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BFC unveils blueprint for a circular fashion economy

By Danielle Wightman-Stone

Sep 22, 2021

Business

Image: Pexels by Ron Lach

The British Fashion Council’s Institute of Positive Fashion has launched the Circular Fashion Eco-system Report, a blueprint for a circular fashion economy in the UK to address the industry’s impact on the planet through linear production models. 

Described as “bold and vital,” the report sets out a practical approach to creating a circular fashion economy in the UK by reducing the volume of new physical clothing by 50 percent, maximising utilisation and revaluation through product circularity, and optimised sorting methods and materials recovery. 

These three target outcomes to reduce the flow, increase utilisation and scale recycling combined will allow for a “viable, resilient and prosperous ecosystem,” explains the report. While also future-proofing the fashion economy through the creation of jobs across the UK and helping to reduce the UK’s carbon footprint and draw on natural resources.

The UK fashion market represents one of the largest globally, with revenues of 118 billion pounds, 890,000 workers, and contributes 35 billion pounds to the UK’s pre-pandemic GDP. The report adds that systemic change is needed to address waste across the supply chain, as the high volume of clothes bought annually in the UK was more than 4 billion pieces of apparel in 2019, and a high percentage of that is currently destined for landfill.

BFC’s Institute of Positive Fashion calling for a radical change to the clothing sector to reduce environmental and social impacts

The report adds that the three target outcomes are underpinned by 10 priority actions, involving efforts across many different parts of the fashion value chain. Each action area is described as being “equally important” as they have the potential to amplify the effects of the others.

The 10 priority actions are:

  1. Circular design - creating items for circularity, using recycled, recyclable and renewable inputs and technology that minimises material use. 
  2. Consumer empowerment - encouraging UK consumers to make less environmentally impactful purchasing choices, to value clothes, and to make circular behaviours mainstream. 
  3. Circular and sharing business models - allow brands to profit from maximised use rather than consumption.
  4. Demand for circular and sustainable fibres - needs to come from brands, retailers and consumers.
  5. Post-use ecosystem - the UK needs to facilitate an integrated and cost-effective ecosystem of operations post-use. 
  6. Sortation and recycling - drive investment in efficient textiles sorting facilities and phased scaling of open-loop, closed-loop, and regenerative recycling. 
  7. Enhanced identification and tracking - designers, product teams, technology and logistics providers, and resellers need to co-develop and implement identification methods and tracking that facilitates sorting for resale and regenerative recycling. 
  8. Ecosystem modelling - dedicated research and collaborative initiative aimed at mapping out the envisaged future flows of materials and involved actors and economic cases for an ecosystem shift to regenerative recycling. 
  9. Policy and regulation - drive support and dialogue for effective EPR consultation and development, exploration of preferential incentives, and development of standards for labels and feedstock. 
  10. Infrastructure investment - drive investment in circular businesses, enabling logistics and platform providers, the economy for maintenance, repair, and resale of clothes, efficient sorting facilities, and open-loop, closed-loop, and regenerative recycling. 

Addressing these actions will help the industry cut emissions and waste and adopting circular business models like recycling and repair, could lead to hundreds of thousands of jobs a year by 2035, adds the report. 
 Caroline Rush chief executive at the British Fashion Council, said in a statement: “The UK has all the ingredients needed to create a blueprint for a circular fashion economy that will deliver significant environmental, commercial and societal benefits. The mammoth job at hand to put this into action can be supercharged through a Sustainable Fashion Programme that sees, industry, Government and stakeholders all come to the table to play their part beyond their focus of each individual business.  

“We are already seeing this with our emerging designers, however with large commercial businesses, re-commerce businesses, academia, innovators, funders, logistics providers, waste management and recycling providers and the broader ecosystem coming together with Government, we have an opportunity to create this target state quicker and in doing so creating jobs and skills benefiting the UK as a whole.”

BFC calling on the government to do more to help industry create a circular fashion economy

The BFC is also calling on the UK government to lead on policy creation, incentive-setting, and investment for developing the required innovations and enabling infrastructure. As well as asking brands and retailers to embrace circular and sharing business models and empower consumers to adopt circular practices. 

The report notes that significant research and coordination is needed to maximise collaborative actions and that information accessibility and transparency throughout the ecosystem “must be improved”.

Consumers also need to do more, with the report asking shoppers to nearly halve their annual purchases of new clothes, replacing them with pre-owned, rented, repaired and virtual outfits. In addition, more work needs to be done to educate the consumer on garment care, end of garment life, and recycling. A shift in attitudes towards circular products and services is also needed, adds the BFC, as an increased understanding of the value of circular business models will increase demand for a more circular fashion ecosystem.