The Circular Fashion Index (CFX) from Kearney measures a brand’s efforts to extend the lifecycle of a product.

150 global brands were assessed from 20 countries, over six categories, including luxury, premium and affordable luxury, mass market, fast fashion, sports, outdoor lingerie and underwear.

A company’s circular fashion performance is scored based on seven dimensions that affect the garments’ longevity. These dimensions include two perspectives: the primary market (affecting new product sales to consumers) and the secondary market (such as the secondhand market or recycling). The scores for each dimension are weighted, giving the most weight to secondhand sales, rental services, and reuse of returned clothes as raw material or for donations. Next, it combines the scores to give an overall score between 1 and 10, with 1 representing the lowest score and 10 the highest.

Patagonia scored 8.50 out of 10, applauded for its equipment rental programme and use of recycled fabric.

Levi Strauss scored 8.20 out of 10, improving its score largely through new rentals: it launched a rental-only capsule collection of up-cycled denim made with vintage jeans under the Ganni brand.

The North Face scored 8.05 out of 10, able to slightly improve its share of recycled fabrics.  

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Other brands including Esprit, Lululemon Athletica and Lindex also featured strongly for their circular fashion efforts.

“These companies are a tremendous example of “good growth” as they pair “sustainability in action” with excellent financial performance. Patagonia’s mission statement is “We’re in business to save our home planet”—and our ranking confirms this commitment,” read the report.

The industry average score in 2022 was recorded at 2.97 out of 10. This is up from 1.6 out of 10.

Kearney notes that since 2020, industry and consumer awareness and activity have increased, resulting in a heightened awareness of the role fashion plays—or doesn’t play—in creating a more sustainable environment. Google searches for sustainable fashion are up by 350%. Secondhand platforms are experiencing double-digit growth. And last year H&M posted more than 100 times on its official social media accounts on a variety of issues including water and CO2 reduction, circularity, and biodegradability.

But the research also revealed only 7% use recycled materials to any credible extent; 54% use recycled materials for a few selected items or a few product features, but 39% use no recycled materials whatsoever. While communication and promotion of circularity efforts are the easiest and fastest measures to implement, 44% of brands don’t do it at all, and 40% settle for giving the minimum amount of care instructions required by law.

The results are even worse for circular actions requiring higher commitment. Only 5% (mostly luxury brands) offer extensive repair services, 5% secondhand sales, and just 2% rent or lease services. 8% of brands offer extensive drop-off possibilities so that clothes can at least be used as raw materials or donated.

Luxury and premium brands have the highest scores due to their extensive care instructions and repair services that a demanding clientele expects based on the price premium. Fast fashion and underwear/lingerie have the lowest scores due to the nature of their business model. Secondhand or rental services are harder to introduce in those segments.

Circular fashion

“We started this report by saying that it takes a village—a global village—to save the environment and that the challenge of creating a sustainable, clean environment is so large no single industry can solve it by itself, and that is true,” the report concludes.

“But, as CFX 2022 shows, there is a lot more the fashion industry could be doing. Producing significantly fewer clothing articles and at the same time extending the lifetime of their clothing by enabling consumers to wear them longer is the most effective way to reduce the industry’s environmental impact.

“But before that can happen, fashion brands must acknowledge, understand, and own their environmental impact from one end of the value chain to the other, including manufacturing, distribution, and retail partners. Only then will they be in a position to prioritise initiatives with the biggest impact.

“Communication is also crucial. Fashion brands need to communicate how consumers can shop and dress in more sustainable ways. Above all, they need to stop pressuring consumers to buy the latest trends to always look “en vogue”.

“Designers need to account for circularity in their process. Clothes should be more durable and style more timeless making it easier for consumers to wear them longer. Manufacturing incorporating monofibers and other innovative materials that are easier to recycle would also make another huge difference. Brands also need to invest in repair services and, beyond that, get serious about second-hand and rental services.

“Regulators and lawmakers can help the industry transition to more sustainable practices by setting and enforcing global standards and guidelines—for example, on value chain traceability or minimum garment lifetime. Regulators can also help establish the required infrastructure such as take-back programs; support R&D investments in areas from new fibre development to recycling technology; encourage sustainable behaviour through tax incentives for sustainable fashion brands; and prohibit unsustainable practices such as the burning of unsold inventory.”

Read Just Style’s latest analysis: ‘Fast fashion’s greenwashed guise’