What is Circular Fashion?

Last week I was at the OSCE Days - the Open Source Circular Economy Days - in Berlin, Neukölln.

The OSCE days are two days which are used as a melting pot for creative ideas. Various experts and interested people in the textile industry come together for two days and work on questions about improving and visualising the future in textile industries – Focused on circularity.

Circularity in the textile industry doesn’t mean anything else than building a life-circle with any product or good within the textile business.

For example: A t-shirt should be produced in a way that after it is bought and worn by a customer, it can be resold, or up-cycled or be recyclable, containing fibers that are able to rotten. The main idea of circularity is to reduce waste. A t-shirt shouldn’t end its lifetime  swimming in the wide ocean like another plastic bag. It is more about finding ideas how to see products, goods, materials, fibers in a circle in and on this planet forever.


Two questions have to be asked in order to find solutions:


1. What is happening with the existing textiles?

2. What could be better alternatives to the existing ones?

 And there is a third question of a more general nature:

     3. How will better alternatives be made available to the consumers?



Let’s focus the first question. Most important is that the life-circle of  textiles should be extended as much as possible. I assume, all of you who read this blog have already an idea how this could work. Examples are secondhand shops, flee-markets, vintage-lovers, swap-parties, clothes donations (in some points questionable, but later more to that), up-cycling, recycling and fiber-reuse.

And the trends for this are big! Since the hipster-trend has hit, we like individualism again. And this is great, because uniqueness is nothing you will find at Zara or H&M. But you definitely find it in vintage shops, where in general one specific piece exists only one time and it looks great on you – so it should be yours and no one else’s ;)

Clearly a lot of secondhand shops in Germany and many other countries have to have a make-over. Smelly, messy shops are not nice. They never are! So, Second Hand 2.0 was a big topic at the OSCE days. Fashion is a superficial business. Coming into a shop, you want to buy a lifestyle. There are some, but few people who just go and buy  a sweater because they are cold. If the value for a piece of clothes should be sold, it needs to be presented in that way.

Dublin has a lot of examples for improved secondhand shops. Dublin is probably Europe greatest city when it comes to creative small shops with a mixture of new design, up-cycling, vintage and secondhand. Also in Berlin in areas like Charlottenburg and Prenzlauer Berg, you will find a lot of small very neat and nice shops with very unique and daily varying assortments.

For the last years, swap parties have been on the rise, which are a lot of fun. VinoKilo is just one start-up that is touring through entire Germany and is even starting to expand beyond its borders. So check your city and your Facebook for the coolest thrift shop, VinoKilo event or next swap-party. It definitely is worth it and maybe even allows you to exchange your entire wardrobe for zero money.


Second question: What are alternatives? We hear about things like “vegan-leather”, where I can just shake my head.

How “good” are such products for the environment and what is the quality like? Well, first of all: There are already very great alternatives in place for a better use of resources. Vegan leather consists of natural products like pineapple or cork leather - simply no-animal products in the leather-look. Cotton could be used in much better ways. The biggest cotton farm in Texas produces organic cotton. The real big thing that needs to be stopped is the Monsanto-cotton which uses up a lot of water and needs a lot of chemicals in its production. These chemicals can by the way also still be dangerous for the people who wear it the clothes made from this cotton on their skin.

3D-printers are another, more technological solution for cutting clothes, bringing the production of textiles back to Europe. This is also valid for entire business concepts like Mud-jeans or Filippa K where the purchase of the product comes with the option to give it back or to up-cycle or recycle it one day.

There are many more ideas I will present after the upcoming Ethical Fashion Show – where many Labels will present their way of coming up with a better solution.



So this leads us to question three: If there are solutions already, why is the textile industry still the second most polluting industry after the oil business?

Awareness. That’s the word and the problem.

Most of us don’t know better and don’t see a value in clothes anymore, something what generation Primark/Penny’s proves us every day.


I will give you an example of my sister. She is a working mum with two little kids, and she asked me: “Nora, how do I know what’s ‘good to buy’ and what’s ‘bad to buy’? The kids grow so fast and I don’t have the money to always buy them expensive fairly-produced clothes. Their clothes will rip, get dirty and they will have grown out of it within a month. Besides I don’t have the time to always find that one specific shop, that probably won’t have available what I need.”


At the OSCE-days one working group came up with a brilliant idea for this problem: A clothes recycling machine in kindergartens. Parents need easy and quick solutions for textiles of their kids. Moreover, they need something to trust. (Brands do that with their marketing... because actually no worried parent should just buy at Primark or Zara for their kid.) Anyhow, the idea was to develop a machine which would collect not-needed clothes anymore and would give a voucher to the parents for their donation like a coffee-shop voucher. The machine selects the textiles for secondhand, up-cycling or recycling.


But it is true. Better fashion just needs to be more available and also of better design for high-class sectors. Because a circular textile industry has nothing to do with being alternative, hipster or hippie or whatever you want to call it. A circular textile industry simply means to stop mistreating the world we live in and to think more wisely and in more intelligent ways of everything we take and give.  


To work on more awareness campaigns like Fashion Revolution, The Good in You, Clean Clothes/Saubere Kleidung, Get Changed and so on exist.

For Fashion Revolution we work on creating an exhibition which explains the value-chain of textiles in an entertaining way. Make it a game, make it nice and let the people have fun in learning about it: Do you know how much energy you need to make one t-shirt? Do you know what it feels like to sit in a sewing factory? Do you know what pineapple-leather feels like? Do you know how much water you need for a cosy winter-sweater? Do you know how little you get out of recycling fibres? – Well, I don’t know.

But I will use my creativity to make the answers to these questions touchable and fun for kids and grown-ups. If you have any ideas, share them with me ;)


Let`s keep just one thing in mind:

It is okay to take from nature as long as we give back. We live with the nature, we don’t own it.