The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has issued a study into the fashion industry's sustainability practices.

LONDON — The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is looking to forge a new, circular textiles economy — with a little help from Stella McCartney.

“The clothing industry generates $1.3 trillion in revenue and employs 300 million people across the world. It’s also one of the most wasteful and polluting industries and is such an archetypical example of our current wasteful ‘take-make-dispose’ model,” said Ellen MacArthur, whose foundation launched a report Tuesday called “A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future.”

The report is a call to action for the fashion industry to create a cycle where garments are created differently and are recycled more frequently.

“The fact that an estimated $500 billion value is lost every year due to clothing that’s barely worn before being disposed of and rarely recycled presents businesses and society with a great opportunity,” MacArthur added.

Launched in 2010, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has worked toward creating a
circular economy across sectors. Its Circular Fibres Initiative in particular is aimed at getting the fashion industry to create a more efficient economy around textiles.

According to the report, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is wasted every second, while less than one percent of clothing is remade into new garments. If there are no changes, the fashion industry will use a quarter of the global annual carbon budget by 2050, said the report, which is meant to be a roadmap for companies looking to make changes.

Companies including Core Partners, H&M, Lenzing, Nike Inc. and C&A Foundation have endorsed, and contributed to, the report.

In an interview, McCartney said: “In design, we focus a lot on changing a tone of a color or changing a silhouette, obviously. Deeper than that [we need to] change the sourcing or manufacturing mindset. That is what is really critical. We need to think outside of the box in the way that we approach the business of fashion, as well as the creativity in fashion.”

McCartney added that the industry needs to have more problem-solving conversations.

“Sometimes, it takes people from the outside to look and evaluate the negative effects that we are having on the planet,” said the designer. “I think everyone is ready, in this industry. I believe that we are a good industry and that at the end of the day we want to provide solutions. We want to have a better platform to speak from, and I think that this report is a real eye opener for us. It is a turning point for the industry, enabling us to evolve our ambition from one of reducing impacts to completely reimagining the fashion system.”

Anna Gedda, head of sustainability for H&M, said that moving away from the current linear model of take, make and dispose toward a circular fashion and textile industry will be the key to future success.

“At the H&M group we have set an ambitious vision to become 100 percent circular, taking a holistic approach to circularity covering our whole value chain from design to the final use, reuse and recycling,” said Gedda. “We have also set the goals to only use recycled and other sustainably sourced materials by 2030 and to become climate positive by 2040. We need to rethink the entire fashion industry, and change the way we make, sell and use clothing. New business models need to be put in place to make it easier to share and resell clothing.”

She pointed to the RealReal, an online marketplace that buys and sells second-hand luxury goods. Sales are expected to reach $500 million this year. She also talked about Ycloset, a Chinese start-up that offers a clothing rental model for a fixed monthly subscription fee. It has more than 5 million users and recently raised $50 million.

Gedda added that companies need to start designing clothes to last longer and be easily recycled.

“With better technologies, we could increase the recycling rate. At the moment, less than one percent of clothes are turned into new clothes. Finally, clothing needs to be designed not to release toxins or microfibers. This is already possible today.”

She said that C&A recently introduced the world’s first Gold level Cradle to Cradle Certified T-shirts sold by a major retailer, which guarantees that no substances of concern are present in the items or used in their production. The items retail for 10 pounds.

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