These circular fashion brands are disrupting the industry in the best way!
By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
It’s a fact that some people don’t really know what’s meant by circular fashion brands. They often confuse them with ethical fashion or sustainable fashion brands. To be clear: ethical fashion pertains to human rights of those making the clothes. Sustainable fashion involves environmental approaches in the choice of materials and production.
The circular model is characterised elements of both. It can be defined as “a regenerative system in which garments are circulated for as long as their maximum value is retained, and then returned safely to the biosphere when they are no longer of use.”
So, what does this mean, more simply? That in this process, waste and pollution are out of the picture, because materials are used over and over again. Think of it this way: plastic bottles are melted to create fibres. These fibres are spun into threads that comprise clothing. Later, these threads from existing garments that are no longer worn are removed and regenerated into new threads, which then create a different fabric. That fabric is made into a new item, which is then broken down and reincarnated into a new garment. And so on, ad infinitum.
Cradle to Cradle
There’s actually a certification for circular fashion brands: Cradle to Cradle. This design framework triggered a shift in the way products are conceived, following these principles:
- Material Health – to ensure products are made using chemicals that are as safe as possible for humans and the environment
- Material Reutilisation – to ensure products remain in perpetual cycles of use and reuse from one product use cycle to the next.
- Renewable Energy – to ensure products are manufactured using renewable energy
- Water Stewardship – to ensure water is recognised as a valuable resource, watersheds are protected, and clean water is available to people and all other organisms.
- Social Fairness – to design business operations that honor all people and natural systems affected by the manufacture of a product.
To be certified, garments are assessed across all five of those sustainability categories. A product is then assigned an achievement level (Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum) for each category. As with other fashion certifications, this standard encourages continuous improvement over time by awarding certification on the basis of ascending levels of achievement and requiring certification renewal every two years.
You don’t need to buy Cradle to Cradle brands to participate in the circular economy, though. There are lots of options for circular fashion, such as:
- Renewing your shoes and accessories by fixing them when they break. You can send bags, for example, to a company like the Handbag Clinic, which gives bags a second life and increases the value of these items should you wish to sell them on.
- Renting clothing instead of buying
- Taking your old clothes to a tailor to create something new and fresh that fits you perfectly.
Currently, though, the majority of offerings in our linear economy involves new materials that are used, then disposed of. But the number of circular fashion brands is ever growing, bringing benefits such as waste minimisation, social justice, and the use of greener energy in the making of new clothes. No wonder more consumers are demanding brands use a more circular model!
Here below, I’ve found a few circular fashion brands that are truly changing the creation paradigm.
Circular Fashion Brands Changing The Paradigm
Circular fashion brands don’t get much greener or more ethical than Girlfriend Collective! They outline their sustainability policies in detail on their site, but to sum up: they use recycled materials to make all of their activewear and socks. Their fabrics are actually derived from recycled plastic bottles (NOT new synthetic materials), and get this: you can recycle those too, when your garment has reached the end of its life.
For example, you can return your old, hole-infested socks to their ReGirlfriend program, which will then make new clothing out of their fibres. We love how this brand closes the loop!
It’s not a huge surprise to learn that Stella McCartney is getting ever more circular with her brand. Back in 2017 she partnered with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to support the circular textile economy. By 2020, her brand vowed that all leftover materials would be regenerated instead of going to landfill.
Today, she is working with her team to seek out and use other people’s textile waste for her next collections. So if you have some old clothes, Stella is ready to instill new, stylish life into them!
If you thought Adidas just produced rubbery disposable trainers, with the worst kind of chemicals and practices, think again. Since 2019 Adidas, has produced 11 million pairs of shoes using recycled ocean plastic. They are committed to using only recycled polyester in every product by 2024.
This pursuit towards circularity has been strengthened with the FUTURECRAFT.LOOP project, which has the objective of attaining a “closed loop” or fully circular manufacturing model, where raw materials can be repurposed again and again. Great news!
Yeah, yeah. We know. H&M is built on a fast fashion model. But hats off to the fact that they’re trying to change that! The company is actually one of the first high street brands taking steps towards slower, more circular fashion.
In fact, the brand is completely redefining its business model to achieve a climate positive value chain. That includes having some stores accept old garments for a store credit. These are then transformed into new garments you can buy, return for a store credit…you get the picture! It’s a great way to keep your fast fashion purchases out of landfill and to close the fashion loop.
Image credit here.
The giant British online fashion retailer is leading by example! It recently launched its first ever circular fashion collection last autumn, following a collaboration with the Centre for Sustainable Fashion.
That first circular collection featured over twenty 90s inspired styles designed and created with closed-loop principles. The company intends to expand their circular fashion offerings in the future. We’re excited to see what 2021 will bring!
Tentree apparel simply couldn’t be greener! Not only have they received Platinum or Gold levels of achievement for their Cradle to Cradle certification, but they also plant not one, not two, but TEN trees for every purchase (hence the name).
Plus, if you want to know exactly how much water and CO2 you’re saving with every purchase of their unisex casual wear, all you need to do is visit the page of the garment you’re interested in. You’ll find all that info very clearly spelled out beside each item for sale.
One of the most famous sneaker brands is becoming a fine example of circular shoewear. Puma launched its circular First Mile Collection in March 2020. The collection was made using 40 tons of plastic waste, collected by a community of people belonging to the organisation First Mile. This association gathers the group efforts of locals who pick plastic out of their ecosystems and sell it on to companies in order to make a living.
This network of self-employed collectors, in Taiwan, Honduras and Haiti, is working hard to ensure nasty plastic waste doesn’t go into landfills, incinerators or our oceans. Instead, it’s being made into shoes for stylish and conscious consumers.
Photo credit here.
Knickey is one of the few circular fashion brands that specialises in sustainable panties. They are all made in FairTrade certified factories from 100% certified GOTS organic cotton. Free from toxins, carcinogens, and other harmful chemicals, this is exactly the kind of fabric you want right against your most intimate parts all day!
But that’s not the best part of their circularity. Get this: you can send Knickey your used undies so they can be recycled! I know what you’re thinking: erm, recycled underwear? No thanks! But of course, it’s just the fibres that get completely recycled.
Knickey has partnered with a local NYC non-profit to safely recycle the threads from your intimates into new undies. You can send them your ready-to-retire intimates, Knickey or not, and you’ll get a free pair in your next subscription box. Sweet!
Here at Eluxe, we’ve followed the amazing work done by Redress to stop clothing waste through the years. Its founder, Christina Dean is also the brains behind the R Collective. This is a team of fashion experts who “work with the collective goal of creating the world’s best sustainable fashion brand that reduces waste and pollution, and empowers consumers.”
The R Collective operates on a made-on-demand model, which eliminates typical inventory waste issues that add to fashion’s pollution and waste. They use top quality rescued materials, including luxurious wool and cashmere, breathable lyocell and super-soft nylon, in their slow fashion, circular creations.
10. G Star Raw Denim
Cool and eternally chic, G-Star RAW Denim Product represents a range of denim styles designed and manufactured according to Cradle to Cradle design principles. They’ve done such a good job of it, they’ve been awarded the Gold level for their efforts in all five categories.
As you probably know, Pharrell Williams is behind this brand. But not only that – he’s also a huge investor in Bionic Yarn, which is an initiative that creates threads out of recycled bottles.
This Portuguese label uses a variety of environmental materials including deadstock fabrics, and it also traces its supply chain with full transparency. The philosophy at Näz is not to throw away anything, ever! And this is why the label partnered with Portuguese factories in order to develop new circular fashion products, made from discarded textiles and clothes.
The result is a collection of casual wear for both men and women. We particularly love their sweaters, which are made of single-fibre rescued yarns, which can more easily be broken down and reused in the future.
12. MUD Jeans
We never get tired of a fine pair of chic jeans, am I right? But sadly, denim is often one of the most polluting textiles. It’s usually made with chemicals and thousands of litres of water. But Mud jeans founder Bert van San decided to change that. Since 2012, Mud jeans has been one of the pioneering circular fashion brands. They not only use organic and recycled cotton, but many of their newer styles are made out of an old pair of Mud Jeans! And get this: circularity is taken to perfection through the option of leasing your jeans instead of buying them!
The Spanish brand has its foundations in circular economy. Recycling has always been the core modus operandi of Ecoalf, but the streetwear label took this pursuit to the next level in 2015 with the launch of its Ocean project.
This focuses on upcycling marine debris in collaboration with fishermen, who help to collect waste from the ocean floors. This waste is eventually turned into high quality threads for outerwear and sportswear. An adventure that began with three fishermen has now expanded to over 3,000, who collect 4,000 tonnes of ocean litter every year.
Ecoalf’s garments and accessories are derived from plastic bottles, fishing nets, old tires, and even coffee grounds, always repurposing waste in a circular way.
This is a luxury, sustainable accessory brand and part of a new generation of brands championing a slow fashion circular economy. Mindfully aware of the environment, they address the needless waste and pollution of our planet, designing out waste without sacrificing style.
Their luxurious artisan, multi-functional, and gender-neutral vegan bags are handcrafted using regenerated and reclaimed materials from fishing nets and fabrics destined for landfills. In fact, circular fashion does not get much greener or more ethical than Aoife. They use recycled, reclaimed, regenerated and bio-based materials to handcraft their comfortable and timeless bags. 2.5 % of the brands’ profits are donated to ocean clean up and reforestation.
Aoife ( EE-fa) demonstrate how brands can be innovative, modern, and fully sustainable while maintaining high design standards.
This brand may be new, but it’s on a mission to change the way fashion is consumed and produced. Fully vested in being a 100% circular business model, every aspect of this brand is about minimalism, from its name down to its ethos! They strive to keep the number of components in each garment as low as possible, including only what’s absolutely necessary.
The design process is kept as sustainable as possible, from fabric to trims to packaging, non-toxic materials are used that reduce the environmental impact.
Designed for circularity, each item is biodegradable and recyclable, and the brand partners with Fabscrap in NYC to recycle any scraps of materials or prototypes. And if we didn’t already love them, they also manufacture their garments locally in NYC, helping to support local factories and garment district jobs that are mainly held by women. Who runs the world? Girls!
Do you know of any other circular fashion brands we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments, below!
Main and second images: Stella McCartney 2021