Textiles in a Circular Economy

What are textiles? A textile is a flexible material consisting of a network of natural or artificial fibers (yarn or thread). The words “fabric” and “cloth” and “material” are often used to describe textiles and are made of interlacing fibres, including those used in carpeting and for geotextiles.


Geotextiles are permeable fabrics which, when used in association with soil, have the ability to separate, filter, reinforce, protect, or drain. Typically made from polypropylene or polyester, geotextile fabrics come in three basic forms: woven, needle punched, or heat bonded.

A fabric is a material made through weaving, knitting, spreading, crocheting, or bonding that may be used in the production of further goods (garments, etc.). Cloth and fabric both have the same meaning and is often a piece of fabric that has been processed.

The demand for textiles will rise significantly, as the global population reaches 8.1 billion by 2025. By the mid-century, this figure will be 9.5 billion, and close to 11 billion by 2100. Asia will shfit from being the world’s largest textile manufacturer and supplier to becoming world’s biggest consumer of textiles. 

The textile industry comprises of mainly three sectors: household, technical and fashion, with the garment industry making up to 65% of the overall total. The apparel market alone will grow to US$ 2.1 trillion by 2025. Textile manufacturing is mainly carried out in China, USA, India, Bangladesh and the European Union.

Heavily dependent on natural raw materials, including water, energy and synthetic materials sourced from petroleum, the textile industry will need to evolve to meet this growing demand.

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Circular Fashion – 12 Principles for Industry

As part of the Circular Fashion Framework, Dr. Brismar has identified sixteen key principles, 12 for industry and four for consumers, to support a more circular and sustainable fashion and textile industry. These principles are equally applicable to everyday apparel, sportswear, outdoor, and interior design. 


Design is where the circular economy begins. Design determines what circular principles will be deployed and what degree of circularity will be achieved. To bring to life the 16 Key Principles for Circular Fashion (equally applicable for all textiles), design is the point of conception.  

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Supply Chain Sourcing

The fashion industry can improve their understanding of the art of assessing the environmental impact of fibres and textiles, gain a more nuanced view of fibres and their environmental performances. Thereby improving the design, selection and sourcing, contributing to greater knowledge by increasing transparency and knowledge-sharing, and expanding communication around the environmental advantages and disadvantages of fibres while being more vigilant for attempts of greenwashing.

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Service & Collaboration

A rising number of companies are working in collaboration with start-ups or peers. Acabada ProActiveWear and Devan Chemicals are partnering to create products from hemp, which requires less water and fewer chemicals than cotton. Chanel, in 2018, launched a new strategy to research and develop materials and leather generated by agri-food industries. The company also invested in start-up Evolved By Nature, which is working on creating sustainable silk.

Google, in September 2019, released its Cit-e backpack in collaboration with Saint Laurent. The pack’s left strap contains a computer that connects with an app on the owner’s phone. Users can use simple hand motions to get news, weather or even a selfie.

“Investors are really focused on plans for climate change,” said Natalie Grillon, project director, Open Apparel Registry. Grillon said she had observed rising interest in data-sharing methods. “That’s interesting because the more we can share open data, you realize efficiencies there in collaboration, which is a cost-saving. That is something that hasn’t been tapped but is increasingly important.”

For some brands, ‘durability’ and ‘quality’ are interchangeable. As well as reducing the environmental footprint of clothing, durability helps to drive quality, which:

• safeguards against garment failure;

• strengthens brand reputation; and

• cements customer satisfaction and loyalty.

For a consumer, the durability of a product is measured by how long the product provides a useful service to them.

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Consumer Actions

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Circular Fashion – 4 Principles for Consumers

The four circular economy principles for consumers focuses on shifting consumer’s perceptions towards accepting recyclable or biodegradable textiles, alternative ways to consume garments and by expanding the value proposition of the circular economy through different touchpoints. For example, collecting and repairing its old jeans is a key focus of Nudie Jeans’ circular efforts, with the brand taking on an educative role to communicate the value of used textiles to its customers. In-store signs clearly communicate that the brand repairs its jeans for free and that customers receive a 20% discount on a new pair of jeans when they to drop off an old one.

“To run a successful garment collection scheme, a shift in consumer mindset is a necessity. We as brands, along with governments, have the important task to support shifting consumption patterns and educate consumers about the value of clothing,” says Joy Roeterdink, Corporate Social Responsibility Manager at Suitsupply.

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