Move over SQUARE, it's hip to SPHERE!

Move over SQUARE, it's hip to SPHERE!

Patrick Bateman may have relished in the ‘pleasures of conformity’ as described in Huey Lewis' hit single It’s Hip to be Square but it turns out he was a total pscyho. These days it’s all about fluid edges and curves. It’s hip to be sphere…or circular to be specific.

 

WTF is circular fashion anyway?

You may have heard the term ‘CIRCULAR FASHION’ circulating, if not you probably will soon. So what is it? And how is it relevant to those of us who make our own clothing?

At its core circular fashion means thinking about what will become of clothing at the end of its life BEFORE it is created. A concept so simple, so logical and so impactful that it makes you wonder why on earth have we not been doing this all along?

Three different types of economy: linear, recycling and circular

The fashion industry is currently based on a linear model ie. take (resources), make, consume, waste. There is little/no thought put into what will happen to the garment beyond each stage and certainly no responsibility taken by whoever creates the garment as to what will happen to it once it leaves their hands. This lack of responsibility leads to a lack of accountability and in the case of the fashion industry to a massive waste problem.

Here’s a few fashion facts to help illuminate this problem.

 

“The number of garments produced annually has doubled since 2000 and exceeded 100 billion for the first time in 2014: nearly 14 items of clothing for every person on earth.”

“When it comes to disposing of clothing, current technologies cannot reliably turn unwanted apparel into fibers that could be used to make new goods…. there are not markets large enough to absorb the volume of material that would come from recycling clothes. As a result, for every 5 garments produced, the equivalent of 3 end up in a landfill or incinerated each year.”

Sourced from Style that's sustainable: A new fast fashion formula on mckinsey.com

 

It is estimated that ‘every second, the equivalent of a rubbish truck load of clothes is burnt or buried in landfill’

Sourced from Ellen MacArthur Foundation

 

Shocking but true. You may be thinking surely the answer is to just stop! Stop producing textiles and garments, stop purchasing! Yes, reducing and slowing down our consumption, utilising existing materials and investing in global upcycling and recycling infrastructures is undoubtedly a vital piece of the puzzle however it’s not the entire puzzle.

The fact is that the majority of textiles that have been, and continue to be, produced are of poor quality, are produced in a manner that is hazardous to people and the environment and are not easily reused or recycled. We believe it is also important to focus on what is, and will inevitably continue, being produced. To demand better textiles, produced in a fairer and more environmentally responsible manner which can participate in a circular economy.

A circular fashion model closes the loop between production and waste. Using a circular model the end of life of a product is built into its initial design and this informs each stage of its lifecycle.

Graphic of a circular fashion economy

Sustainably minded clothing brands are already starting to try and implement more circular strategies into their business models, namely through their use of renewable and recyclable materials, trend resistant designs and repair and recycle schemes. Here is a very small selection of some of our favourites

 

Logo for NZ business Little Yellow BirdLogo for NZ business Kowtow clothing
Logo for Australian business A.BCHLogo for Australian business Citizen Wolf

 

How can we implement circular design into our sewing practice?

As makers, we are not immune to this linear model of production. It is easy for us to slip into a 'take, make, waste' process: choosing poor quality fabrics that are overproduced and/or produced in dangerous or toxic manners; using fabrics with bad end of life outcomes; making impulse and/or trend based purchases; getting caught up in the need to make more and make quicker; focusing on the end product rather than the process. All this can lead to creating our own version of handmade fast fashion. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Being able to make our own clothing allows us to approach circular fashion from a unique position of power because WE are the designers. We get to make all the decisions and ultimately we choose the environmental footprint and life cycle of our own clothing. Yes, making our clothing really is a super power!

Some ways in which we can do this are:

 

WARDROBE PLANNING

Have we mentioned this one before? Yes some of us find it a bit boring but the more we sit and plan our makes with our wardrobe and lifestyle in mind the more likely we are to make garments we will actually keep and wear for longer.

 

TAKE PAUSE BEFORE PURCHASING

Stop and pause before making fabric, yarn and pattern purchases. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment. Flash fabric sale? Woah look at that unique print, no-one else will have something like that! It’s deadstock so it’s just going to go to waste otherwise (hmm… that’s probably one for another blog). What a stunning colour, I need it! Do you? Yes, we’ve all been there, the thrill of the acquisition. It’s real. It’s a trillion dollar market after all. But it can lead to impulse purchases of fabrics and/or patterns that don’t really work with our lifestyle or wardrobe. 

As a retailer it may seem strange to preach a stop before you buy approach but we aren’t saying don’t buy, we are just saying buy better. This is why you won’t find a huge number of eye-catching prints or seasonal based fabrics in our store. Nor will you see flash sales or better get in quick marketing approaches. Our goal is to provide beautiful, timeless, quality fabrics that will create staple pieces in your wardrobe that you will come to love and cherish and that have better end of life options.

 

CONSIDER A PRODUCTS LIFECYCLE

Choose fabrics, yarns, haberdashery and trims that have a lower environmental and social impact on production but also offer a better lifecycle from start to finish. It really can be that easy. Instead of choosing conventional cotton, go organic. If you’re looking for viscose try Tencel™ instead. Hemp is an emerging fibre (or should we say re-emerging cuz it's ancient y'all) with excellent environmental credentials. Avoid polyester or polyester-blended fabrics unless absolutely necessary These fabrics are difficult to recycle and do not have good end of life outcomes. Higher quality fabrics will feel better, last longer and are easier (and more likely to be) repaired.

DID YOU KNOW? All of our fabrics, yarns and haberdashery have been very carefully selected based on the environmental impact of their production, are manufactured by companies who are transparent about their working conditions, are non-toxic and biodegrade safely. Oh, and they are also beautiful.

 

SUPPORT MORE RESPONSIBLE BUSINESSES

Support businesses and industries that are trying to produce fabrics and yarn in a more responsible and sustainable manner. Currently there is little motivation for manufacturers to change their methods of production. The more consumers start to ask questions and demand more responsible production methods the more companies will see this is a viable (and ultimately profitable) area. In turn this will lead to greater resources and attention being given to innovation in the textile industry with circularity in mind.

DID YOU KNOW? We only work with a small number of suppliers who share our environmental and social values. All of our suppliers can provide clear information regarding exactly where and how their products are made.

 

STICK A LABEL ON IT

You know one great thing about fast fashion? The labels. Even if the content of the label makes us cringe it is great to have ongoing access to that information. Labelling the composition of our home sewn garments makes it easier to know how to dispose of them in the future plus this small but intentional act can really upgrade a garment and make it more likely for other people to see its value if donated or sold in the future.

 

 CONSIDER  THREADS AND TRIMS

Often overlooked are these smaller but equally important components of our clothing. According to several google sources it takes around 100m of thread to sew a standard shirt. It may not seem like much but if you start thinking about the number of shirts being made all around the world and imagine all that thread put together it starts looking like an awful lot, and the vast majority of the time this thread is polyester. That’s a lot of plastic. Switching to organic cotton sewing thread is an easy way to reduce our plastic consumption. Similarly buttons and elastic can be made of natural, biodegradable materials. When we do use materials that are less easy to recycle or less biodegradable, think quality items that will serve their function well, last longer and that we would be inclined to remove and reuse.

Spools of Scanfil organic cotton thread displayed in a flower patternGroup of elastic of various sizes on cardboard spools

Make ‘more sustainable’ design decisions. Do we really need to match our thread and fabric if it will require purchasing new thread that is not sustainable and will complicate the end of life options of the garment? Can contrast stitching be turned into a design feature instead? How can we make garments so they can ‘grow’ with us (we’re talking size and style).

 

FIT, FIT, FIT!

Take the time to make a muslin/toile, make adjustments to the pattern and get the best fit. The better our garments fit the more wear they will get and the longer they live in our wardrobes. Simple... well we realise it is sometimes terrifically complex in execution but the return on investment makes it a simple choice in our opinion.

 

CONSIDER THE PROCESS

Sewing carefully and slowly and finishing our garments properly will not only increase its longevity but also make it more appealing for other people if you choose to re-home it one day. We aren't talking perfection here but it is generally the pieces that we are most proud of, that challenge and teach new techniques, the ones that celebrate our skill that stick with us.

 

MENDING AND UPCYCLING

Keeping our textiles in rotation in our own wardrobes for as long as possible is a key element of circular fashion. We are more likely to want to repair and recycle our own garments if they are made from high quality materials that we love. Even zips and buttons can be removed and reused.

Two hands repairing a shirt with needle and thread

 

MANAGE SCRAPS RESPONSIBLY

This could mean exploring zero or low waste sewing patterns or taking the time to cut patterns out to create less and/or more usable sized scraps.

When you do end up with scraps, which you will, there are plenty of options.

  • KEEP + REUSE: There are lots of ways to reuse scraps and a quick google search will identify a multitude of them. This probably warrants its own blog post but scrap busting has come a long way with people creating more and more clever, modern and functional ways of using even the smallest scraps.
  • SEND FOR RECYCLING: Did you know that you can now send your scraps off to be recycled? Little Yellow Bird is a NZ company on a mission to reduce textile waste. LYB accepts all natural fibres (clothing and scraps) for recycling. If you are planning on using this amazing service be sure to keep your natural fibre scraps in a separate bin and ensure they are labelled when you send them as they are unable to recycle synthetic-based fibres. As an important note Tencel™, although biodegradable and compostable is not considered a natural fibre based on how it is processed so keep this separate from your cotton, linen, hemp, silk and wool. Another great reason to choose natural fibres (although in the case of cotton we still advocate for organic over non-organic). Please visit the LYB website for more information.
  • COMPOST: All fibres will break down given the time and opportunity but there are variances in how long this takes and what it turns into depending on the fabric type.
Cotton Dress 1 - 5 months
Denim Jeans 10 - 12 months
Wool Jumper 1 - 5 years
Nylon Jacket 30 - 40 years
Polyester Jumper 20 - 200 years
Lycra Leggings 200+ years
*Sourced from Upparel

Natural fibres turn back into soil but synthetics simply break down into smaller plastic particles (called microplastics) so while you may not be able to see them, they are still there. Additionally when a fibre biodegrades, everything that’s in the fibre goes into the soil with it so if it is holding dangerous toxins, these will also be deposited into the soil. Obviously most people don’t want to turn their garden into a makeshift clothing graveyard so full garments that cannot be reused are probably best sent for recycling but for small natural scraps it’s definitely conceivable that we can manage these ourselves at home.

DID YOU KNOW? All of the fabrics, elastic, sewing thread and yarns that we currently sell in our store are biodegradable and compostable? That means that all your scraps from our products, including those niggly threads, can simply be collected and placed in your compost bin, or dug into your garden and they will turn back into soil! Now that’s simple.

 

Rounding it Up

The more we think about it, a model which places the responsibility for the life cycle of a garment onto the designers and manufacturers who produce it is the only model we should be employing. As makers we are in a unique position to be able to actively participate in a circular fashion ecosystem when we design and produce our own garments. This needn’t feel like a burden, instead it is an opportunity which can empower and embolden us to make better choices and ultimately better wardrobes!
“Waste is a design flaw” - Kate Krebs

 

If you would like to learn more about the fashion and textile industry and how the slow fashion movement can be a tool for change then check out our Top Slow Fashion Resources or read up on our 18 Tips for More Sustainable Making.

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