Circular Economy á la Mode

Think ‘fashion’ and you may think ‘fads.’

Written By Iain Gulland  |  31 Jul 15

But last week in Edinburgh I saw first-hand how the fashion and retail industry in Scotland is thinking about reducing the impact of clothes from the design stage right through to how we buy, use and look after them, right through the process, from design to consumer purchase and garment care.

I joined some of the leading lights of Scottish fashion in the capital for the Edinburgh International Fashion Festival to discuss how the industry can engage with both businesses and consumers to make fashion more eco-friendly Big names like Clare Bergkamp from Stella McCartney rubbed shoulders with founders and designers  of firms with cutting-edge circular business models, like Edinburgh designer Karen Mabon and Bert Van Son of MUD Jeans. But it was the attendees at the various events I participated in that convinced me that this was more than a passing phase, but a clear journey of intent from an industry which recognises both its responsibility in terms of the environment, but also the emerging business opportunities around increasing customer demand for more sustainable clothing.

As an industry which relies heavily on raw materials and, for Scotland’s durable, iconic textiles in particular, on its reputation for quality such as Harris Tweed and cashmere wool , that’s no surprise.  A more circular economy, where materials are kept in productive use for longer, could have big benefits to a quality-focused Scottish industry, wanting to reduce its reliance on those ever-scarcer raw materials.

We’ve been working with the industry over the past couple of years to address these issues, and our latest partnership with the Edinburgh International Fashion Festival provided a much-needed platform for discussion.  As well as highlighting the potential impact of a more circular economy, it’s important that we bring discussions to life and show how the theory can work in practice, so it was great to see this demonstrated by businesses including MUD Jeans, which offers leasing, repair and return services for jeans, and Rentez-Vous, which rents out the latest fashion. 

Going forward our aim is to work with the industry to develop similar types of innovative new business models which disrupt our make-take-dispose model of consumption and embrace a circular economy, here in Scotland.  Leasing or hiring models are just one to do this, but there’s a whole host of other ways that the industry can embrace the circular economy or implement resource efficiency measures.

For this to take off however, we also need buy-in from consumers.  The environmental impact of clothing is huge, and yet the average household owns £4,000 worth of clothing, one third of which is never worn, while an estimated £140 million worth of used clothing is sent to landfill in the UK every year. 

This is where the Love Your Clothes campaign comes in.  The campaign aims to reduce the impact of unwanted clothing on the environment, and is calling on consumers to buy quality items of clothing, recycle old ones, and get creative to make the most of your wardrobe.  A nation of consumers who appreciate the value of their wardrobe is a necessary first step to a more sustainable fashion industry in Scotland, but my experience last week tells me that there is more than just Zero Waste Scotland talking about making that happen, but a vibrant and dynamic fashion community just bursting with ideas and potential.

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