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Homo Sustainibilis: circular economy and new business models in fashion industry

Executive Summary :

The over-consumption of clothing and fashion accessories is a reality that has grown massively over the last decades, in relation with the global economic growth. The life cycles of fashion items are becoming shorter, driven by the industry’s “fast fashion” and fuelled by consumer desires (but not needs).

Planned obsolescence is key to this economic strategy, reducing product life cycles to a few weeks. But this short period of time in which fabrics are used before disposal causes a huge environmental problem. Over-consumption behaviour in fashion leads to excessive use of natural resources (mainly fibres and water) and energy, generating millions of tonnes of textile waste every year. It requires a transition model to bring sustainability through the circular economy.

At the end of their life, textiles are very complex to process because they contain many types of synthetic and natural fibres in a mixture and by the multitude of accessories (buttons, zippers, metal articles, plastics, labels…). It is compulsory to invent new business models, based on circular economy approaches, where Homo sustentabilis plays a key role.

Corporate social responsibility can be integrated into the new challenges and opportunities assessed by Industry 4.0, which responds to the environmental and social demands of the millennium and the Z Generations.

The SeaCleaners’ View :

This article describes the fashion industry’s awareness, in general, on the over-consumption that its business practices have generated. Seasonality, events, promotional campaigns… encourage consumers to fill their wardrobes throughout the year for very limited, sometimes even single-use. The prevalence of synthetic fibres, polyesters, polyamides… and their mixture with other resins and natural fibres is a puzzle for recycling.

At present, the good conscience of consumers is bought by the collection containers from which usable clothes are going to be redistributed to the most deprived and the rest to be used to make non-woven blankets. This approach gives the impression of a well-established recycling value chain, but in fact the end of life of the garments is not managed, only the life span of the fibres is increased. Faced with the hyperproduction of clothing, these solutions are not viable in the long term and inevitably lead to the production of waste. In countries where urban waste is not well managed, much of the debris floating at sea is composed of textiles alongside plastic debris.

Industry 4.0 is presented as a potential solution to integrate the circular economy. This new industrial concept presents the integration of the virtual world and hyper-connection in the enterprise. Thus connected end consumers will be able to directly influence production processes and order their products with a high level of customization. It is true that the shift to a “pull based” business model has already proven itself to reduce inventories in different industries, such as automotive, and thus reduce overproduction and unsold products. However, it is clear that this model is optimised to bring gains to manufacturers without taking into account the hyperconsumption artificially generated in consumers mind. Moreover, this model foresees a massive use of robotics, to meet the requirements of customized production in very short periods of time.

The place of the human being is at the centre of the debate on industry 4.0. Perhaps the massive increase in the number of unemployed will provide a solution to the excessive consumption of fashion items… The intuitive knowledge of generation Y about the virtual world of computing and the requirements of generation Z about societal models will probably bring other solutions not yet considered by the industry. The well-thought-out circular economy, integrating the real needs of the consumer and the eco-design of products, is certainly the first step in a more sustainable direction.

Source :
Homo Sustentabilis : circular economy and new business models in fashion industry (2020)
Marques, António D.; Marques, Anastasia; Ferreira, Fernando.
SN Applied Sciences : 2 (DocId: 2) 12019. – DOI-Link : https://doi.org/10.1007/s42452-020-2094-8

Author: Yannick Lerat / 9 April 2020    / SeaView@theseacleaners.org

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