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“A devoted fan of fashion:” The circular economy, fashion, and I

Lorde Fuhl looks at having a more sustainable wardrobe 

I am a devoted fan of fashion, although I am not a slave to it. I have grown from religiously devouring the pages of British Vogue to appreciating the ideas behind the collection a designer chooses to put out. Fashion, like most creative endeavours, can be high art. I appreciate the woman that Miuccia Prada is trying to give life to, just as ardently as I am convinced by the weird and dreamlike mind of the artist René Magritte, and the mad and wonderful fantasies in Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories. Fashion was never just about clothes for me. Fashion explains me better than I can explain myself. With the right jacket, an uncinched waist, a distressed sneaker from hours of walking, and a natural attitude towards the world, I hardly need to tell you. I could try, but I would only confuse you. Yet that jacket will tell you in an instant that I am an eccentric and not embarrassed to be seen as such.
So what is the circular economy? The name might be new to some, but the concept is not. If you look back to what our parents, or grandparents, did, it is immediately apparent that how we live now is a deviation from what used to be the norm. Circularity is about making durable products at source, built to last, and with the ability to be repaired.

This concept is not novel and is not solely linked to how we consume in fashion. We encounter it in the dilemma we have with old smartphones, broken furniture and machinery, our single-use plastic habits. In the process of progress, we have embraced convenience to the detriment of our environment. The good news is that now the world sees the problem as a collective, and is actively taking steps to solve it, as a collective. Though while we are rooting for world leaders to usher in change through legislation and other means, what do we as consumers do to be part of that change?

Adding this concept of circularity into our basket of tools is a necessary step in ambitions to meet our climate targets. According to the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications, reducing the quantity of the natural resources we use should reduce environmental pressures on the soil, the air, and our waters. They point out that in a circular economy, waste is minimised. This can be achieved by maintaining the value of materials and products by making them durable and repairable.

This begins with good design. The Business of Fashion, a publication that critically analyses the 2.5 trillion dollar global fashion industry, is also quick to point out that despite our general mental shift as a planet towards sustainability and climate concerns, it is still not an easy hill to climb. They point to the R’s that the fashion industry is making progress on. Namely, recycling, renting, reselling, reducing, refurbishing, and repairing. They also point out that despite these efforts, the industry is set to grow by 2030.

They go on to say something that I have always found to be true. Without durability and recyclability, there can be a significant loss of value to a product. Despite the popularity of these ideas, the concept remains abstract to so many.

How can that be changed? How can people be convinced that loving fashion does not necessarily mean a lack of environmental consciousness? How can people use this love of fashion and sustainability to make themselves relatable and able to better tell their stories viscerally and consciously?

The dilemma of sustainability and fashion is an ongoing one. With ways to help reduce the amount of water used for making jeans, to the initiative that allows you to bring your old clothes back instore to be recycled, brands like H&M are to a certain extent trying to tackle the issue head on, although some query the true value of these efforts. They are one of the largest retailers for fast fashion. However, in today’s world, as much as success is still touted and is an essential part of large corporations keeping shareholders happy, the consumer now increasingly demands that profits not be made at the expense of the planet.

Despite the positive steps being taken, there is still the unsavoury element of so-called ‘greenwashing’, where brands claims to have instigated sustainable practises are either exaggerated or unfounded. A report published by Euronews found that companies such as Zara, ASOS, Forever 21, as well as H&M, have been accused of this. There is still a lot to be done.

The challenge of course, in our world of aesthetics, is not just about having that jacket or shoe that comes from a circular economy. The next question becomes does it look good enough to entice the customer. To convince them that being sustainable does not come at the expense of looking and feeling good. How can fashion, one of the most wasteful industries, strike a balance? Technically, high fashion should allow for some form of sustainability and responsibility. Buy less, pay more for better quality. From your choice of handbag to your coat and shoes. Even here it proves tricky as there is a demand for seasonal high fashion. So what are the solutions that can be attempted going forward?

My answer to this is for the long term. Buy well. Buy less. Mend when torn or broken, and use for longer. Most of my handbags can be returned to where they were bought and can be mended. This habit means that I have not had to throw away a beloved accessory in a long time. My suggestion is that we treat the way we dress as an opportunity to continuously tell our stories as we grow. That does not translate to a staid way of dressing, but instead an assured way to exist. Rather than continually changing with the season, add well-made pieces that are made from biodegradable or recyclable materials. Look at the materials list on the care label of a garment before you commit to a purchase. If you get bored with an item you own, sell it, gift it, rent it, but keep it in the loop for others to enjoy, and to extend the life cycle of the product. In this way, we create good habits, we lose self-consciousness because of it, and we force those that make the things we consume to be more thoughtful about their production processes. Because we, the consumers, demand it.