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Circular Economy Is Paving The Way For A More Sustainable Future
By Elise Dejesus
August 14, 2020
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Circular Economy and Sustainable Fashion Featured on WOMANBOSS
Thousand Fell - a fully ‘circular’ sneaker brand
“Only 9% of all economy is considered circular, with an estimated $4.5 trillion in profit to be made on the remaining 91%.”

As we continue to witness the impact of global warming, the world is racing with time to reduce, reuse and recycle.  Consumers of the current generation recognize that every decision has a repercussion.  The stakes are high for every party in the economy should we continue to ignore this existential threat looming around us.   Forward-thinking consumers pledge to reject the old model of take-make-waste, instead they commit to participating in a circular economy in as many aspects of their lifestyle as they can find smart new businesses addressing the issue.  

What is Circular Economy?  

In layman’s terms, circular economy is an economic system aimed at eliminating waste while promoting continual use of resources. Throughout the world, only 9% of the economy is circular.  The good news is more and more companies are making the strategic moves to transition to this model. According to the Global Circularity Report, more than 90% of the raw materials used globally do not find their way back into the economy and are therefore rendered as waste. The report goes on to reference the United Nation’s environment statistics which state that a circular economy would encourage environmental benefits such as 28% reduction in global resource usage and 72% cut in greenhouse emissions. There is no doubt that these benefits, can significantly change the game.   

Circular Economy and Sustainable Fashion Featured on WOMANBOSS
Graphics: WOMANBOSS Creative

How far do you go with recycling? 

The answer is as far as you can until the materials go circular, zero-waste is the goal.  A product’s ending point, oddly enough can be the beginning of another development. Such a circular flow involves some clever forethought of looping the supply chain, the design of which requires important decisions on the types of materials sourced, how the materials will be broken down and how each process impacts our Earth.  With widespread media coverage, consumers can no longer turn a blind eye on the fact that for many years, the fashion industry has gone unchecked.  It has come to a point that clothing companies must take the lead to start dealing with their products’ ending point and to offer solutions to their detrimental environmental impact.  Some alarming figures have become common knowledge: The textile industry is responsible for nearly 20% of all industrial water pollution, approximately 5.2% of all waste in landfills and 10% of global carbon emissions. 

Circular Economy and Sustainable Fashion Featured on WOMANBOSS
Image by: Pink Up Cycling

Thousand Fell is a sneaker company that prides themselves on sustainability and “closing the loop” with circular economy. Founded by Chloe Songer and Stuart Ahlum, their sneakers are made of “responsibly sourced materials that can either be bio-degraded, recycled to make new shoes or upcycled into materials for new projects.” When asked what prompted them to take on a sustainable approach, Chloe answered “Stuart and I both lived in China for 3 years and spent time during our early career close to supply chain and the means of production. It was this knowledge of the waste in the current system that spurred our interest in material innovation and new ways of manufacturing.” 

To further their mission, they offer customers a recycling program, in which they are given a free return label to send back their pre-loved Thousand Fell sneakers, which are then recycled at their facility. Customers who choose to participate in the program receive a $20 material credit that they can use towards a new pair. Their model has already shown encouraging results. Chloe continues, “So far 20% of our first cohort of customers have already returned to recycle! This is incredibly promising after only 7 months. Our target is to recapture 100% of shoes –– although we know that this requires consumer participation and behavior change. We are building out systems, communication channels and incentives to encourage as many shoes as possible to be returned for recycling over time.” 

Circular Economy and Sustainable Fashion Featured on WOMANBOSS
Thousand Fell founders Stuart Ahlum and Chloe Songer and Thousand Fell sneakers

Luxury goods, arguably, are the most sustainable as they are the pioneers of circular fashion.   

Spending on luxury items from fashion to home products may be perceived as ‘wastetful’ to some.  On the contrary, luxury consumption is increasingly considered more sustainable than other types of consumption.  For many years, luxury items such as a Patek Philippe watch, a Hermes Birkin bag or a Chanel jacket have been changing hands in the secondary market - from vintage shops to auction houses.  These labels stand out from the rest because of their timeless design, limited supply and extremely lasting quality.  Such items’ desirability does not erode over time; and for those limited editions, the market value actually appreciates if the item’s condition is pristine. These prestigious labels have always been part of the circular economy.  

The good news is that innovative business models, such as TheRealReal and Vestiaire Collective, which operate a third-party consumer-to-consumer platform, have made the buying and selling very easy by not only matching buyers and sellers online, but also offering tracking of orders from purchase to shipment and removing all the friction points such as product authentication.  The popularity of these platforms has resulted in broadening the range of brands and products that are now commonly traded in the second-hand market.  This has helped sustain the value of more pieces of high-quality products that have come to one’s possession and thereby reducing the overall waste in the economy.  As consumers become more conscious of the impact of their consumption decisions, these types of platforms are bound to keep growing. 

Related Article: "Dress Smart" Takes On A Totally Different Meaning In The Circular Economy 

Re-purposing is the new luxury 

Luxury denim brand Re/Done, has built their business off of repurposing. Their staff handpicks vintage Levi’s denim to be deconstructed and reworked into new silhouettes. Since each pair is handpicked, style quantities are limited.   Their process and human touch have created a rarity and uniqueness that once define the luxury market. 

“Currently, the fashion system is linear, so it needs a radical transformation.” - Stella McCartney 

 While there is no end in sight for mass consumption, more and more consumers are taking a closer look at how they choose to consume. We live in a time where we have access to resources that can aid us in making better purchasing decisions.  Shopping becomes all the more purposeful when we take extra efforts to find out where our products come from, to hold the brands we love accountable for their environment and social impact and to demand for more sustainable business practices. In this age where sustainability is the most critical collective goal, we can start with ourselves being purposeful consumers by making better choices in where we choose to spend our money and create demand for the rightful products.  

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