• The transition to a circular economy is a systems-level change and requires a totally new kind of value creation mind-set, explains a new report published by the Relooping Fashion Initiative.
  • The growing interest among the textile industry – and more specifically the biggest consumer clothing producers and brands – towards recycled textiles, is the key driver for developing new recycling technologies.
  • One of the biggest issues to solve for a circular business ecosystem for textiles is the collection and sorting of textiles, especially those no longer suitable for re-use.
  • For real and lasting impact, new textile products based on recycled materials and fibres should be available and affordable to the mass market.  
Circular business ecosystems are business ecosystems, which together create products, solutions and services based on circular economy principles

Circular business ecosystems are business ecosystems, which together create products, solutions and services based on circular economy principles

The transition of the global textile industry to a circular economy where products along the whole value chain are repaired, re-used and recycled requires a totally new kind of value creation mind-set, a new report suggests.

The Relooping Fashion Initiative this week published a report – 'Model of Circular Business Ecosystem for Textiles' – to explain the principles of a circular economy in the context of textiles. It shows how to maintain the value of materials, while keeping the environmental impact to a minimum.

"Transition to a circular economy is a systems-level change and requires a totally new kind of value creation mind-set," explains the report, which is produced by researchers at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. "Designing out waste and maintaining the value of products and materials as high as possible for a maximum period of time requires close collaboration among the whole value network. That is why business ecosystems are at the heart of the transition to a circular economy."

The Initiative's vision of the circular business ecosystem for the textile value chain is based on the four value cycles familiar from the circular economy system produced by the Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation: repair and maintenance, re-use as a product, re-use as a material, and recycling-related initiatives.

"In the future circular model, users should be able to determine whether discarded clothes that they no longer use could still be re-used as a product, or whether they should be recycled. However, we see that currently the users are not sufficiently able to do that, which indicates a need for better instructions, awareness raising and collection methods," the report explains.

"Even if consumers would in the future be better at sorting the textiles for recycling, it is important to establish a professional sorting standard based on quality of the product, and the type of fibre for enabling industrial-scale utilisation. In addition to accuracy, sorting needs to be carried out economically. As long as virgin materials prices are low, also the cost of sorted raw material for recycling has to be low, or the costs of sorting need to be covered by some other means."

In order to solve the global textile waste problem, and to be able to replace some of the virgin materials such as cotton with recycled textile materials, the Relooping Fashion Initiative says new recycling technologies are key.

"The growing interest among the textile industry, and more specifically the biggest consumer clothing producers and brands, towards recycled textiles, is the key driver for developing new recycling technologies. Being closely involved in the R&D initiatives for the new recycling techniques, brands are getting a bigger role in fibre production as well. Setting up the circular material flows will shorten the value chains, because brands will have to work very closely with all the actors of the entire business ecosystem."

Also crucial is collaboration, so that the necessary investments can be made to scale up the actions towards a circular economy, the report emphasises.

"Consumers are ready, brands are interested, and several parts of the puzzle are being solved. It is our planet that can no longer wait. All these processes need to work seamlessly together for the circular business ecosystem to function effectively."