10 Sustainability Organisations Impacting the Circular Economy in the Apparel Industry
The need for adopting sustainable production methods for fashion is growing exponentially as concerns for the welfare of the planet increase. The need to transition to a circular economy, where an effort is made to reduce consumption of raw materials and increase reuse of existing materials, is compelling many businesses to adopt new business practices that optimise their entire supply chain — from raw material acquisition to distribution of the final product, with a focus on optimising use of all material and energy inputs into the process.
This post focuses on European organisations that are taking a lead in promoting sustainability and the circular economy for the fashion industry.
UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion
The UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion encourages sustainable sourcing throughout the global apparel supply chain and works to promote fair labour practices for fashion workers. The Alliance defines fashion as “clothing, leather and footwear, made from textiles and related goods”. Working collaboratively with other UN allied organizations, the Alliance seeks to reduce negative environmental and social impacts in the fashion industry by encouraging fashion producers to incorporate Sustainable Development Goals into their business practices.
Ellen Macarthur Foundation
The Ellen Macarthur Foundation is a charity organization committed to creating a circular economy. With a goal to eliminate waste and pollution, circular products and materials enable the production of consumer goods that can be reused thereby reducing consumption of natural resources. The Foundation seeks to be a catalyst for the continued evolution of the circular economy. When viewed as an economic system, a circular economy delivers improved outcomes for individuals and the environment.
The Jeans Redesign
In recognition of the tremendous amount of natural resources consumed by the fashion industry, the Foundation launched The Jeans Redesign initiative. Denim production consumes large quantities of resources, including pesticides, water, and energy. Traditional production methods made it difficult to reuse or recycle jeans. The Foundation published The Jeans Redesign Guidelines to encourage prominent denim manufacturers to change the way jeans are made. These guidelines help denim manufacturers produce more environmentally friendly jeans by incorporating the principles of a circular economy.
Sustainability Initiatives of the European Union
The European Union launched an initiative to motivate companies to transition to business practices that will support a circular economy. Goals of this initiative include reduced consumption of natural resources, minimizing waste, and lessening the harm to biodiversity. Through their leadership role, they want to help member countries achieve the EU’s climate neutrality target by 2050.
With the focus the EU has on moving the circular economy forward, they've taken a careful look at the significant toll that the textile industry exerts on natural resources. Noting that “fashion is one of the most polluting industries globally,” the EU launched the COSME programme in 2019 to “improve the environmental performance of the European fashion industry.” COSME has four distinct initiatives designed to help contributors in the fashion industry, ranging from freelancers to designers to start-ups, accelerate their participation in the circular economy. These four programmes, as listed on the EU’s website, are:
- S4Fashion: Sustainability for Fashion Industry
- CirCoAX by CircularInnoBooster: A Unique Business Support Platform to Boost Fashion & Textile SME Transition to Regenerative, Circular and Sustainable Businesses
- Small But Perfect: Accelerating the Rise of Circular and Sustainable SMEs in Fashion
- Fashion for Change: Scaling Up Circular and Sustainable Fashion Innovation
The EU has taken a multi-pronged approach to raising awareness of the need for a circular fashion economy. More of these initiatives, including those addressing the needs of mature business in the apparel industry, can be found by exploring their website.
Sustainable Fibre Alliance
The Sustainable Fibre Alliance (SFA) created the Cashmere Standard. Developed in 2015, this Standard promotes holistic sustainability for cashmere production. By sharing best practices for land management, animal welfare, fibre processing, and supply chain transparency, the SFA provides herders and processors with guidance on how to become SFA Certified. This Alliance has been gaining momentum as participants in the global cashmere production supply chain begin adopting the Standard. Fashion retailer John Lewis, for example, is funding a program in Inner Mongolia that will support the local expansion of the Cashmere Standard.
Circular Fashion Partnership
As part of the Global Fashion Agenda, the Circular Fashion Partnership focuses on repurposing post-production textile waste and deadstock, in Bangladesh, by using it in the production of new fashion products. The Partnership supports collaborations between textile and garment manufacturers, recyclers, and fashion brands that operate in Bangladesh.
The Partnership launched in early 2020 in response to the aftereffects of extreme slowdowns in demand for apparel as a result of Covid-19. Although participation in the Partnership is currently closed to new members, the organisers are hoping to continue the project in 2022 and expand the program to other production countries — like Vietnam or Indonesia.
Ideas, like protecting the environment by transitioning to a circular economy, drive change. Professional organisations can help industries transform by advocating how a single idea, like improved environmental stewardship, can be incorporated into their business practices. Leveraging the expertise of professional organisations can provide you with both a toolkit and framework to drive change in your own organisation.