The mass impact of circular fashion

What is circular fashion?

In order to effectively explain this concept we must first understand the linear production model, which characterises the fashion industry currently. The majority of fashion producers across the globe still employ the use and dump method. The production of fashion begins with the extraction of natural resources such as pure cotton to be turned into fibres which are then turned into fabric which becomes the garments we buy from our favourite retail stores. The garments are produced in great numbers which usually exceed the demand for them, this is what is known as sales forecasting, a process of estimating future sales. 

A 2016 McKinsey article asserts that the number of garments produced annually has doubled since 2000 and exceeded one hundred billion in 2014. If people do not purchase every unit of clothing produced for a particular season the clothes always end up in landfill and/or burned, which has become a norm since the garments produced always exceed the people who desire them and/or can afford them. This leads is into why circular fashion should be the in the middle of every conversation regarding the fashion industry’s waste stream.

Photo by; ourgoodbrands

Circular fashion does not end up in landfill because its design methods ensure that the garments have no end. This process requires designing to be implemented for a regenerative system that keeps garments in use through resale, up-cycling, recycling or to returning them to the earth as compost. Circular fashion is part of a larger sustainable development system known as the circular economy. 

Circular Economy/ Circularity

A circular economy is an economic system which aims to eliminate waste and the over extraction of natural resources. This is a regenerative approach to the production model that has controlled the capitalist economy. The regenerative approach will give rise to more  ethical and fair economic practises while taking the environment into consideration by ensuring that production systems adhere to circular characteristics. 

An example of circularity in practise would be a garment produced through renewable energy sources. Renewable energy is energy derived from a source that cannot be permanently depleted like that of the sun or the wind. The example is detailed below:

  • A sustainable fashion designer makes a garment from responsibly and ethically sourced materials.
  • The designer uses the material to produce a garment, lets say a t-shirt, through a 3D knitting machine that leaves no material waste.
  • The 3D machine is powered by energy from the sun which the designer has acquired solar panels to power their entire operations.
  • The t-shirt is bought by a conscious consumer who understands the value of preserving clothing so that it retains a long life cycle.
  • The consumer has had the t-shirt for 3 years and now feels that the t-shirt has served its purpose but they do not want to throw the t-shirt away or burn it.
  • Fortunately for the consumer the t-shirt has a QR code that informs them of the garment’s origins, contents and care instructions. Furthermore, the QR code also provides advice on how to repair, return, resell, recycle or compost it.
Photo By; Markus Winkler on Unsplash


The circular economy is an effective approach to propelling green solutions for the planet’s future. The linear model, however, continues to damage the earth’s natural resources because production methods still rely on generating large profits with low production costs. It is, therefore, our responsibility as consumers to put pressure on our garment producers to recognise the importance of the circular model and to ensure that garments do not end up in landfill. The above example is a simplified explanation of the circular approach but it also signifies how important it is to question everything we interact with from its origins to what purpose it serves in the greater scheme of production and consumptions patterns in the fashion industry. 

Not only does the circular approach provide green and efficient solutions to the world’s production problems, it incorporates a great deal of skills in different industries. Collectively we can find solutions within the Information Technology sector, the agricultural sector and the fashion industry to ensure longevity for sustainable fashion. 

Tsholofelo Masela

Tsholofelo Masela

Intentionality is a platform created towards engaging independent and intentional fashion consumers to positively impact social and environmental sustainability.

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