As sustainability becomes more important to consumers—with about 61% of American shoppers looking at eco-friendliness as a criterion—many brands are beginning to embrace circular fashion.
"Circular fashion is about keeping resources and materials in use and in circulation longer," explains Stephanie Benedetto, CEO and co-founder of Queen of Raw, a marketplace for buying and selling sustainable and deadstock textiles.
At Queen of Raw, Benedetto’s main mission is to solve the world’s water crisis by focusing on textiles, the second biggest polluter of clean water in the world.
"Every single year, $288 billion dollars worth of unused textiles just sits in warehouses, collecting dust or being burned and sent to landfills," Benedetto explains. "We built a global marketplace with AI-powered and blockchain-enabled supply chain software so businesses can reuse, resell, and recycle this waste globally, while measuring their impact and intelligently minimizing their waste going forward.”
Queen of Raw has already saved over 1 billion gallons of water through the company’s efforts of reducing textile waste. It’s the perfect example of circular fashion and what it can accomplish.
Perhaps the absolute inverse of fast fashion, circular fashion prioritizes keeping clothes and textiles in use. Whether that means reselling, repairing, or even upcycling, the regenerative method of circular fashion gets the most out of textiles. And, ultimately, keeps them out of the landfill for longer.
According to Benedetto, secondhand marketplaces have been doing this for a while now.
"There are many resell marketplaces we know and love: Poshmark, Depop, The RealReal, StockX, thredUP," Benedetto says. "They're all about reusing, repairing, and recycling. That’s circularity. And it’s good for people, the planet, and profit."
And the good news is circular fashion is now starting to leak into the mainstream fashion world. Brands that were previously known as leaders in fast fashion are taking notice of this trend—and they're getting on board, too.
“According to the latest McKinsey report, brands and retailers who dominated in value creation and economic profit in the fashion industry recently include Nike, LVMH, Kering, and H&M," Benedetto says. "And when I look at who our customers and partners are [at Queen of Raw] and who's truly embracing the circular economy, it's the same.”
With large-scale brands like Nike and H&M getting in on the trend, it marks a massive shift in how fashion companies are approaching sustainability.
For example, H&M has partnered with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF), a charity that leads global efforts to shift toward a circular economy. These efforts include pledging to develop all products using the Circulator—an approach that helps teams understand the impact in order to make more sustainable choices—by 2025. Plus, we've already seen H&M's resale platform and recycled denim collection on the market.
Similarly, Nike has implemented more sustainable approaches with the introduction of its Nike Circular Design Guide. The guide serves as a benchmark on how to avoid waste, use more sustainable materials, and ultimately, make better products that last longer.
Benedetto adds: “Changing just a small percent of the way they do business can have a massive and measurable impact on our world. While allowing us to build for the supply chain of the future: one that's more on-demand, more local, more digital, and more sustainable."
With more brands embracing circular fashion as of late, it certainly seems like we’re on the way to creating that supply chain of the future. But Benedetto also adds that while supply chains can improve, the waste will likely never disappear entirely.
“There's always going to be waste," she says. "Unless we want to go naked, we're going to consume fashion. The opportunity we have now is to look at what it's made of, where it comes from, who it goes to, how and why we consume it, what we do with it at its end of life—that's what matters.”
Fortunately for us, more and more fashion brands are embracing a circular economy, making our job as conscious consumers a lot easier.