Why retail needs an urgent reckoning


Fast fashion is getting faster: Clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014, and in that same period, the number of garments purchased per capita increased by about 60%. The dismal consequence is that fashion is consuming the Earth—literally. Of course, there’s one simple solution: people stop producing and buying things. But since that’s not going to happen any time soon, the next best option is a circular economy.

Are you, like many people, confused about the definition of a circular economy? The European Parliament defines a circular economy as “a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible.” This definition omits a big part of circularity: resale, which allows consumers to sell their items to a reseller, who then gives them a new life with a new owner.

If we don’t curb fashion industry waste, mountains of clothing and accessories will continue to pollute the environment and end up in landfills. The European Commission recently called for “support to the uptake of circular business models is needed across the board, including large retail companies and brands,” in a new proposal that targets the fashion industry.

Here are six reasons why more companies around the globe should adopt a circular business model.

The average American has more in their closet than they can use.

In the past, people may have had one coat for the winter, and a closet filled with items they wore regularly. Now, the majority—at least 50%, according to one study—of a person’s wardrobe goes unworn. Given that on average, people are buying 60% more than they did in 2000 and keeping those items for half as long, more fashion waste is ending up in the trash than ever before.

On average, each American sends 82 pounds of fashion to landfills annually.

A lot of the items we buy that we don’t need end up taking up space in landfills, and most of it isn’t biodegradable. One report from the UNEP estimates that 60% of material made into clothing is plastic. According to the documentary “The True Cost,” the average American sends 82 pounds of items from their wardrobes to landfills each year. We need to rethink what happens to the fashion that lands in the trash.

Fashion waste meant to be sold in third-world countries piles up in illegal landfills.

Many Americans think that by donating clothes, they’re doing a good deed—but there are more than enough clothes at most donation sites. A lot of the extras get sent in bulk to third-world countries like Ghana or Chile, where they end up being traded at markets. Unfortunately, a good amount of those clothes end in illegal landfills, where they further pollute the environment.

Fashion is responsible for 10% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

The estimates vary, depending on which study you look at, but one estimated that 10% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions stem from the fashion industry. What’s more, methods like dyeing account for 20% of global wastewater. If fashion gets sent back into the supply chain in a circular model, that could cut down on a lot of potential carbon emissions.

Change the need for brand new.

Circularity is proliferating with rental and resale expanding into a number of categories, including footwear, apparel, furniture, baby gear, and more, normalizing the idea of a circular supply chain model. Brands from Patagonia to Oscar de la Renta are introducing resale through their own channels, while retailers like Nordstrom and Net-a-Porter are also getting into the circular supply chain game. At Rebag, we accept once-loved luxury accessories that can be traded for a new item, or sold to us so that the item can be given a new life. We need to do away with the stigma against buying secondhand items and consumers’ desire for new things so that more retailers and consumers adopt the idea of a circular economy.

Consumers are demanding circularity.

More than three in five consumers in a recent McKinsey survey said environmental impact is an important factor in making purchasing decisions. As consumers express more of a desire to purchase items that don’t negatively impact the environment, retailers will need to address that demand through different models, whether it’s through a circular supply chain, resale, or using more sustainable materials for production.

Encouraging a circular model promotes a more sustainable method of consumption that will reduce the amount of fashion waste that will end up in landfills, and ultimately pollute the environment. We still have a long way to go, but by continuing to educate consumers and retailers about the benefits of a circular economy, we can make this change toward a more environmentally friendly form of retail and consumption—and ultimately reduce the damage fashion is doing to the planet.

Charles Gorra is the Founder & CEO of Rebag, the ultimate destination for trading, selling, and buying the world’s most sought-after brands


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