Can we achieve a circular economy in the fashion industry? One new report says yes. Moving away from a linear take-make-waste model is critical. Clothes can be made with limited impact; be recycled and refurbished; and be long-lasting and ultimately, be kept in use for extended periods of time. Quite simply, clothing can be worn again and again, and again. Now that is what we have been aspiring too for some time now.

While many designers are creating products with the environment in mind these days, there are still challenges that exist. In my book, Sustainable in a Circular World, I note that of the 213 targets set following the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in 2017, it seems under 30% have been hit. Again, it’s no wonder aspirations are high, but targets are higher. Part of the challenge is that companies are struggling to increase the amount of recycled material used for clothing. The good news, however, others are beginning to figure out how to get it done.

Case in point: The Jean Redesign project, which brings together 72 organizations from across the global fashion value chain. Making jeans requires large amounts of resources, such as pesticides, water, and energy, and the way they’re designed and constructed makes jeans difficult to remake and recycle after use. The Jeans Redesign guidelines encourage leading brands, mills, and manufacturers to transform the way jeans are made. Based on the principles of a circular economy, they’re a blueprint for collective action to scale circular practices, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

The guidelines were updated in 2021 and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation recently released a report that reveals the barriers, solutions, and innovation gaps faced between March 2019 and June 2021.

Here is what the report found. Some 80% of participants in The Jeans Redesign have made fabric or jeans that comply with the guidelines and common definitions. A third of these brands reported that they now have a jeans portfolio that is 95-100% aligned with The Jeans Redesign guidelines.

All in all, this results in brands putting half a million pairs of jeans on the market that are durable, recyclable, and traceable—yup, traceable. The use of technology to track and trace garments enables collected clothes to be reused and recycled. While this is still in limited use—11% of brands and garment manufacturers have opted to use technology—it does offer some promise for the future.

We see that it is possible to make jeans for a circular economy today—and that if we want to continue in this direction, businesses must take bold and decisive action. Another key component is collaboration both across the value chain and within organizations, which we are beginning to see happen.

This is a step in the right direction, but it will be interesting to see how this will continue to evolve over time, all while delivering successful results. Time will tell what comes of this project and what comes next for circularity in the fashion industry, and what our jeans will tell us about in the coming months.

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