It’s happened to all of us; We have all bought beautiful pieces of clothing that, for one reason or another, end up at the bottom of a storage drawer after a few wears. Some might even end up there with the tags still on. And in the age of KonMari, which exhorts us to declutter all things that no longer “spark joy”, these joyless items will usually be discarded at some point.
Fortunately, however, there have always been avenues for us to give our unwanted clothing a second life, be it through donating it to a recycling programme like The Green Square or a charity such as The Salvation Army, or by selling them off to someone else for whom they will spark joy. If you have ever scored a gorgeous vintage fashion find, you know what this feels like.
What you may not know is that all of these are all circular fashion practices.
While there is no one exact definition, the central idea of circular fashion is to extend the useful lifespan of a garment and keep it in circulation for longer—hence the term.
According to Fanny Moizant, the founder of France-based pre-loved luxury retailer Vestiaire Collective, extending the life cycle of a garment by just nine months reduces waste, water and carbon footprints by 20 to 30 per cent each, and cuts resource costs by 20 per cent.
Sounds worth it, no?
So Let It Go
According to a survey that Vestiaire Collective conducted this year, some 77 per cent of Singaporeans consider sustainability important, which is encouraging.
The question is; What are we doing to be more sustainable? If you don’t even know how or where to start, don’t worry, you’re in plenty of company. 33 per cent of Singaporeans say they don’t know how they can practice circular fashion.
For a start, we can donate our unwanted clothes, shoes, and accessories to charity—as 55 per cent of Singaporeans already do. That said, donating our old clothes is a worthy cause, but it also seems likely that this donation system would be more applicable to mass-market items.
After all, the likelihood of someone sending their out-of-season Dior dresses or too-small-to-wear Louboutin pumps to The Salvation Army isn’t particularly high. It feels like a waste to have them thrown in the same bin as the fast-fashion items, which are arguably of a lower quality and simply do not last as long.
(That said, a dress is a dress, and will be of good value to people in need regardless of its price tag, so if you want to donate your Dior, then do so by all means. Just don’t throw it away, whatever you do.)
So what happens when you want to discard a luxury item? Well, you could resell it, and give it a second life that way. “This is why I founded Vestiaire Collective,” says Moizant, “to provide individuals with the opportunity to extend the lifespan of their pre-loved items, minimising fashion waste.” That is probably partially why 32 per cent of Singaporeans re-sell their second-hand clothing. (Although we should note that donating and re-selling clothing are not mutually exclusive practices—we can all do both.)
On Vestiaire Collective, users can either list products themselves, or have a VIP concierge service do it for them. Once products are listed on the Vestiaire Collective ecosystem, they are thoroughly vetted for quality and authenticity, so that you can be sure you’re always getting the real thing.
By The Buy
Another thing you can do to participate in the circular fashion economy is to buy pre-loved items. According to Moizant, people in Singapore are no longer against the idea of purchasing pre-loved items, with 32 per cent reporting that they have or would do so.
On top of that, more and more people feel less of a need to own an item forever, and are more conscious of their purchases. This find is likely corroborated by the growing popularity of clothing rental programmes such as Rent the Runway in the US, or Style Theory and Covetella in Singapore.
This change in mindset is mostly driven by millennials, who are more concerned with sustainability than previous generations. They are also less concerned about material possessions and more interested in buying experiences.
In that same vein, Moizant has suggested that more and more consumers are shopping with higher quality and resale value in mind. “Customers are making increasingly wise decisions about investment pieces to buy, which in turn leads to sustainable consumption.” After all, you can’t resell something if it falls apart after a few wears.
What Else Can We Do?
In addition, to try and create a more sustainable fashion ecosystem overall, “consumers can participate and start becoming advocates to get others to become more aware of what one is buying, know exactly where products come from, and how they are made,” says Moizant.
“They can also embrace a more sustainable mindset when it comes to fashion—such as a ‘1 in 1 out’ concept—whereby one adopts the mindset that fashion is an investment and they can sell pieces from their wardrobe to fund their next purchase.”
If anything, a consumption pattern where people buy fewer, better quality items bodes well for the luxury business. However, Moizant purports that these effects are likely to be stronger for companies that participate genuinely in the sustainability movement. The key word here is genuine; “Consumers have a higher level of awareness,” she says, “and they can tell whether brands are rolling out sustainability initiatives as a marketing opportunity or a genuine vision.”
Lip service, in other words, is no longer enough. Brands are likely already aware of this, with some such as Chopard and Tiffany & Co. taking steps in the right direction. And clearly, companies such as Vestiaire Collective and its rival, American-based The RealReal, are benefiting—The RealReal’s recent IPO saw their debut share price shoot up by a whopping 40 per cent.
But hey, if it’s good for the Earth, the consumers, and (certain) businesses, then all the better, right?
Click here for an insider’s guide to circular fashion, and click here to find out more about how exactly you can participate in the circular fashion economy.