It’s been years in the making. But how green is the new Circular Fashion Range by ASOS?
By Chere Di Boscio
If it’s at all possible for fast fashion to merge with sustainability, fashion e-tail giant Asos is trying to do it.
The retail giant has just launched its first circular fashion collection following a collaboration with the Centre for Sustainable Fashion. The new collection features “29 trend-led styles designed with industry-leading circularity principles, with no compromise on product or price”.
These are indeed trendy pieces, featuring oversized cardis, reversible tops and dresses and unisex denim jackets. There’s a strong nod to 90s retro here, with micro prints, acid wash, and cargo pants on offer.
ASOS claims the collection is circular and transparent, since each product features a QR code on its garment tag, helping consumers learn more about the firm’s circular design principles and how the product was made.
Hmm. ‘Circular design principles.’ What does that mean, really? And exactly how green is the new circular fashion range by ASOS?
Old Promises, New Clothes
Two years ago, ASOS committed at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit to train all of its designers on circular design by 2020, and they’ve followed through on their promise.
Their latest offering puts all of their learning into practice with a focus on zero-waste design, manufacturing that minimises waste and uses recycled materials. The brand followed the three foundations of the circular economy, as defined by the environmental charity the Ellen McArthur Foundation. Specifically, these are: to design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural systems.
According to ASOS’s website: “it’s about making clothes in a way that reduces the amount of waste they create, both in their production and throughout the rest of their lives. That includes things like using recycled materials, cutting down waste in design and making pieces that can be worn in lots of different ways – versatility is key, people!”
In order to be part of their Circular Collection, a piece has to fit at least two of three of the design principles as outlined above. Let’s go into more detail on each of these.
ASOS claims that about 35% of materials used in the design process end up as waste. To limit this, they’ve come up with some zero waste cutting techniques. They say this leaves “no waste fabric left over at ALL!”
On their website, they say it also means: “using recycled materials instead of virgin ones, like polyester or nylon, which are processed from petroleum and coal. So, we can avoid the harmful chemicals those fabrics create. In addition, pieces that ‘design out waste’ can also use manufacturing processes that reduce water, energy, land use and/or chemical use.”
Versatility & Durability
Apparently, all designs in this line were made to be not only durable, but flexible. For example, most shirts are reversible; a dress was designed to be worn four ways, and many items are unisex. This means not only can you share them with friends of the other gender, but that ASOS didn’t need to create separate men and women’s wear lines.
The final circular foundation focuses on recycling. That means creating new clothes from old ones. What that translates into is the upcycling of ASOS’s old collections and leftover fabrics into new pieces. The brand is also using mono-materials that can be instantly recycled, and, where more than one material is used, designing pieces so they can be disassembled (and then recycled) easily. In fact, ASOS is keen to avoid the mixing of threads, which can impair recycling efforts.
It all sounds perfect, and it nearly is. While zero waste creation is important in fashion, and design versatility is useful, one of the most important points – regenerating natural systems and being recycled or recyclable – is where ASOS drops the ball.
It’s wonderful that they’ve chosen to make their collection from fabrics that are single fibres, allowing them to be more easily recycled. But…who will recycle them, exactly? How is this a ‘circular’ collection if ASOS themselves are not closing that loop themselves?
The brand has stated that they do not, in fact, have a plan in place to recycle the textiles themselves. And given that EU consumers discard about 11 kg of textiles per person per year., and that the vast majority of used European clothes are mostly incinerated or landfilled rather than recycled, it’s essential that they do create a recycling plan.
It wouldn’t be difficult. Like many other fashion brands, including rival H&M, they could offer a scheme that allows customers to bring back clothing suitable for recycling for an in-house discount. The retailer could then use those threads to make new collections.
Specifically, at H&M Sweden, for example, shoppers can trade in moth-eaten jumpers or holey socks for a brand new sweater made from the very same fibres. This is thanks to H&M’s pioneering ‘Looop’ machine, designed by H&M Foundation and the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel.
It allows old knitwear to be turned into a women’s jumper, baby blanket or scarf in around five hours. Customers only need to pay between $10 and $15 per item. That is circularity!
Steps In The Right Direction
Critics have also pointed out that the circular collection represents a tiny portion of ASOS’s styles on offer and that if they want to be truly sustainable, they must significantly scale back production. Given that the brand’s business model is based on volume – i.e. ‘fast fashion’ – that’s a valid point.
But it could also be argued that ASOS’s design principles are essential to making fashion greener, and that these are important steps for a big fashion retailer to take. We could also see the Circular Collection by ASOS as a kind of consumer test: will we buy it? And if we do, will they produce more clothing based on these concepts?
I reiterate: to make this collection truly circular, all ASOS has to do is invite their customers to drop off their used clothing from the collection, and then make it into something else. There are so many textiles in circulation right now, it doesn’t make sense not to upcycle them into new clothing. It would be a win for consumers, a win for the brand, and a win for the planet.
Let’s just hope that ASOS is willing to close the loop.