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Could Circular Fashion be the Solution to SDGs?

Conversations surrounding fashion in recent years has been dominated by sustainability, and how fast fashion has greatly contributed to the urgent climate crisis we now face. Even here at Mindless Mag we’ve covered this issue a lot, and the steps consumers could take to rectify the situation. But there are many other problems the fashion industry could help solve, several of which are laid out in the United Nation’s 17 Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs).

What are SDGs?

SDGs are targets that all United Nations members agreed to meet by 2030, and they strive for the “Peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future”. Created in 2015, these goals span everything from eradicating poverty and conserving marine resources, to providing affordable, clean energy and a quality education for all. To some, fashion may be seen as an industry that can only tackle goal 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), but in reality, fashion is a key player in the global economy and relates to all sections of our lives. Fashion cannot exist in a vacuum, and as such impacts the success of all 17 SDGs.

Obviously, these are complicated targets and there is no simple guide on how to resolve them, but one answer might lie in Circular fashion. The term was coined by Dr Anna Brismar in 2014 who described it as clothing that was designed, sourced and produced in a sustainable manner, with the intention of being used, reused and recycled in society for as long as humanely possible. In short, it challenges the Linear production line that ends with clothes being discarded in landfill.

Every part of circular fashion ensures that the industry is never taking more than it gives, and is benefitting society and the environment in some way. If more companies and individuals adopted this ideology, it could make a significant impact on the progress of SDGs. Here’s how:

Each step in circular fashion is progress

1) In the design phase of fashion, circular-minded creatives aim to produce item designs that are timeless, so they have the longest lifespan possible. Instead of following micro-trends, circular fashion focuses on how to make the design of their garments appealing over time, reducing the need for more consumption and therefore wastage.

Despite women making up approximately 80% of the fashion and textile industry, a significantly lower number of women occupy senior roles. Additionally, female workers are often subjected to verbal abuse, unsafe working conditions and low pay.

To truly move forward with both the development of circular fashion and gender equality (SDG 5), women must have safe working conditions and be earning the same wage as men, with the equal opportunities and executive roles. More females in top positions would create more diverse ideas and better designs.

2) After design completion, circular fashion seeks out sustainable and durable fabric to create the clothes. This is so important in tackling the environmental crisis, and embraces several of the SDGs, most notably ‘Climate Action’ and ‘Life Below Water’ (13 and 14 respectively).

In 2018, UNECE reported that the fashion industry was the second highest user of water worldwide (one cotton shirt required 2700 Litres alone), and the fashion industry emits 10% of global carbon emissions. It is also estimated that 430,000 tonnes of clothing end up in landfills every year, and micro-plastics that are woven into fabrics are being washed into our oceans, causing awful damage to sea creates and ecosystems.

These statistics would be cut down significantly with circular fashion, as increased usage of durable clothing would decrease the demand of fast fashion.

3) Once material has been chosen, producing the clothes is the next stage, and for circular fashion it is imperative that the working conditions of those who make the garments is fair and ethical. However, the vast majority of textile workers live in economies where conditions are poor and pay is low. These are developing countries where fast fashion retailers can capitalise on cheap manufacturing.

If these workers were given a living wage, then it would reduce poverty levels on a global scale. More workers would be able to feed themselves and their families without struggle, live in adequate housing, and afford medical bills. Just by creating a working environment of equality and fairness, circular fashion can help achieve SDG 1 (no poverty) and 8 (decent work and economic growth).

Education is the key

The result of educating people on where their clothes come from and how it is made is significant. The correlation between knowledge and action mirrors the fashion in being cyclical: The more informed people are about their clothes and the impact they have on the world, the more likely they are to invest in sustainable fashion, which in turn creates more awareness of the reasons we need it, and so on so forth. Not only is quality education an SDG in itself, but it leads to responsible consumption and production, number 12 on the list.

There are so many places to gather information about sustainable fashion choices, and why we should all be making them. Here are just a few:

1) The Ellen Macarthur Foundation has released a book called ‘Circular Design for Fashion’. It’s an illuminating read on why this topic is so important, how to start your circular journey, and the companies leading the way.

2) There is a course called ‘Fashion’s Future: The Sustainable Development Goals’ on Future Learn. Here you can delve deeper into how fashion effects the planet and how this links to the SDGs.

3) Tiffany Toh, going by the username ‘littletoh’, demonstrates to her followers on YouTube how to buy second hand clothes and upcycle them to create a different garment, with a new lease of life.

The great Stella McCartney once said, “The future of fashion is circular. It has to be.” Whether you believe this or not, fashion is intrinsically linked to SDGs, and we should all be striving to make better choices to help achieve them, for the future of our planet, and generations to come.


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