The growth of clothing sales and decline in clothing utilisation since 2000
The current textiles system has major drawbacks
Currently, steady production growth is intrinsically linked to a decline in utilisation per item, leading to an incredible amount of waste. It is estimated that more than half of fast fashion production is disposed of in under a year, and one garbage truck full of textiles is landfilled or burnt every second. This factor combined with a very low rate of recycling – less than 1% of material used – leads to an ever-expanding pressure on resources. This ‘take-make-dispose’ system is not only extremely wasteful, but also very polluting. The use of substances of concern in textile production has an important impact on farmers’ and factory workers’ health as well as on the surrounding environment. During use, it has been recently estimated that, half a million tonnes of plastic microfibres shed during washing ends up in the ocean and ultimately enters the food chain. In other words, we may end up eating our own clothes. If nothing is done, these severe weaknesses are expected to grow exponentially with dramatic environmental, societal, and economic consequences, ultimately putting industry profitability at risk.
Negative impacts of the textiles industry are set to drastically increase by 2050
A new textiles economy would lead to better outcomes
Beyond laudable ongoing efforts, a new system for the textiles economy is needed and this report proposes a vision aligned with circular economy principles. In such a model, clothes, fabric, and fibres re-enter the economy after use and never end up as waste. This vision relies on four ambitions that would lead to better economic, environmental, and social outcomes, capturing opportunities missed by the current linear textiles system.
- Phase out substances of concern and microfibre release, by aligning industry efforts and coordinate innovation to create safe material cycles.
- Transform the way clothes are designed, sold and used to break free from their increasingly disposable nature, by scaling up closing rental schemes; making durability more attractive; and increasing clothing utilisation through brand commitments and policy.
- Radically improve recycling by transforming clothing design, collection and reprocessing; pursuing innovation to improve the economics and quality of recycling; stimulating demand for recycling materials; and implementing clothing collection at scale.
- Make effective use of resources and move to renewable inputs.
Creating a new textiles economy
A new level of collaboration is required
Efforts are already being employed by brands, retailers, and other organisations to change the industry and although promising progress is being made, it is often too fragmented or only effective at small scale. That is why achieving a new textiles economy will demand unprecedented levels of alignment on the case for change, and collaboration. A system-level change approach is required, including rallying key industry players to set ambitious joint commitments, kick-start cross-value chain demonstrator projects, and orchestrate complementary initiatives.