Circular fashion – it’s touted as the antidote to fast fashion and the crème de la crème of sustainable fashion. It’s a solution that's as simple as it is complex: design and manufacturing that considers each product from start to finish. But what exactly is it, and could it be better?
Over the last five or more years, I’ve sat in on many conversations about circular fashion. And for all those years I’ve been saying the same thing: where are the people in this plan?
For those who don’t know much about circular fashion, here’s a definition I’ve borrowed from Anna Brismar - the founder of the circular fashion concept:
“Circular fashion is clothes, shoes or accessories that are designed, sourced, produced and provided with the intention to be used and circulate responsibly and effectively in society for as long as possible in their most valuable form, and hereafter return safely to the biosphere when no longer of human use.“
When reading this definition, it seems very simple. It’s how clothing, furniture and all manner of goods were manufactured only a few generations ago: well, with the intention of lasting many lifetimes and being repurposed or recycled beyond their functional use.
At Etiko, it’s a philosophy ingrained in our brand since inception: cause minimal harm to people, animals and the planet. That’s why we use organic cotton and hemp (sustainably farmed and naturally biodegradable), why we pay a living wage to our manufacturing staff and cotton farmers, and why our brand has always been vegan. It’s also why we’ve introduced recycling programs for our old shoes and thongs. And, why we’ll offer clothing recycling as soon as we can. But, back to that circular fashion definition.
The thing that’s missing from this definition is the people. Those within fashion’s supply chains who endure unsafe working conditions and unfair wages. The modern-day slaves behind the smoke-screen of fashion. Where are these people in circular fashion’s plan?
Please understand that I don’t want to rain on any parades. Circular fashion is a concept that’s long overdue, and one that I hope many brands will adopt into their manufacturing ethos. I also hope it’s a concept consumers will look for when assessing brands and products. But, I also recognise the importance of empowering the people who make our fashion, especially if they’re female (80 per cent of garment workers are women).
When we educate, empower and pay living wages to people – especially women – good things happen. Global poverty is reduced, local economies strengthened, forests are regenerated and climate policies are prioritised (you can read more about the benefits of supporting women here).
I created Etiko because I wanted to support garment workers, and that goal is why I sought Fairtrade Certification. Fairtrade is one of the only independently audited certification schemes that recognise the incredible power in caring for people. And that's why I stand by it and continue to align Etiko with it.
When considering a sustainable future for fashion, it would be short-sighted and irresponsible not to prioritise the role of people (and a predominantly female workforce) when designing a solution. And that’s what I want: a circular fashion definition that revolves around people. When we have that, and when big brands commit to it, I believe we will achieve phenomenal results as a global population.
The future is people-focused – it has to be if it’s going to be a sustainable one.