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Circularity has emerged as the theme of our times. The COVID-19 pandemic has bolstered the awareness of resilience and sustainability. Companies are exploring alternative materials and circular models as they prepare for the future – the momentum is rising and it is important to drive for wider impacts through industry collaborations.

In this report, The Mills Fabrica looks at circular economy in the context of the apparel industry. We identify the drivers and barriers behind the phenomenon, supported with case studies from brands and innovators around the world. As we delve into the details, we recognise that it takes concerted efforts from the community to transition to a circular economy from the take-make-dispose model.  

 

Circular fashion gains traction

More apparel brands and retailers are adopting circular practices to alleviate the impacts of the fashion industry on the environment. These include re-commerce models of rental and resale, recycling, alternatives to fossil fuel-based materials and regenerative agriculture. Existing innovations therefore cover the whole value chain, from the cultivation of raw materials to the post-consumer stage.

As the European Union adopted the Circular Economy Action Plan last year that aims to make sustainable products mainstream, more initiatives are expected to come from companies large and small to make fashion circular.

 

Figure 1. Innovations making fashion circular

 

Financial, infrastructure and socio-cultural barriers still exist

Despite the traction, barriers still exist that are hindering the transition to a circular economy. The alternative materials and circular business models must make economic sense; it also requires financial support to start and scale up new innovations. In terms of infrastructure, manufacturing design, collection, sorting and recycling facilities need to be coordinated to facilitate a closed-loop production. And it falls on the government and our community to create incentives and raise awareness that lead to behavioural changes.

 

Figure 2. Barriers hindering the transition to a circular economy

 

More private-public partnerships are being formed to overcome the barriers. For example, the European Union-funded New Cotton Project brings together innovators, manufacturers and brands to trial a circular model for textile waste over a three-year period since last year. These initiatives help trial new innovations fast and bring about economies of scale from increasing industry participation.

 

Collaborating for wider impacts

We need more pilots and collaborations to drive circularity forward. Pilot opportunities help to validate and test new disruptive technologies with the industry and consumers. Well-known industry examples include Renewcell, a Swedish textile recycling company and Impossible Foods, a US plant-based meat company, who both grew from successful pilots to fostering partnerships that scaled up their operations. Beyond pilots, wider collaboration initiatives are helpful in addressing collective industry challenges. There are three common types of collaborations worldwide: working groups, innovation sourcing and pilots with innovators – uniting important stakeholders to resolve common industry challenges.

 

Figure 3. Three types of collaborations driving circularity

 

Looking ahead

The report has highlighted three projects that show traction of circularity in Hong Kong: the G2G Recycle System, the Novetex Upcycling Factory and the New Life Plastics JV. Although the industry has come a long way, more can be done to drive circularity in Asia and our home city of Hong Kong by learning from experience and taking note of global examples. The shift to a more circular economy requires the combined efforts of different stakeholders to identify key challenges and launch industry pilots. Our hope is that this report will serve as an inspirational guide and action-driven playbook for the industry.

To learn more, please download the full report of Driving for Circularity: Collaborating for Industry Impact.

 

DOWNLOAD REPORT

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