Changes ahead to how you’ll buy, use and sell clothes in a circular economy: the circular economy will reshape the apparel industry. In the circular economy, products are designed and sold in such a way that they are used for longer and can maintain their value for longer. Here are some of the changes you can expect and the impact they’ll have.
1. You’ll rent out your next outfit (and know its resale value)
Approximately $36 billion was spent on second hand garb in 2021, a number that outpaces the $30 billion spent on fast fashion. That gap is slated to widen as sales, rental and trading platforms grow users and consumers. Increasing second-hand sales drives down the requirement for “virgin” clothes and also represents a way for traditional fast fashion brands (as well as retailers and consumers) to make money from other sources.
The ease of resale will prompt another important change: consumers will see their clothes as a sort of investment. As the Economist recently noted, some enterprising young shoppers are already considering the potential to rent or resell an item as a way to defray the cost of a pricey designer dress or handbag. Some are already making thousands a month in clothes rentals alone, the Economist found.
2. Sales triggered by oversupply will be less common
Improving demand forecasting is key to reducing the up to 40% of fabrics which never make it to end consumers. Some fast fashion companies are already doing this using cloud-based supply chain management software to keep inventory levels low and automatically reorder those which sell well. By lowering unsold inventory, companies can actually save money, with environment factors becoming a driver for cost savings. Fast fashion newbie Shein are leading their more traditional fast fashion rivals in this regard but expect the others to catch up soon.
3. You’ll repair items when hems tear and zippers break
In recent years, tailors aren’t always easy to find, and the cost to repair an item has often outpaced the cost to replace it. As the sector reshapes, we’ll buy fewer items as the (currently) hidden costs of these items will be factored into what we pay at the register. According to a recent study, a pair of jeans would need to cost €30 more in order to take into account the social and environmental costs associated with production. Consumers and small businesses will react to this new need for clothing repair. Expect to see tailors popping up near you.
Additionally, large industry players such as Zalando and H&M are starting to offer repair services, adapting current models for a sustainable future. To replace revenue lost from fewer repeat purchases, retailers embracing repair will create new revenue streams and this service can become a brand differentiator (for now, at least).
4. You’ll wear more new clothing made from recycled materials
Currently less than 1% of used clothing is recycled back into clothes, meaning virgin production (for example cotton) is almost always preferred to using recycled materials. This is due, in part, to how clothing is designed and difficulty disassembling garments, says Davidson Leite from Resortecs, a startup specializing in garment disassembly technology: “separating fabrics from buttons, labels and zippers is time consuming and difficult and leads to a wastage of over half of the material from the garment before it can enter a recycling process.” Changing the thread with which clothes are sewn together could increase garment recyclability to 90% and cut the carbon footprint by 50%, according to their recent study. Even the nylon used in tights can be chemically recycled and turned into new forms of underwear.
Growing and manufacturing clothes is an energy intensive business. Using recycled instead of virgin fibres reduces these impacts significantly, meaning that clothes have more value at their end of life, and are less likely to end up in landfill. H&M aims to use 30% recycled materials in its products by 2025 proving that this is possible from a technical perspective, but currently recycling processes for cotton are not available at the scale required to deliver industry-wide change. As more brands commit to minimum recycled content in their clothes, expect the capacity for textile recycling to soar.
5. Your jeans will get a redesign
Jeans are one of the more difficult-to-recycle clothing items and new guidelines for denim design have been developed to make it easier. Currently, brands such as Lee, Guess Jeans, Mud Jeans and more have been experimenting with new designs and processes. Your next climate-conscious pair of jeans will still have the same classic look, just feature planet-friendly dyes, buttons that are easy-to-unscrew by recyclers, stone-wash patterns created by laser technology and biodegradeable threads. The classic rivet as we know it today might also fall by the wayside – it can make recycling harder.
It’s time the fashion industry had a makeover
The changes emerging in our stores and closets are merely symptoms of wider industry shifts, ones made possible thanks to a growing awareness of the changes leaders across the sector are prioritizing. For instance, a new supply chain law in Germany will force companies to develop systems for identifying and addressing human rights violations in their supply chains: a similar piece of legislation is being raised on a European level.
Awareness from consumers, retailers and governments will continue to reshape the sector, protecting workers and the environment in the process. This sort of makeover has been long overdue – but it will continue to turn heads for decades to come.