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Everything You Need To Know About Circular Fashion In India

The topic of ‘fashion sustainability’ is one of the most discussed subjects in the realm of the fashion industry. When the world is baffled by the study conducted on the...

The topic of ‘fashion sustainability’ is one of the most discussed subjects in the realm of the fashion industry. When the world is baffled by the study conducted on the amount of waste created by the fashion and clothing sector, and the outcome shows a whopping 97 million tons, it’s safe to say finding a way out should be our only concern at the moment. (1)

During such a critical period, we were introduced to the only ray of hope - Circular Fashion. While the term of this new textile waste management practice is pretty new, the concept has been popular in India since time immemorial. So, we can be assured that circular fashion is more than just a buzzword; it's a transformative approach that challenges the traditional linear model of fashion consumption. Unlike the conventional "collect, manufacture, purchase, and waste" model, circular fashion promotes sustainability by emphasising materials' reuse, recycling, and regeneration. In simpler terms, it's about creating a fashion ecosystem where products are designed, produced, and consumed cyclically, minimising waste and environmental impact, rather than mindlessly consuming one after another and paying no mind to the end of the product, its process or what’s happening to it. 

The State of Circular Fashion in India - Current Challenges and Environmental Impact

India and its citizens have always been admired for their resourcefulness. It’s a common practice among Indians to turn outerwear into nightwear instead of buying it separately. Instead of simply dumping the clothes, Indians tend to re-wear them at home when they lose their charm or brightness. 

The fashion recycle is evident in Indians’ preference for old clothes on Holi and turning them into floor dusters for cleaning. But all these ended when fast fashion brands took control of the Indian textile industry, and the purchase of one-time buys became tenfold. From 4 clothing seasons to 52 micro-seasons, the clothing industry shift is massive. (2)

India didn’t take long to realise how destructive the fashion industry is and how intensely it’s destroying our ecosystem. Like many other countries, India also faces significant challenges in transitioning to a circular fashion economy. The textile industry, one of the country's largest sectors, is now one of the primary contributors to environmental degradation through its wasteful practices. The prevalence of fast fashion and the culture of disposability exacerbate the problem, leading to immense textile waste. 

However, despite these challenges, there is a growing awareness and momentum towards circular fashion in India. Initiatives led by the government and private sector are emerging to address these issues, paving the way for a more sustainable future.

India is actively following the guidelines set by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, an initiative in which more than 2,400 clothing retailers, suppliers, and brands participate in bringing positive/sustainable change to the fashion industry. Most of the recommendations by global textile experts lead to the principle of playing the leading role in ‘Circular fashion’. 

What are the 4 R's of circular fashion?

Circular fashion revolves around four key principles, often referred to as the 4 Rs:

1. Reduce

Minimise the consumption of resources by designing products that are durable and long-lasting. Reports show that one cotton t-shirt requires 2,700 litres of water during manufacturing. (3) Production of only one kilo of cotton necessitates 10,00 litres of fresh water. (4) 25 billion gallons of water are required to produce yearly textile manufacturing. (5) So it’s evident that the more recycling there is, the less clothing demand there is. With minimal textile demands, the fashion industry's resource requirement is also reduced. 

2. Reuse

Encourage the reuse of clothing through practices like clothing swaps, rentals, and secondhand shopping. Support thrift stores and online resale platforms to extend the lifespan of clothing. When people can buy their desired clothing items at a discounted price, they tend to opt for that instead of new purchases. It also breathes new life into the clothes. Clothes that are decades old can be labelled as vintage. We all know how worthy vintage clothing is. While it’s always been a practice to reuse clothes generation after generation in India, this practice has almost been abolished in the last few decades. As they say, old is gold - that’s also true for old clothes. 

3. Recycle

Promote recycling of materials to create new garments and textiles, thus reducing the need for virgin resources. When the fashion industry invests in modern technologies that let us create clothes from discarded materials, the burning concern will be solved. 

4. Regenerate

When everything else in the vicinity is practised, and the cloth has no life left in it, it’s time to invest in regenerative practices such as recreating clothes from the materials found in landfills. It restores ecosystems and promotes biodiversity.

These principles guide the entire lifecycle of a garment, from design to disposal, ensuring that resources are used efficiently and waste is minimised. Following such practices is the only solution to bring the situation back under control. 

4 Sustainable Habits and Production Methods to Encourage Circular Fashion

While we often come across clothing brands that half-heartedly follow eco-friendly practices to claim themselves as sustainable clothing brands, the same practice isn’t feasible for brands trying to participate in the circular fashion industry. Embracing circular fashion requires a massive shift in production methods and promotional techniques as well. From product design to consumer habits - brands must follow a 360° approach to adhere to the best practices of circular design fashion. Here are the best sustainable practices to encourage the establishment of a circular fashion industry:

1. Design for Longevity

Create products that are built to last, using durable materials and timeless designs. The longer a garment lasts, the less its owner needs to buy something new. Long garment life also offers more opportunities for repurposing the items for resale, hire or donation. 

2. Opt for Eco-Friendly Materials

Brands that choose clothing materials that are renewable, and biodegradable, have a lower environmental footprint. Virgio, one of the clothing brands that invest circularly, offers clothes made of recycled and natural materials. Fabrics like polyester or nylon increase brands’ carbon footprint. 

3. Upcycle

The best way to implement closed-loop systems for clothing brands is to establish systems for collecting, recycling, and reusing textile waste to minimise landfill disposal. Craft handkerchiefs, scrunchies, shopping bags or hair ties from old t-shirts or make jean jackets and jean shorts from recycled jeans pants. 

4. Buy-Back

An effective way to educate consumers about circular fashion and establish oneself as a sustainable brand is by following the recently popular buy-back scheme. While brands raise awareness about the environmental impact of fashion and empower consumers to make informed choices, they also let customers fulfil their new clothing needs. In this practice, customers return their old or pre-owned clothes to brands and earn store credits, which they can use for new purchases from that brand. Cool, no? 

What Advantages Does Circular Fashion Offer in India?

Being an industry worth $165 Bn (6) and growing, the Indian apparel market also employs 45 million workers. So it’s apparent that such a huge industry has its issues concerning environmental exploitation and degradation. All these lead to the industry’s stupendous carbon footprint that requires immediate attention. Circular fashion is one of the most effective solutions to this situation and can highly benefit India and the country’s growth. Intrigued to unpack the details? Let’s find out how: 

1. Environmental Benefits

The colossal production of waste and immense water pollution leads to the overuse of natural resources and their slow decline. The more textiles are produced, the more energy and waste are used. Reducing textile waste and transforming garment manufacturing processes results in reduced resource consumption, which mitigates biodiversity degradation, improves ecosystem health, and addresses concerns about climate change.

2. Social Impact

Promoting sustainable practices can improve working conditions, work hours, and livelihoods for garment workers and communities. When a brand’s carbon footprint lowers and the use of resource-intensive products in the textile industry also shrinks, combatting worker safety issues also becomes feasible. 

3. Economical 

As brands often import most of their clothing manufacturing materials, clothing prices increase, and the benefits for brands are reduced. When the resources of the textile business are locally available, the cost of clothes significantly reduces.

Future of Circular Fashion in India with Emerging Technologies and Market Shifts

While apparel industry experts readily agree that the future of fashion lies in the hands of circular fashion brands, the future of circular fashion in India looks promising. Innovations such as smart labels, carbon footprint mapping, garment tracking systems, and advanced recycling technologies are revolutionising the way garments are designed, produced, and consumed.

Changing consumer preferences towards sustainability and ethical fashion are also driving demand for circular products. As awareness continues to grow and brands become more stringent with their textile manufacturing practices, we can expect to see further adoption of circular fashion principles across the industry.

Final Thoughts

As India has already proved its willingness to invest in a more sustainable fashion industry, there are still very few clothing brands that are actively participating in circular economy fashion practices. We still see nearly 60% of apparel brands in India unroll new clothes every week without a thought of the environmental impact. Most of these brands fall into the category of fast fashion brands and offer clothes made of polyamide, nylon, polyester or other synthetic fabrics. These fabrics are stained by harmful synthetic dyes, which can cause cancer, tumours, allergies, endocrine disruptions, and other health complications. The only way to combat this situation is to invest in the clothes of Virgio - India’s 1st good fashion company that offers eco-friendly clothing for women made of recycled fabrics, coloured by natural dyes and poses no threat to you or the environment. Other effective ways to embrace circular fashion are reusing already owned clothes, donating them and finding brands or shops that recycle them instead of dumping them in landfills. 

The power lies in the collective embrace of circular fashion; it’s the only way to create a more sustainable and equitable future for India's fashion industry.

FAQs on Circular Fashion

How do you support circular fashion?

The best way to support circular fashion is to adopt sustainable shopping habits, recycle and reuse pre-owned clothes, and purchase all apparel from Virgio.

Why do we need circular fashion?

We need circular fashion to reduce textile waste, minimise water pollution, improve waste management, conserve resources, and offer workers a better working environment.

What are the principles of circular fashion?

The principles of circular fashion include reducing, reusing, recycling, and regenerating materials throughout the garment lifecycle to minimise waste and maximise resource efficiency.

What is the circular fashion economy?

A circular fashion economy refers to an economic system in which products are designed, produced, and consumed in a way that allows consumers to enjoy the most value from their clothes. 

Is there any difference between circular fashion and sustainable fashion?

While circular fashion focuses on closing the loop of materials and resources within the fashion industry, sustainable fashion encompasses broader environmental and social considerations, such as ethical sourcing, fair labour practices, and animal welfare. However, both concepts aim to promote more responsible and ethical practices within the fashion industry. In other words, circular fashion is a part of sustainable fashion and helps brands and consumers move towards fashion sustainability. 




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