Everything You Need To Know About Circular Fashion And The Companies Disrupting The Fast Fashion Model - by Lottie Jackson

Everything You Need To Know About Circular Fashion And The Companies Disrupting The Fast Fashion Model - by Lottie Jackson

#OOTD a single hashtag with a lot of baggage. Instagram’s “outfit of the day” phenomenon has fuelled a whole culture, resulting in the pressure to consume fashion in a way that is instant, performative and transient. At the same time documentaries such as The True Cost and Fashion's Dirty Secrets, revealing the human and environmental cost of the fashion industry, have left viewers feeling overwhelmed by the scale of damage wrought by clothing manufacturing. This has resulted in a disconnect between our growing awareness of how damaging our shopping habits have become and the desire to fill our wardrobes at any cost.

Consumers are helpless, and even sceptical, about whether their own actions could achieve any meaningful change in countering the harmful effects that occur on the other side of the globe. In reality, there is a huge part to be played by the individual. The key to reducing the detrimental impact of the fashion industry lies not only in the hands of large scale corporations but also in the buying power of the consumer.  

If we stop buying into fast fashion and fuelling these companies, supply chains will rapidly start drying up. As consumers we need to review our spending habits and be more mindful of increasing the lifespan of the clothes hanging (or more accurately, gathering dust on the floor) in our wardrobe. It’s thought the average woman has 22 garments in her wardrobe that she has never worn. Reducing this statistic is perhaps easier said than done- consumers will need alternative options, and here’s where the concept of circular fashion could provide the solution. 

Circular fashion is based on the circular economy framework of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation which implies that all materials and products in society are used and circulate among its users for as long as possible, in an environmentally safe, effective and just manner. In relation to fashion, Dr. Anna Brismar (of circularfashion.com) has recently defined this as “clothes, shoes or accessories that are designed, sourced, produced and provided with the intention to be used and circulate responsibly and effectively in society for as long as possible in their most valuable form, and hereafter return safely to the biosphere when no longer of human use.” From a consumer perspective, some of the principles outlined by Dr. Anna Brismar include “use, wash and repair with care”, “consider rent, loan, swap, second-hand or redesign instead of buying new” and “buy quality as opposed to quantity”. 

The burgeoning trend for clothes rental services feeds into each of these principles. US-based Rent the Runway, an online service launched in by Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss in 2009 which provides designer dress and accessory rentals, is the pioneer of this movement. Although the company started by specialising in one-off rentals for special events, their newly launched subscription service (boasting 9 million members) now aims to give women an unlimited closet of garments which they keep for a designated period- a very glamourous alternative to racing around Zara.

This idea of collaborative consumption has also hit the UK market. Anna Bance is the co-founder of Girl Meets Dress, which has now also launched a new Infinite membership option, where customers can hire unlimited dresses each month for a flat fee payment of £99. You can choose from 4,000 dresses by designer brands, including Stella McCartney, Victoria Beckham, Self Portrait, Amanda Wakeley, Ganni, and Hervé Leger.

The extent of our need to constantly wear and buy new clothing was exposed by recent research from Barclaycard, which found almost one in 10 UK shoppers have bought clothes online with the intent to wear them for social media and then return the items. You might assume this research showed millennials and Gen Z consumers to be the worst offenders, but in fact it was men and women aged 35 to 44 who were the biggest culprits (17% revealed that they had purchased clothes purely for their #OOTD). 

Speaking to Fashion United.com, Julie El Ghouzzi, who heads France's Luxury Goods and Creation Centre, called this the “Cinderella syndrome”. She observes, “there is a real change in society. We have less need to possess things and greater need for appearances. This Cinderella effect means that even if we become a pumpkin at midnight we can still be the most beautiful princess at the ball, and have all the pleasure of luxury without having to own it.”

Ingrid Brochard, Co-Founder of clothing rental service Panoply, explains how this cycle led her to set up the Paris-based company. “I myself bought designer pieces, felt confident when wearing them the first time, had lot of compliments, posted my look on Instagram and then it ends up in my closet. I wish this feeling could happen again, and again. Meanwhile, your closet is full (you tend to wear only 20% of it), and more than ever have this feeling of having nothing to wear.” Although she believes that “Fashion has never been as creative and diverse as these days, it has become too fast, too short-lived. For all these reasons, I wanted to give women more meaning in their way of consuming fashion. Renting is a good alternative.”

Panoply is presently the only rental service to offer current-season clothes. Set up in 2016 by two French businesswomen, Brochard and Emmanuelle Brizay, Panoply has brought clothing rental services to France. “Renting is trending!” Brochard says, “Everyone is moving from ownership to experience. Luxury brands are aware of that. For this reason, when we first started approaching brands, it was a real challenge to convince them that rental and luxury could work. But with concepts such as Airbnb, Blablacar [a carpooling service] and others, the sharing economy is now more in than ever. Luxury brands became more approachable and are aware of the added value that our concept has to offer.” From a consumer perspective, she notes that “our clients are also very pleased by the fact that they are leaving a more positive consumption footprint by renting these pieces, and that speaks loudest about the shift in consumer behaviour”. 

Fashion is known to be the second biggest polluter in the world, and after human tragedies such as the Rana Plaza disaster, consumers are now wanting greater transparency and to hold brands accountable for their actions. Fashion businesses are under more scrutiny than ever to stop the industry-wide practice of burning excess stock. Burberry was subject to a wave of criticism after revealing that it had burnt £28.6 million worth of excess stock last year. By supporting circular fashion we can end the age of ownership and hyper-consumption. Clothing rental services will help us improve our environmental credentials whilst allowing both consumers and businesses to benefit.

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