How can recycled fabrics become more accessible to clothing designers to support circular fashion?

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Greenwashing has become a prominent part of marketing in today’s consumerism culture. As we become more aware of our impact on the environment, companies see this as an opportunity to showcase their sustainable products and their commitment to combating climate change. And although this puts pressure on companies to be more mindful of their impact, their actions– more often than not– are only surface level.

Take Ziploc for example. They created a recyclable paper bag (even though you can’t recycle anything with food on it), but it sits on the shelf, next to many types of plastic products. This way they can say they are being “green” while still creating just as much plastic waste.

The fashion industry in particular is very adept at greenwashing. H&M, Zara, and other fast-fashion brands promote their “green” image by creating lines that are “eco-friendly”. H&M produced a line of clothing that used fruit as part of the material along with recycled fabrics. Two problems arose from this. One: the amount of fruits needed to make one garment was immense, and needed lots of resources to grow (including water), Two: they included plastic and petroleum-based agents in the material which made the clothing non-biodegradable. 

Fast-fashion companies have convinced consumers that most clothing should be under $20, by exploiting labor and using cheap materials that don’t last long (ultimately end up in the landfill by the end of the year). By making clothes that are so cheap, they are also able to push more seasons and trends on consumers (where the term “fast-fashion” comes from), and once the trend of the week/month is over, brands bring new trends into circulation and the old clothes get discarded. 

The whole fast-fashion industry is based on wastefulness and even more sustainable brands still use resources. This is such a daunting problem, but actually has a pretty simple solution: circular fashion.

Circular fashion (based off of the concept of circular economy) promotes ethically, sustainably, and reusable methods of creating garments. It decreases the amount of new resources needed to make new clothes and constructs a cycle where old clothes can the material source for new clothes.

How can we (consumers) support this process?

  • There are some pretty common practices that actually lessen your impact on the Earth by a lot. They include: passing clothes on to family or friends, buying from thrift stores or consignment shops, fixing/upcycling or donating clothing instead of throwing them away, and so many more!
  • If you are going to buy new clothes, make sure that are made with 100% recyclable materials and that it is something that will last you a long time.

How can the fashion industry support this process?

  • Change would need to be applied to the root of the problem: production. 
  • In order to create clothes that could be a part of circular fashion, it would need to be made up of recyclable, biodegradable materials, like organic cotton.
  • Unfortunately, producing a cotton-made garment takes an extreme amount of water (about 2,700 liters of water to make one T-shirt).

How the Recycled Materials Market (RMM) will support this process

There are many websites and markets that sell textiles made of natural or even better, recycled materials, but in order to fully complete the circular fashion cycle, RMM creates a way for designers to connect directly to recycled fabric mills. Any fabric waste (scraps from clothing) that the designers have can go directly to these mills and can come back to them in the form of new (recycled) textiles. Customers of the designers will also have easy access to the mills and by donating their clothes there, they can contribute to circular fashion, instead of landfills.

So what is RMM?

RMM is a marketplace (that will be virtual and have in-person events) that connects clothing designers with different recycling mills to see which one is the best fit for their needs. Unlike other textile websites and stores that sell recycled materials, RMM highlights the connection between designers and mills in order to reduce the usage of raw materials, and promote the cycle of circular fashion. 

Finding fabrics (and especially recycled ones) that work for their different needs can be very difficult for smaller businesses so RMM is a place where all of their different sourcing options are placed right in front of them for easy access. RMM also offers resources for consultation and mediation between the designer and mill.

RMM gets a commission for each sale (paid for by the consumer), but the cost of that commission is hopefully balanced out by a discount that designers get from donating their scrapes to the mills (this discount would be a part of the agreement in order for each mill to sell through RMM). There will also bee a flat rate for companies who want to sell through RMM.

Customer Segments

  • Broadly: Solving for designers/retailers who need to connect to fabric recyclers.
  • Specifically: The small businesses that are producing sustainably and need help finding fabric recyclers.

Customer Relationships

  • Online 
  • In person (one-to-one)

Channels

  • Via social media
  • Networking 
  • (Sales and promotions for commissions)

Value Proposition

  • Finding a way to connect recycled textile companies and clothing designers, in order to help designers easily connect and find recycled materials for their business.

Key Activities

  • Creating a ‘marketplace’ website to find the fabric needs of the clients (clothing designers) and connects them to a specific recycled fabric mill
  • Organizing in-person ‘marketplace’ events 
  • Finding mills to partner with

Key Partners

Key Resources

  • Website
  • Event site
  • Maybe:
  • Delivery system (could be up to the mill though)

Cost Structure

  • Cost of channels and advertising 
  • Cost of website
  • Cost of event sites

Revenue Streams

  • Commissions from seller to buyer 
  • Flat rate for selling from the website

Quick survey!


I have always struggled between wanting to get trendy, cheaper clothes, but also wanting to lessen my impact on clothing waste and mass consumption. In the comments I would love to hear your experiences! Here are some optional prompts:

  • What steps do you take to shop more sustainably?
  • What are the difficult aspects of sustainable shopping? (What keeps you from always shopping sustainably– or as close as you get get)
  • Do you talk to friends and/or family about our impact on the Earth?

Thank you so much for reading and engaging!


Works Cited and Consulted

11 Comments

11 comments

  1. Katie Barnicle

    Hi Zoe! I love that you are calling attention to this issue that is only growing in importance. Its hard to know how my individual actions can make a change but I really like the path of circular fashion that you laid out.

  2. Caroline_524

    Hi Zoë! Wow, your presentation is really interesting. I am currently in a globalization class and we talked about the issue of fast fashion that is supply chains and the ethical component of labor, but it is so fascinating to learn about this different angle of fashion and the solution to it. It think its interesting you also hint at the balancing act of sustainable creation, but the decomposition of an article of clothing at the end of its life. An example would be cotton and how it is a natural source, but the creation process of a cotton teeshirt is destructive. The way you bring your love for fashion into different segments of education is inspiring!

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    Zoë, Recycled Materials Market for fashion … what a strong idea! Very interesting and inspiring to read and think about. Nice work!

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    Hi Zoë, your project presented ideas I had never considered before! The practice of “greenwashing” was pretty eye-opening and your idea for a RMM is quite exciting. Well done!

  5. Claire

    Hi Zoe! Your presentation was very educational and I love that you are bringing up the problems with fast fashion! Recently thrift stores have started to become very popular and maybe that’s also aligning with a y2k trend but this is great news for the environment. I love your idea for a recycled materials market and I think that similar processes have been implemented in some brands as well. More and more brands are starting to become sustainable and people are no longer afraid to call out those who are not! I think for most people, access to sustainable clothing is something harder because those brands are quite expensive compared to fast fashion brands. Whenever I shop I usually check the materials content and only really buy timeless pieces so that I don’t toss out tons of clothes annually. Great job!

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    Amazing presentation of your idea! Congrats! /Lena

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    So education and so timely, Zoë. I learned so much from your framing of the problem and you nicely walked us through a proposed solution. Your elucidation of the problems with fast affordable fashion seems also linked to economic inequity as it targets the most vulnerable in our population who may only be able to afford those under $20 garments but, as you said, are made of inferior products. Such an interesting and well executed project!

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    I love this idea! I think if implemented it could really be an effective tool to help change come to the fashion industry so it becomes less wasteful. I had no idea that there could be so many fashion seasons and bringing attention to that while trying to change it for the better is awesome!

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    Impressive research, Zoe! I learnt a lot from your project.
    I hope that you continue on this trajectory of finding ways to solve the root problem. Sustainable shopping is not always easy, but solutions like this are SO IMPORTANT to make it more accessible to people around the world. HUGE Kudos on your work!

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    Hi Zoë! Wow, what a thorough and in-depth presentation! First off, I really enjoyed your discussion of green-washing. I had never heard of that term before but now, looking back on past campaigns from fast-fashion companies, I completely understand how that concept applies in real-life. Your solution was very comprehensive and I think if implemented, it could have the potential to lessen the waste from fast-fashion. You wrote a lot about how designers can have the initiative to contact these online sources for recycled materials themselves but I wonder if there are ways to incentivise bigger businesses (like H&M and Zara) to use recycled materials as well? Maybe this gets into environmental economics more but I thought it would be interesting to see how we can use your circular flow model to influence larger corporations to become more environmentally sustainable. I think your solutions and topic is so important nowadays and I definitely enjoyed reading it. Good work!

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    Zoë, I really liked your project! It was very well organized and provided lots of new educational resources and information. I really appreciated your visual aids/diagrams that added to both the professionalism and engagement of your work. Great work!

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