How your business can go circular: lessons from fashion & beauty

Here’s the bottom line: we need large-scale, urgent action to tackle the climate crisis. What this means for us at Remagine is fundamentally changing the way businesses, well, do business. In this piece, we’re highlighting sustainable business model innovation based on circular economy principles by sharing insights from circularity in fashion and beauty.

Wrinkles in the fashion industry

The fashion industry alone is responsible for an estimated 2.1 billion metric tonnes of GHG emissions in 2018, about 4 percent of the global total, which is about the same quantity of GHGs per year as the entire economies of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom combined. 

 This all leads to just a third of all imported clothing in the EU being sold at full retail price, a third sold at a discounted price, and a third not being sold at all. Interestingly, to achieve its 1.5-degree pathway outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to mitigate climate change, the fashion industry has been recommended to adopt approaches that largely apply to circular economy principles urging companies to:

Stop the water while using me!

is a notable example from the cosmetics industry. The company prevents the pollution of the environment and water cycle by offering 100 percent natural and biodegradable products, provides refill solutions for their liquid products, and decarbonises its processes through carbon offsetting commitments.

On the runway to circularity

Why circularity? It is no secret that our planet can no longer sustain linear models of consumption that have depleted resources, exploited labour, and have generated substantial waste over the decades. It’s time for businesses to abandon traditional ‘take-make-waste’ (i.e., linear; cradle-to-grave) models and find new ways to improve their supply chains and resource performance. Accordingly, businesses today are embracing a circular economy, which involves including regenerative and restorative intention and design. And here’s the kicker: circular design and processes could very well mean savings on costs associated with your production, while also fostering the potential for trailblazing innovation. So, a circular economy approach can be a win-win-win for your profit, the planet, and the people who inhabit it.

As described by The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s must-read report, the principles of circular economy are to:

COSSAC

is committed to sustainability across the supply chain, from using ethical materials that use less water and toxic chemicals, manufacturing with local partners (reducing the time, cost, and footprint of deliveries), promoting transeasonal design to extend product life, digitalising purchases, and minimising packaging and labels.

The ugly side of beauty

The environmental costs of the cosmetics industry are seen throughout the supply chain, resulting in resource depletion, climate change, biodiversity loss, and degradation of ecosystems. Packaging for such products has also left a mark on the planet as companies are in competition to stand out on the shelves.

In fact, 120 billion units of cosmetics packaging produced annually for mostly one-time use. When it comes to the ingredients inside, it’s been found that over 50 percent of sampled cosmetic products consumed in the US and Canada contain harmful chemicals that have been linked to adverse human health effects and can be toxic at even low doses. Using natural ingredients that are better for human health and the planet could be the way of the future for the cosmetic industry, while getting consumers to simply use refillable containers would reduce about 70 percent of carbon emissions attributable to the industry.

Now, let’s take a look at how circular economies are being adopted by companies in these high-impact industries. What makes the fashion and beauty industries good candidates for sustainable innovation lies in their unfortunate contribution to the climate crisis (see above) and the promise of emerging opportunities to create better products and operating models. From these insights, we hope to learn how companies, including yours, can do better for the planet, customers, and business.

There are a number of design approaches

that help improve product and operational outcomes using circular economy principles. These sources of value creation are depicted below, as described by the report:

Power of the inner circle:

Optimising products such that fewer changes are needed for its reuse, refurbishment, and remanufacturing. This leads to a faster return to use and savings on material, labour, energy, and other associated costs as a result.

Power of circling longer:

Maximising the number of consecutive cycles and/or the time in each cycle of a product or components for reuse, remanufacturing. or recycling.

Power of cascaded use:

Diversifying reuse across the value chain. For example, cotton clothing reused as second-hand apparel, then used in the furniture industry and finally as insulation for construction before returning to the biosphere.

Power of pure circles:

Uncontaminated material streams increase collection and redistribution efficiency while maintaining quality. This extends product longevity and increases material productivity.

In essence, circular economy principles require going beyond an eco-efficiency mindset, which focuses on minimising and delaying cradle-to-grave material flows, to one of eco-effectiveness. Eco-effectiveness is concerned with transforming products and material flows to create cycles where materials can be used over and over again at a high level of quality.

We hope learning about circular economy approaches, its benefits for your business, and some circular examples in action have left you feeling inspired! If you’re looking for more inspiration, check out more examples of circularity in fashion and beauty companies.

ARMEDANGELS

is a German company that takes circularity seriously, from integrating textile waste and sustainable fibers into their garments to providing repair guides to their consumers for longer product life which increases the garment’s power of circling longer.