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Fibre & Fabrics

Circular Economies: The past, the present – and the future?

cycling recycling The term ‘circular economy’ has recently been – again – converted into a buzz word.
To some extent there are a couple of good reasons for that:
a) it is a compelling idea: A closed planet-box of an economic system, where – in essence – there is no waste, and any ‘waste’ is the raw material to some other product or process. Drawing heavily from metaphores of nature, the idea is indeed compelling enough to merit more than just day dreaming.
b) The fairly recent report by the Ellen McArthur foundation, doubled up by the RSA’s ‘Great Recovery’ project, has gained plenty of publicity, both in the mainstream media as well as by academic and practitioners.

Now, what do we understand, by way of definition under ‘Circular Economies’?
The circular economy is a generic term for an industrial economy that is, by design or intention, restorative and in which materials flows are of two types, biological nutrients, designed to reenter the biosphere safely, and technical nutrients, which are designed to circulate at high quality without entering the biosphere.” (Source: Wikipedia)

Circular Economy Concept

Circular Economy Concept ((c) Ellen McArthur Foundation)

The value of the Ellen McArthur foundation report and the Great Recovery project however is that suddenly the discussion is promoted into executive spheres, where before it was an engineering type of conversation, mostly revolving around technical feasibility to achieve a, what seemed at the time, nearly impossible task.

This has changed now. The fact that the report was written by McKinsey consultants and sponsored by companies such as Renault or Cisco. Which means that, for all the problems these facts will invariably entail, it at least means an acceptance into the mainstream.

The tech corps hence seem to be getting on the band wagon. What about fashion companies? In a recent fashion focused event precisely of said Great Recovery (RSA), the absence of staff from important retailers was noticeable. The room was full of small-scale designers – contracted by said retailers and brand – but none of the buyers or executives of brands.
This is not a good sign.

The interesting thing about this: the notion of the Circular Economies concept is very reminiscent of Cradle to Cradle – just compare the two videos hereafter.

Right: Ca. 2000 - Cradle2Cradle by William Donough and Michael Braungart; Left: 2012/3 - Re-thinking Progress: The Circular Economy


Cradle to Cradle exists since about a decade, and probably could be considered more product focused – although with a bit of thought the implications on a systemic scale are evident. It has flourished, particularly in the US, to an extent that by now there even exists practitioner’s best practise approach and proprietary certification system.

In a previous article we looked at the status quote of C2C for fashion.
Now the question that remains is: Looking at a systemic level, where are we at in fashion in terms of Circular Economy? What changes are needed? And how come that the discussion within the fashion and apparel industry is a good as non-existant in this area?
After all – it’s not that the apparel techies are any less capable than those in other industries. And it can’t be the an issue of consumers either, after all fashion consumers are pretty much the same people that buy irons, washing machines, fridges, or phones.

So – where is the issue then? And how can we trigger such a discussion in fashion, apparel, textiles? Possibly beyond on other heavily design-driven industries?

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