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Circular economy fashion strategies

Han, Sara Li-Chou (2017) Circular economy fashion strategies. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Restricted to Repository staff only until 5 April 2020.
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

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Abstract

Current design thinking focuses on incremental improvements to a linear system in which products are designed, produced and eventually disposed of. This continued consumption has resulted in over 1 million tonnes of discarded clothing and textiles entering into landfill each year in the UK. The effect of this high volume of waste is not only the loss of embodied energy and value, as re-useable items are disposed of, but continued environmental degradation through greenhouse gas emissions, toxic pollution and rapidly declining landfill space. Whilst consumers are increasingly aware of the consequences of continued consumption, there are limited options to act more responsibly. As much as 70% of textile waste is sent to landfill or incineration from municipal waste collections. In order to investigate these problems it was necessary to consider points at each stage in the cycle using an exploratory sequential mixed methods approach combining case studies, semi-structured interviews and a consumer survey. The practices of those collecting, sorting and grading post-consumer textiles, and those working within circular economy fashion to maximise the reuse and revaluation of such materials through their design practice, were analysed through semi-structured interviews, structured observation and process mapping. An online survey questionnaire evaluated how current consumer attitudes and behaviours would impact upon a circular economy fashion system, assessing how demographic categories define the way individuals view their own practice as consumers, users and eventual disposers. Results show the post-consumer textile collection industry to be in a state of flux. Organisations seeking to reuse and recycle post-consumer clothing and textiles face challenges in promoting the responsible disposal of these items in order to secure supply. Falling sale prices and uncertain collection volumes mean collectors are constantly struggling to extract as much value as possible through sorting and grading activities. Of the volumes collected for reuse and recycling, profit margins are low, resulting in drop in value of around 93% from new to used. Brands and designers working to create change by offering more conscientious product choices are struggling to connect with mainstream fashion consumers, hindered by a lack of industry acceptance and media coverage. Barriers to scaling up circular economy fashion strategies include a lack of market knowledge relating to consumers and the most effective promotional and retail strategies. Consumer insights show the youngest demographic group to be the most characteristic fashion leaders, but they also show the least regard for conscientious consumption. Regarding disposal, over one quarter of respondents across all demographic categories reported throwing old clothes in the bin, with convenience a major factor in such decisions. Indications from consumers show that those working within the industry, such as the brands, designers, producers and employers are viewed as having the greatest responsibility for making conscientious ethical and environmental choices. These findings present significant evidence to guide the development of an effective fashion communication strategy for a circular economy. The outcome is the proposal of a conceptual framework for transitioning towards a circular economy fashion system. This framework provides a guiding strategy for the successful integration of circular economy fashion practices into the mainstream.

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