Circular economy in fashion, the business model we need to see more often

Article written for The Bare Minimum Magazine (a print magazine from UK focused on sustainable fashion and minimalism).

We take, make and dispose. We like everything to be out of the box, quality still being associated with newness. A stain on a shirt means a new shirt, the old one being tossed in the rubbish. We keep going in a straight line. But until when?

If we look at the living world, we will see that we are the only ones who adopted a linear approach to life. In nature everything flows, one’s waste is another’s food, one’s death means nutrients for the soil and it keeps going like this in a big circle and everyone is just fine.

We are driven by consumerism and ignorance because is convenient. Why bother learning how to repair a shirt or repurpose it when it is so cheap to buy a new one? That’s the thinking lots of us grew up with. I remember clearing my wardrobe and throwing away bags of clothes just because they weren’t my style anymore or they didn’t fit. I had no regrets, all I could think about was that I’ll get new, extremely cool clothes that will fill my heart with joy.

Thinking back, I see that I had no knowledge about my impact and about how a circular way of living would improve my wardrobe and my economies.

Environmental impacts from waste in the fashion and textile industry continue to grow. The UK consumes around 1.7 million tonnes per annum of textiles (clothing and non-clothing excluding carpets and mattresses). Of this, 1.1 million tonnes are clothing, according to Wrap Textiles Market Situation (2016).

Slowly, the fashion industry shows some interest in adopting a circular economy, but for some of us, this is still a fuzzy concept. Seeing brands encouraging us to repair our clothes, take care of them or recycle them? That sounds like a bad business. But, it’s actually a model, that we are going to see more and more in the future.

A brand that applies this strategy is Finisterre. Finisterre was born in 2003 in a flat, selling fleeces. The brand grew slowly and steadily and now it designs functional and sustainable clothes for the people in love with the sea. The product director of Finisterre, Deborah Luffman, talked during the Pure London event about her journey to sustainable sourcing and circular design.

Deborah Luffman
source: Finisterre Blog

For almost 10 years she worked in the high street fashion industry. “It was very much looking at catwalk designs and quickly ripping them off with zero textile integrity,” she explained.

One day, she realized this world of cheap fabrics wasn’t for her, so she dropped out. After this, Deborah started traveling. She literally joined the circus and went to Brazil. Next, she ended up on an organic cotton farm, where she fell in love with a surfer.

After such an adventure, she decided to get back home, to Brighton with her surfer husband. This is when she joined the Finisterre team. “I ran into a friend from university, Tom Podkolinski, who was working at a really cool surf brand. He sold me the dream of how amazing this brand was.”

Back then Finistere just won the Observer Ethical Award which was a plus when it came for Deborah to decide if she should join them. With her passion for fabrics and environmentalism, she was the perfect add-up to the brand’s team. When she joined Finisterre, they were a team of 3 people, now it’s 50 of them. They evolved a lot, from a brand that started as a fun and passionate idea to a business that is committed to the earth’s welfare.

One way in which the brand respects its commitment it’s through Econyl. Econyl developed a technology to convert ocean plastics and especially fishing nets into high-performance fibers, which Finistere uses in their products. Currently, the oceans of the world are home to around 640,000 tons of discarded nylon fishing nets, which are non-biodegradable. Through their collaboration with Econyl, Finisterre tries to close the loop and transform this problem into a solution. They are also known since they started the brand for using recycled polyester.

As Deborah pointed out, recycling isn’t going to save the universe on its own, but it’s a step in that direction and it’s better than, for instance using virgin polyester because it reduces the amount of energy, water consumption, and air pollution.

Part of Finisterre’s values is also encouraging their customers to come back with the products and engage with their repair service. This, also allows the brand to improve their products because based on the problem the customers had with the clothes, they may come up with a different and more durable design. Deborah explained how people are actually proud to have their clothes repaired and that they often ask for a patch that doesn’t match the color of the product. They paid for a quality product, and they want to keep it alive, but also fun for as long as possible.

The brand is also committed to the single-use, no-use policy, which for them means that the leftover products from the end of the production run must be repurposed. Fabrics that are not enough for a piece of clothing are turned into accessories.

Finisterre is an example of an applied circular economy. It works for them, and I hope it will work for more and more brands. We, as customers can choose to become more circular in the way we consume, but we need the right examples and information in order to understand why we should change our convenient lifestyle.

Even thinking twice before throwing that shirt away, it’s a step to a circular way of living.

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