Circularity in the Fashion Industry

An important part in the mission of Responsible Consumption is to make research and information more accessible to the general public. A part of that is to summarize studies and publish them here and in our newsletters. We offers summaries in different fields of research. After every summary is a link to the study. On this site you will find information about circularity in the fashion industry.

Towards Circular Economy in Fashion: Review of Strategies, Barriers and Enablers

Dissanayake & Weerasinghe, 2021


Background about the fashion industry
  • Circular economic models mean closed production and that the materials already in use will be in the loops for longer and used for longer periods of time.
  • Textiles are the fourth highest impact category of material consumption in the EU, after food, housing and transport.
  • Textiles are also the second highest in land use, fourth in water usage and fifth in emissions of greenhouse gases.
  • Clothes prices have decreased by 30% between 1996 and 2018.
  • The average amount of times a piece of clothing is used before it’s thrown away has decreased by 36% in 15 years, meaning that clothes that haven’t reached the end of their life cycle yet are thrown away. Less than 1% of used clothes are recycled into new clothing, which adds up to a loss of resources worth 100 billion dollars every year.
  • The European commission identified the textile industry as important in 2020, because of its environmental impact and potential for circularity.

The study aims to research which strategies, barriers and enablers there are for the fashion industry to become circular. It does this by reviewing relevant literature on the subject from January 2000 to December 2020. This study defines circular fashion industry as: “a fashion system that moves towards a regenerative model with an improved use of sustainable and renewable resources, reduction of non-renewable inputs, pollution and waste generation, while facilitating long product life and material circulation via sustainable fashion design strategies and effective reverse logistics processes” (5). The study mainly discusses four strategies for reaching circularity.


Resource efficiency:
  • Resource efficiency can be achieved in this context through: the usage of renewable and sustainable materials, a decrease in resource usage and a minimization of waste.
  • Different materials have different needs. When it comes to natural fibers, the usage of water, land and chemicals must decrease. Whereas when it comes to synthetic materials, the use of energy and consumption of fossil fuels must decrease.


Circular design:
  • The design phase is very important, as it is there that 80% of a clothing item’s climate impact is decided.
  • The circular design consists of five dimensions: design for longevity, customization, disassembly, recycling and composting.
  • Design for longevity consists of two parts: design for durability and design for long-lasting. This will slow down the resource loop since the clothes are in use longer.
  • Design that is customized according to the consumers preferences and size can increase the consumers attachment to the product, which would be an alternative to more impersonal fast fashion.
  • Design for disassembly means that the design of a garment takes into consideration that the material/fabric might become recycled and used for something else, if the material allows it.
  • Design for recycling means that you choose materials and fibers so that it can be recycled.
  • Design for composting means that the materials and fibers used in the garment are compostable, by using degradable fibers without hazardous chemicals.


Prolonging a product’s life cycle:
  • Prolonging the life cycle of textiles and garments, to reduce the need and usage of new materials. Emissions of greenhouse gases would decrease by 44% if the average time a garment is used was doubled.
  • The authors suggest that you could prolong these life cycles by offering reparation services, for example by the clothing stores themselves.
  • The authors also suggest that platforms where consumers can lease, rent or share goods could enable circularity and making sure that the garments come to use. These kinds of services already exist, but we need more, seeing as they have such a positive impact on the environment.


Circularity after use:
  • That clothes will be used again, instead of ending up in landfills.
  • This can be achieved through reusage, remanufacturing or recycling.


Challenges and barriers:
  • One challenge is the fact that companies and chains of production are globalized and decentralized. To achieve circularity, all actors in this chain must work towards that, with all that it entails.
  • Designers do not always have the freedom to design sustainable clothing that is reusable, because it is the company’s profit incentive that often dictates the work.
  • Waste and fabrics that have been used are not seen as resources or assets by the companies, but rather as a cost. In some cases it is true that reusing is more costly than using new materials. That is why new technical solutions are needed to make it cheaper to reuse.
  • One challenge the authors discuss is the consumers’ lack of knowledge and interest in for example returning clothes for reusage. However, the authors state that consumers are used to the linear production system that has been the norm for a long time, and that it may be difficult for consumers to change their habits.
  • One of the biggest barriers is the lack of effective collection and sorting schemes. These are important for making it possible to reuse materials and hence closing the resource loop.


  • As mentioned earlier, the transition to circularity is dependant on all actors both within the production chain and the consumers. It relies on their knowledge and involvement.
  • Technological and material innovations play a big part in this development, for enabling and making circular production easier and cheaper.
  • The authors describe logistics as enabling, especially logistics for collecting and sorting textiles that are then reused.
  • As well as technology and logistics, awareness and education are also important. The authors put emphasis on education designers with a more prominent sustainability profile.
  • Policy is also important and how it is implemented. The authors describe how the state can have the central role in creating and shaping a more circular economy.
  • Last but not least, the authors point out that consumer’s increased sustainable and circular behaviour is based on an increased awareness. But the price is still the determining factor when it consumers make decisions. That is why more sustainable alternatives need to become cheaper. The authors also mention that consumers don’t always know about the impact their consumption has on the environment. This illustrates the importance of education and knowledge in this context.


Towards Circular Economy in Fashion: Review of Strategies, Barriers and Enablers