Give “circular economy” a quick google and you’ll find that the amount of incomprehensible information out there is enough to drive anyone up a wall. Circular economy sounds good, like something that might be a gamechanger. But finding out exactly what it is or what it means to us in our everyday lives can be challenging. Especially to those of us who want to know how we can apply it to fashion. When we, at C&A Foundation, embarked on our own circular mission, it was tough for us too. We talked to dozens of experts, some of the most brilliant minds in the field. Ultimately, we helped create the world’s first Cradle to Cradle t-shirt and here’s how you can too.
What is a Circular Economy?
Currently, we live in a world dominated by a linear economy. Essentially, garments are made, used, and eventually tossed into a landfill. And all the resources that are used up to make those products, also pretty much go down the drain.
In a circular economy model, products, and the resources that are used to make them, stay in a loop. So they have an exit plan in advance for how the product dies. Already at the design phase of a garment – in our case – the principles of circularity are being taken into account to that “take-make-waste” can become “use and reuse” in continuous and positive cycle. This enhances the environment, optimises resources, and builds social capital. Sounds relatively simple, right?
Well, right now it’s not. But we think it should be. So we went on a quest; a quest to figure out exactly what we can do to enable change. And we figure that to reach a circular economy in fashion, we need to focus our efforts in three areas: innovation, services, and systems change.
When it comes to services, we are starting to look at how we can change current business models. There are lots of great initiatives out there like the “clothing libraries”, “lease a jeans” or even second-hand market facilities, but these still need development and aren’t really viable for brands. So, we have a long road ahead.
The same can be said of systems change. Here we are looking for “levers” – basically, buttons that we can push – to activate the implementation of circular business models, and we are especially focused on leadership. This is probably our most difficult challenge and our quest has only just begun.
But when it comes to innovation, it seems like the world is our oyster. There are so many great minds working on such a variety of great ideas. So, about a year ago we became the founding partner of a new global platform for innovation called Fashion for Good. They work through collaboration and community to accelerate start-ups, scale up promising innovations, and convene change-makers. Since its launch in March, Fashion for Good has been blazing trails in circular innovation in fashion.
But for us, the proof is in the pudding and we wanted to prove to ourselves and the world that you can actually make a garment based on the principles of a circular economy and sell it at a price that anyone can afford. So, we partnered with Fashion for Good and our corporate partner, C&A, to create a t-shirt.
The World’s First Cradle to Cradle T-Shirt
A t-shirt? Yup, a t-shirt. But this is one special t-shirt. It is the world’s first GOLD level C2C CertifiedTM t-shirt. It was designed using the principles of a circular economy, meaning that everything aspect of this t-shirt - from the cotton in the yarn and thread, the dyes in the cloth, the water and energy used in the factories, the working conditions of the garment workers – meets extremely rigorous circular economy standards. The t-shirt is made to last as long as you want to use it, but when you are finished using it the t-shirt can be composted in an ordinary backyard compost heap and the resources used to make it are “looped” back and turned into biological nutrients for the earth. True story!
A t-shirt may seem a humble beginning, and it is. But it demonstrates that we can produce circular apparel products today; we don’t have to wait. And thanks to this experiment no one does, because Fashion for Good has published a how-to guide for other manufacturers and retailers to able to produce their own C2C certifiedTM products.
It may still be years before circular economy becomes mainstream and you, the consumer, are offered a significant number of choices; but in the meantime through innovative partnerships and collaboration, like ours, the industry is moving in leaps and bounds towards a circular system that might just do away with the status quo, for good.
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