System change: Is the future of fashion circular?

©Foli Creppy for EMEKA
©Foli Creppy for EMEKA
Sustainability is increasingly no longer seen as optional and trendy in fashion either, but as necessary. This includes ethical working conditions, biodegradability and recyclable materials. Going one step further is the vision of abandoning the fashion industry's current linear economy altogether in favor of a circular economy.

Circular fashion: longer product life cycle, less waste

Instead of garments that are no longer worn ending up in the garbage or being incinerated, which also means they are lost forever as resources, circular fashion aims for a longer product and material life cycle: The garment first gets several chances for a longer product life cycle via second-hand trade, leasing models, repair, upcycling or donation. After that, the material is recycled or composted. The goal is to preserve the value of materials ecologically and economically, and to reduce or eliminate waste and pollution. 

Materials and raw materials: recyclable collections

But how can such a system change succeed? Most pioneers in the field of circular systems agree that it is an integrative process involving all stakeholders. In the future, all labels, including those in mass production, would have to responsibly rethink and, if necessary, creatively redesign all phases in the life cycle of a garment - from the selection of sustainable fibers and materials to the design and construction of collections, production, transportation, storage, marketing, use and reuse, and recycling.

Challenges include designing collections from the outset to be recyclable in the first place. This also applies to materials and raw materials. Because when it comes to recycling, for example, separating blended fabrics made of natural and synthetic materials is often not feasible at all. And to retain their value, fibers have to be broken down into their individual components. In addition, dyes that impair a product's longevity must be avoided.

And finally, efficient structures are still lacking in the recycling process. For material-specific recycling of textiles, for example, there is a need for simple ways to identify materials manually or automatically. 

Berlin-based design agency networks players

A basis for tackling all these challenges in an integrative way has been created by the Berlin-based start-up Using a specially developed platform, the design agency has begun to network players in the German textile and fashion industry and the recycling industry with one another and also to raise awareness of the many interlocking processes via workshops together with Circular Berlin and Berlin Partner

Components of the software include a material database, a product configurator, and an identification code with relevant information that can be used to track garments, for example to decide where the textile can be recycled. 

Collections made from recycled fashion: Emeka Suits and Boslos from Berlin

Among the pioneers of a circular economy are two creative and innovative upcycling labels from Berlin. Bolsos offers handmade upcycled bags of all kinds made from recycled advertising banners, leftover awning fabric, rubber blankets or school maps. Emeka Suits makes cool suits from Western old clothes that flood the market in Africa. "At EMEKA, we've incorporated upcycling methods to create clothing that is truly circular. We start where other clothing stops, bridging the gap between waste and reinvention of waste. In many ways, our outfits are trash, and we're proud of that," the creators say on the website.