How to Build Circular & Regenerative models for the Fashion Industry

By Millie Baker

Why do we need to transition from a linear to a circular economy, and how do we do this in the fashion industry? How can we deliver a fair and just transition for all? A circular economy in fashion gives us the opportunity to cut production and tackle waste, pollution, and the climate crises. How can we make the shift whilst delivering fair livelihoods for the millions of workers in fashion supply chains?

Fashion Declares’ panel discussion, led by Safia Minney, heard from industry experts; Kalkidan Legesse, Co Founder, OWNI; Debbie Luffman, ThinkCircular, Fashion Declares, formerly Product Director, Finisterre; Anthony Burns, Chief Operating Officer, ACS; Carolina Álvarez-Ossorio, ECOALF; Amanda Johnston, Future Fabrics Expo, The Sustainable Angle.

“We need to cut production by between 75-95%. How do we do that whist rebuilding a regenerative system – an economy that puts people and nature central and to fit withing planetary boundaries?” Safia kicked off with.

Carolina Álvarez-Ossorio – EcoAlf

zoom screenshot EcoAlf

“Fashion is about more than looking good, it’s about doing what is right.” – Carolina Álvarez-Ossorio. EcoAlf aims to represent the fabrics of the future generations, formed the same year as the birth of founder Javier Goyeneche’s sons. He wanted to create truly sustainable, recycled items with the same quality and design as the best non-recycled products. Today, EcoAlf have developed more than 500 different recycled fabrics using different types of waste.

“The fashion industry business model does not work.’ Carolina stated, “today if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”

Debbie Luffman - ThinkCircular

“I believe that the idea of circular and regenerative business is the only opportunity for the fashion industry to thrive, to create commercial opportunities and to overcome the huge sustainability challenges.”

The current linear economy has been the same industrialised system for 250 years. This means Take, Make, Use, Waste, Pollute.

A viable solution for fashion however, is a Circular Economy. Within which, we will still make stuff, and it can still be globalised, but the difference is the re-use aspect, the shared economies – making stuff that lasts and can have multiple ownerships. What is “really critical is zero pollution and zero waste,” Debbie highlighted.

How can Circular and Regenerative systems inform the fashion industry to create opportunities for circular business models?

  • Design out waste and pollution
  • Prioritise durability
  • Extend product & resource value
  • Promote products as a service
  • Lifecycle, systems thinking – thinking about full impact across a product lifespan, not just the consumer.
  • Integrated value
Diagram: Institute of Positive Fashion 

Anthony Burns – ACS

ACS operate a circular fashion hub, facilitating different circular business models like clothing rental, repair, and resale. “These models are all inherently sustainable, but it is incumbent on us as a team to deliver them in a sustainable way because that will ultimately accelerate the adoption of these models by our partners, brands and the retailers we work with. And ultimately the consumer.”

Tony suggested that “research shows that circular business models are going to grow massively.” Moving to become an industry more aligned with sustainable values is simply a better business decision as “resale is a more profitable option, and it supports sustainability initiatives.”

Kalkidan Legesse - OWNI

Kalkidan’s love of fashion was born out of “the ability the fashion industry has to pair artisan skill with creativity – with the ability to generate meaningful revenue for garment makers.”

Kalkidan spoke from a brand perspective, on the challenges currently facing the space:

  1. Increased costs of goods
  2. Increased environmental pressure
  3. Increased regulatory pressures

These challenges are essentially very expensive and very complex. “Fashion retailers and brands are very conscious that they need to find solutions that are meaningful, but also solutions that ultimately generate revenue.”

One of the main solutions to combat these challenges is to engage with the secondary market. “There are billions of units of clothing which are under-utilised.”  Businesses and brands can recover and resell those goods. “They can go way beyond that initial point of sale, and generate out of a product’s entire lifespan.”

Amanda Johnston, Future Fabrics Expo, The Sustainable Angle

The Sustainable Angle uses the cradle-to-cradle system to think about the relative sustainability benefits of different materials. In this, materials are separated into two material flows. Technical Nutrients which must be recycled and not returned to the biosphere  and Biological Nutrients which are from nature and therefore can be returned to the biosphere and become food for the next growth cycle. However, we currently exist in a world where two thirds of global fibre demand is from petrochemical materials.

“Our global fibre basket lacks diversity – we live in an utterly plastic world” Amanda reminded us. “We need to decouple from oil, whether it’s material feedstock or the energy that drives the production of it.”


Safia concluded the session, expressing thanks to the speakers, and the ground that was covered. “We have discussed from agricultural waste to plastic sea pollution, to the waste in our wardrobes, how we redesign the economic system of fashion manufacturers, and the way we think about and consume fashion.”