem we need to move quickly. And we can't do that alone. Our success depends largely on linking with other players and leveraging what already exists in the market. We're looking to get waste purveyors set up as suppliers, to get fibre companies to license our technology, to integrate with yarn spinners and to get more brands and retailers signed up.
That’s why we’re so grateful for the Fabric of Change award. Ashoka and C&A Foundation have further strengthened the perception of our team and technology. It gives us the continued support that allows us to continue reimagining how we make and buy apparel. –
The Ashoka Challenge winners
Ashoka and C&A Foundation launched the Fabric of Change, a global initiative to unlock the unique power and potential of social entrepreneurs for a fair and sustainable apparel industry. See how the 2016 winners are making fashion a force for good.
Design was my first love. But while studying fashion design I realised that the less glamourous side of fashion is hidden. Its linear model seemed nonsensical and out of control and I became increasingly disenchanted with the industry I was working to be accepted by.
I realised that if I continued on this path, my power as a designer would only ever reap small rewards, as I would be working from within a predominantly linear system. There seemed to be a bigger design challenge at play: designing a new supply chain and operating model for the entire industry. That's why I joined Circle Economy in 2014.
At Circle Economy, we work on the practical and scalable implementation of the circular economy. In fashion, I see intent for circularity in a linear world. However, only a few people are working on the infrastructural system changes that will make a closed-loop industry a reality. That's where the Circle Textiles Program comes in.
The aim of this program is to accelerate system transformation to allow the technological innovations in textile material recovery to reach their full potential. Together with our members, we spot the breakdowns in the system and co-create new technologies and new models that can be adapted and used by a market that doesn’t yet exist. And we scale our impact by sharing the lessons we’ve learned via case studies, symposiums and digital tools.
To give a practical example, our team asked: “Why is high-value textile recycling not happening at scale and what's creating the bottleneck in the system?” One answer was how post-consumer textiles are sorted. To return textiles to the supply chain using high-value recycling technologies, non-rewearable garments must be sorted by fibre type. Traditional textile sorting is done by hand, which is time-consuming and costly. Also, small differences between blends cannot be detected by hand. All of this means there is currently not a scalable solution to create high-value recycling inputs.
To overcome this, we worked with a consortium of collectors, sorters, machine builders, and mechanical and chemical recyclers to develop the Fibersort, an automated technology that sorts large volumes of mixed post-consumer textiles based on their fibre composition. With the consortium, we are currently working to optimise the technology and test it in a commercial setting.
Another example is the work we did last year with ReBlend, The Salvation Army and G-Star to convert textile excess into new raw material and to identify the environmental savings of that process, and the business case for circularity. However, we recognise that we can't continually conduct one-off projects and expect a new circular textiles industry to take off at scale.
That's why we created the Circle Fashion Tool, a new decision-making tool for brands that want to understand the business case and environmental impact of closing the loop. Our plan is to license the tool to ensure greater adoption. We don’t want to develop it in our ‘ivory tower’, so finding brand partners is a high priority. We need to be sure that what we develop truly serves the industry's needs.
The "why” of circularity is increasingly understood, but the “how” is still largely unanswered. With C&A Foundation's partnership, we'll be able to find those answers more quickly. Together we will close the gap between circular intent and circular reality. –