Fashion giants 'must 'urgently accelerate circular economy action'

Of the 213 circular economy targets for 2020 set by 90 big-name fashion companies taking part in a collaborative circular economy campaign, just one-fifth (21%) have been met.

Other signatories to the commitment include Kering, Marks & Spencer, Gap and Adidas

Other signatories to the commitment include Kering, Marks & Spencer, Gap and Adidas

That is the key conclusion of Global Fashion Agenda’s annual status report on its Circular Fashion System Commitment, which has been signed by 90 big-name designers, suppliers and retailers, including the likes of Asos, H&M Group and Nike.

Launched in 2017, the commitment requires signatories to set 2020 targets across four key areas: designing for circularity; collecting more used garments and footwear for recycling; increasing the volume of product resold and increasing the proportion of post-consumer recycled (PCR) content in garments and/ or footwear.

Of the 213 commitments made under the scheme to date, designing for circularity has proven the most popular, with 87 targets set and 24 of these already met. Global Fashion Agenda notes in the report that signatories have collectively trained more than 2,500 staff in designing for cyclability in the past 12 months, with the likes of Target, Asos and Nike leading in this field. Nike notably open-sourced its circular design workbook this spring in a bid to spur progress outside of its own operations.

However, the companies taking part in the Commitment seem to be finding a shift to resale and boosting their use of PCR content more challenging. On the first issue, just four of 27 targets have been met and, on the second, just five of 47.

Global Fashion Agenda’s report notes that most signatories are “still in the R&D” stage when it comes to boosting the amount of PCR content they use to make products, largely due to a lack of scalable recycling solutions and a limited market for PCR textiles. Currently, less than 1% of textiles recovered for recycling are turned into new garments, largely due to the difficulty of mechanically or chemically separating textile blends.

As for resale, the report notes that progress in this space is now primed to accelerate rapidly over the next 12 months, as big brands firm up their partnerships with third-party organisations or existing resale platforms. It cites research suggesting that the fashion resale market will double over the next five years, led by a change in shopping habits among millennials and Gen Z, and notes that the likes of H&M, &Other Stories, Guess and Mud Jeans have all entered the resale market for the first time this year.

Overall, Global Fashion Agenda believes that the companies taking part in its Commitmentmust urgently accelerate their efforts and seek further collaboration if they are to achieve their remaining targets”.

Re-stitched policy?

This call to action comes at a time when the global fashion sector is believed to be churning out more than 100 billion garments and 20 billion pairs of shoes annually – the majority of which are sent to landfill within five years.

In order to help policymakers implement legislation that will help tackle this issue systemically, Global Fashion Agenda has collaborated with the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and the Federation of the European Sporting Goods Industry to launch a policy “hub”. The facility will create an aligned proposition on policies for circularity, based on inputs from industry, academics and scientists, by next June.

“Policymakers are increasingly looking towards the fashion and textile industries for good examples and innovative approaches to transitioning to a circular economy,” Global Fashion Agenda’s public affairs director Jonas Eder-Hansen said.

“[Our new] report provides a rich evidence base for policymakers, bringing forward key learnings on concrete circular fashion actions. It can hopefully serve as inspiration for smart policy initiatives that can help support industry progress.”

The report comes shortly after the UK Government published its response to the Environmental Audit Committee’s (EAC) six-month Fixing Fashion inquiry, rejecting all but one of the recommendations made by MPs on the basis of evidence given by industry and academics. Recommendations concerning the circular economy included a ban on corporates burning or landfilling unsold stock which is of good enough condition to be used or recycled; a 1p tax per garment to fund better recycling and lower VAT on repair services.

Sarah George



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