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Circularity: can fashion close the loop?

Hurr x selfridges (1)

Drapers explores the new circular models being embraced by the fashion industry, from repairing products to renting wardrobes.

Circularity is on the frontline of fashion’s battle against waste. Working towards a circular system – defined as one that eliminates wastes and encourages the reuse of resources – is vital if the industry is to clean up its act. Businesses and consumers alike are beginning to explore initiatives around reselling, recycling, renting and donating.

“We are seeing more and more retailers introducing concepts designed to drive a more circular approach, such as introducing in-store recycling schemes,” says Glen Tooke, consumer insight director at consumer insights specialist Kantar.

Thrift x farfetch

Thrift+ x Farfetch

Farfetch piloted its own luxury handbag resale platform in May last year and Selfridges opened resale concessions with social shopping sites Depop last August and Vestiaire Collective in the October. In February, Zalando announced the launch of a new “pre-owned” section, due to launch this autumn, which will sell pre-owned items ”with the look, feel and convenience of Zalando”.

Launched in October 2017, Thrift+ works to a circular “donation with reward” model, that taps into the trend for reselling while donating money to charity.

Shoppers send in old clothes which Thrift+ resells on its website. The proceeds are then split: Thrift+ takes a third, a third is sent to the customers chosen charity, and a third is returned to the customer as Thrift+ credit or John Lewis vouchers.

The business partnered with online luxury giant Farfetch in October 2019, promoting the Thrift+ service via Farfetch’s website and allowing the etailer’s customers to donate unwanted items via Thrift+ for Farfetch credit.

“Thrift+ makes it easier to donate your best second hand clothes to your favourite charity while earning credit to spend online,” says founder Joe Metcalfe.

A further benefit of Thrift+ allows retailers to resell returned or unwanted stock, keeping clothes within the circular economy while generating money for charities.

Circular returns

Another business addressing circularity is ZigZag Global, which is a returns management solution provider that has added a “Take Back” functionality to its returns portal.

This means that shoppers can opt to return old and out of use clothes back to the participating retailers, with retailers choosing to accept only their own old stock or stock from any brand.

“Consumers can choose to send back products that have come to the end of their useful life so that they can be donated or recycled. This can be done either online through our platform or in store, thus promoting a more circular economy,” says Patrick Eve, managing director of ZigZag. “With so many options available to retailers to recycle, re-use, resale or donate clothing, it’s both financially and environmentally irresponsible to still be sending old stock to landfills.”

Hurr x selfridges (2)

Hurr x Selfridges

Rental is also taking off here in the UK, following successes such as Rent the Runway in the US. In February of this year Selfridges added a rental space in collaboration with peer-to-peer rental service Hurr, while Liberty has also embraced the power of rental, hosting a pop-up with My Wardrobe HQ the same month, in which customers could rent items chosen by the store’s buyers.

As circularity becomes deeper ingrained in consumer thinking, retailers and sustainability-focused entrepreneurs are experimenting with new concepts. Below, Drapers explores further how businesses are introducing these, as well as the challenges and opportunities they can bring.

Turning deadstock into an asset

Businesses are waking up to deadstock as an underutilised resource, particularly in the face of consumer disgust about product destruction. For example, British luxury brand Burberry faced heavy criticism for destroying £28.6m worth of unsold clothes, accessories and perfume in 2018.

Unwanted stock can actually be reworked into a valuable resource. Last year, luxury retailer Browns partnered with emerging Dutch designer Duran Lantink, a finalist for the LVMH Prize for young designers in 2019, on a collection that repurposed deadstock products into new items.

Another brand breathing new life into deadstock is lingerie label Lara Intimates, which uses reclaimed fabrics to make its size-inclusive bras and briefs. All products are made at Lara Intimate’s factory in London.

“We work with supplier [Contour Specialist Fabrics] which finds deadstock from around the world,” co-founder Cindy Liberman tells Drapers. “Deadstock can be an amazing place to start as a new brand, because there are no minimum order quantities and it is often less expensive than buying new fabrics. It works very well for us because we have a small product range of three types of bras and four briefs. We can also create very limited editions that sell out very quickly.”

Communication is key in any relationship between brands and their suppliers, but Liberman – who launched Lara Intimates in 2017, just three months after graduating from the London College of Fashion ­– stresses it is even more important when using deadstock.

“The relationship with your deadstock supplier needs to be extremely strong and there needs to be constant communication,” she explains. “There’s not an enormous pile of the same resources so we have to keep production on a tight leash and not say we can make something when we can’t.”

However, she admits that using deadstock will become more of a challenge as the brand scales up.

“I imagine that at some point in the future deadstock will make up a smaller proportion of what we do because of the limitations when it comes to quantities. At that point, we’d look at working with sustainable mills in the UK and Europe. I love the idea of continuing to use deadstock, but it depends on how quickly we grow and what our next moves are.”

Rise of the rental platforms

The growth of the sharing economy has meant that many start-ups have grown to become household names ­– such as Airbnb, Uber and TaskRabbit – and this coincides with younger consumers being less minded about the ownership of products.

Combined with the rise in sustainability concerns, this has presented opportunities for rental fashion platforms. Renting is a more circular model as it provides consumers with the benefits of wardrobe refreshing without the environmental negatives of fast-fashion becoming throw-away fashion.



US rental giant Rent the Runway launched in 2009 and was valued at £1bn (£778m) in March 2019. Now, a wave of new players are looking for a slice of the market in the UK. Key names on this side of the Atlantic include Girl Meets Dress, Hurr, My Wardrobe HQ, and handbag rental service Cocoon.

Eshita Kabra-Davies is the founder of peer-to-peer rental app By Rotation, which launched in October 2019 and has amassed nearly 3,000 users.

“We want to be the Airbnb of mid to luxury fashion,” she tells Drapers. “A whole community of pragmatic fashion shoppers are reconsidering their carbon footprints and looking to become more sustainable. The idea came when I was planning my honeymoon and thinking about all the clothes people buy just to wear once or twice – I started thinking about where those clothes end up.”

Wardrobe sharing a challenging concept

Potential challenges facing the rental market include making consumers feel comfortable about opening up their wardrobes to strangers in the peer-to-peer model, and implications of condition in terms of reusing products.

“There can be some questions around hygiene and whether items will be protected and returned in the same state they were rented in,” Kabra-Davis explains. “To start with, we encourage nervous users to rent items that they aren’t as attached to any more.”

Resources from recycling

Data from sustainability organisation Ellen MacArthur Foundation suggests that, worldwide, one truck full of textiles is burned or goes into landfill every second. Recycling is one of the key fixes for fashion if it is going to win the war against waste.

Some businesses, such as Primark, H&M, Ganni and The North Face, have launched take-back schemes in their stores that recycle used clothing on behalf of customers. Ganni and H&M, for example, have both partnered with solutions provider I Co, which sorts and recycles clothing on behalf of retailers, either closed-loop recycling to be made into new clothing and accessories, or open-loop be used in the automotive or construction industries as insulation.

Other brands and retailers are working recycled fabrics into their collections. Outdoor specialist Craghoppers has pledged that 70% of its autumn 20 collection will be made from recycled materials, up from 12% used in the autumn 19 range. This includes the brand’s Pember jacket, of which the lining, padding and labels will be made from 100% recycled fabrics.

Commitment to the cause

Joanne Black, director of Craghoppers, tells Drapers that achieving this recycled materials milestone has taken persistence and a long-term commitment to sustainability.

“We’re a third-generation family business. My father [Craghoppers founder Lionel Black] spoke a lot about doing the right thing and sticking to our values, not just chasing profits,” she says. “Introducing more and more recycled materials has been a process we’ve been focusing on for the past eight years. Our products come with a lifetime guarantee, so we have to test recycled fabrics very rigorously to make sure they are up to scratch. It has taken a lot of work in the background to get to the 70% mark and we’ve rejected a huge amount of materials along the way. When using recycled materials, the major problems are achieving a consistent colour and making sure the fabric is strong enough.”

Her advice to other retailers or brands looking to work with recycled materials is to really understand “the nitty gritty – where are these materials coming from, how sustainable are they, what certifications do they have? We’ve been pushing our suppliers to work with their material supplier to understand and improve.”

House of minimus (1)

House of Minimus


Join the world’s leaders in sustainability at Drapers Sustainable Fashion 2020 in London on 11 March 2020.

The event is for fashion brands and retailers, clothes manufacturers, supply chain experts, innovators and anybody for whom sustainability matters.

We are creating a programme of hard-hitting talks, projects showcasing sustainability in action, and start-up innovation that is pushing the boundaries of the possible.

The trend to mend

A simple approach to a circular model is the offer of a repair service. Barbour, for example, offers mends, reproofing and alternations on its wax jackets. Swedish denim brand Nudie Jeans promises free repairs at shops all over the world, a service that seems to have struck a chord with its customers. In 2018 it repaired more than 55,000 pairs of jeans, up 12% on the previous year.

New brands are also building repairs into their model. House of Minimus, which makes boilersuits for adults and children, was launched earlier last year by Rhi Lennon-Smith. Damaged boilersuits can be sent back to be repaired for free and Lennon-Smith also hopes to sell second-hand items in the future.

“I wore boilersuits all the time as a child and when they got ripped or damaged, they would be mended by my parents and passed down to my younger siblings when I outgrew them,” she tells Drapers. “People have said to me, ‘Wow, isn’t it risky offering a repairs service, won’t it cost the brand a lot?’ There is a price for us as brand, but I believe people want to buy into good quality and are happy to invest in a service.”


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