Growing energy and creativity within the fashion industry is directed towards circular economy initiatives, often under the umbrella of "sustainable fashion". In fact, we’re likely in a golden age, with designers given broad scope to consider apparel inputs from unconventional sources, including secondary market materials (some historically viewed as waste), as well as agricultural by-products.

Similarly, thought is being given to the range of functionality an item of clothing may offer. In short, there is some fragmentation within conventional fashion offerings as innovation takes brands in a multitude of directions.

Uniformity pressures of end-of-life supply chain

Much will no doubt be achieved by the apparel industry with improvements to their product supply chains, such as:

  • more responsible materials sourcing;
  • better durability; and
  • reduction of the use of harmful substances.

All of these problems can reasonably be solved by each brand. But what about the post-consumer, product end-of-life supply chain? Here, there are pressures for a more uniform “feedstock” so that a narrowed, undifferentiated set of solutions may be applied to the garments collected, regardless of whether it is a mechanic or chemical treatment, or perhaps a repurposing.

Are design standards coming?

Brand owners of products with a history of waste diversion obligations know all too well what can happen when the dictates of a recycling process results in the appearance of uniform product offerings.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Circular Fibres Initiative has (delicately) signaled that the requirements for robust textiles recovery will mean fashion industry design guidelines will need to align clothing design and recycling processes.

As part of this coming reorientation among clothing producers, there may be pressures to reduce the textile varieties, phase out less recyclable fibres and eliminate unique materials in seams, buttons, zippers, etc. Brands also must commit to using more recycled fibres, which further impacts choices. And this is likely only the beginning.

But who are your CE collaborators?

This push towards more homogenous fashion offerings - driven by the waste industry no less, will appear dystopian to many in the fashion industry. But this would undervalue the potential dynamism of these new collectives, driven by shared sustainability demands and aspirations. Accepting the socialization inherent within a circular economy model may also lead to unforeseen economies of scale and other efficiencies.

What individual brands need to consider now, while the voluntary initiatives have yet to become institutionalized (and made regulatory), is exactly what is their industry?

In other words, whose interests do they truly share in an end-of-life supply chain, and which related parties, from manufacturers and distributors to recovery processors and re-manufacturers will be allied in interest?

The answer will form the foundation for brands and their supply chain partners to both meet their coming circular economy obligations and maintain product differentiation.

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