Updated: Jun 14
Linear economies are detrimental to the environment. It's time we went circular.
We take resources from the ground to make products, which we use, and, when we no longer want them, throw them away - this is called a linear economy. A circular economy is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems. In a circular economy, waste is not a by-product of consumption, unlike in the current system of a linear economy.
Fast fashion emphasizes new styles delivered to consumers immediately. Clothing produced in massive quantities can also be sold at lower prices, encouraging consumers to buy more than they need. This means that in an effort to keep up with the latest TikTok trends or what your celebrity crush wore to dinner last week, we are spending more money on clothing that will quickly go out of style and into the landfill. The principles of a circular economy, mainly being a more sustainable and holistic utilization of things, can be applied to a quest to be a more mindful and sustainable shopper. Let’s see how:
Recover Not all waste is always actually waste! Through anaerobic digestion, microorganisms can break down biodegradable waste into materials we can use to generate energy, as well as reduce pollution, water acidification and carbon emissions. Materials can be incinerated with energy recovery, reducing the strain of constant production in the textile industry.
Recycle Textile recycling is the process by which old clothing and other textiles are recovered for reuse or material recovery. It is the basis for the textile recycling industry, from an expenditure and waste point of view. Processing materials to obtain the same (higher grade) or a lower grade quality can avoid the use of virgin fibres, reduce landfill space requirements and lessen demand for dyes.
Repurpose Fun fact, your t-shirt can be used for many other things and not just as a shirt! Redesigning and repurposing the same items of clothing into something new or putting it to use for another thing can not only make you feel like you’ve got something new altogether, but it also reduces expenditure. Using discarded products or some parts of them in a new product, with a different purpose, stops the cycle of constant purchasing and makes sure that clothes are utilized to their fullest. It can be as simple as tie-dyeing an old tee to make it look brand new or cutting up a sweater to make a bandana!
Remanufacture Remanufacture, or reconditioning, involves refurbishing and re-using parts of a discarded product in a new product with the same function. Using laces from old shoes or buttons from an old shirt can reduce the need for completely new ones and is again a great way to utilize the product to its fullest, maximizing resource efficiency!
Refurbish Refurbishing is the process of restoring an old or discarded product and bringing it up to date to serve its initial function. Damaged components are replaced resulting in an overall update while the product looks brand new. Thrift culture, to some extent, follows the principles of refurbishing. Using old clothing that may not look entirely brand new but still serves its function, or restoring items like an old watch, simply by buying new parts, can immediately make it look like you have brand new clothes! (Also Read: Is the Thrift Culture Trend Better than Fast Fashion?)
Repair Planned obsolescence and a throwaway culture are grim realities of today's society. An item of clothing with a small tear or stain is immediately perceived as useless. However, just fixing them by maybe adding new buttons, learning how to sew, covering a hole with a cute and quirky cloth patch or simply just washing the stains out can bring your clothes back to life!
Reuse How many times have you heard, “I was photographed wearing these pants once, I CANNOT wear them again!”? Reusing products that are still in decent condition, fulfil their original function without having to replace them with a completely new one. In the fast fashion industry, consumers buy 60% more clothes than in 2000 but keep each garment half as long. Even if the pigment of your tee is worn out because you’ve had it forever, use it as pyjama t-shirts instead or as a rag cloth, like it’s done in most desi households. Using your clothes until their life has been sucked out of them ensures their maximum utilization.
Reduce The central idea of a circular economy is dematerialization or “doing more with less”. To achieve this we need to use and manufacture products in smarter ways. To start small, reducing the number of times you shop or the number of clothes you buy from fast fashion brands or reducing the use of certain, non-degradable materials and slowly making the switch to the slow fashion methods is a good start- It is honestly as simple as using less!
Rethink It all begins with a shift in mindsets! Every product and every system needs to be rethought with a focus on how to reduce its environmental impact. Understanding why certain practices, brands and how the whole fast fashion industry functions, specifically its impacts socially, environmentally, etc., can help devise new alternatives and ways to shop more sustainably. For example, if people understood the lack of labour laws and how workers from third-world nations are exploited just for a trendy tee on a mannequin at Zara, more people would opt to purchase from local, small businesses.
Refuse We consume more than we need. Identifying things that we genuinely need and being mindful of over-purchasing is a big first step. Making a product redundant by refusing or eliminating it plays a big role in sustainability as well. Not only should we be cautious of the amount of clothing we purchase, but refusing to purchase from big, fast-fashion brands who partake in environmental and social exploitation or refraining from buying or using certain items that are made out of non-degradable, harmful materials can make a difference.
In the fashion industry, designing and styling are beautiful ways to express oneself and is a global industry serving as a canvas of creativity. However, the desire to look cute and stylish shouldn’t come at the cost of being wasteful and ignorant. The quest for a sustainable future can be fast-tracked by implementing these 10 principles, even in small ways, in your next shopping spree. Let’s hope to see a more sustainable and fashionable future!
Lombard Odier. (2020, September 1). The 10 principles of circular economy.
What is the circular economy? (n.d.). Ellen McArthur Foundation. Retrieved August 4, 2021, from