We’re all guilty of feeling the dopamine rush that comes from a fast fashion purchase that we know will only be worn once before it either disintegrates or goes out of style. However, the way consumers shop is changing, with more than half of us indicating we’d stop shopping from brands who can’t demonstrate their sustainability clout.

Circular fashion is no longer just a buzzword, with some of the biggest designers and retailers in the business taking a more long term view of the products they create. In this article, we’ll look at what circular fashion actually is, and why PRs need to be leading the charge in communicating the benefits to consumers. 

What is circular fashion?

According to the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment , Australians purchase 27kg of new textiles each year and then discard around 23kg of it into landfill – annually. Globally, 87% of all disposed textiles are sent to landfill or incinerated. (source). In addition, the fashion industry’s use of toxic chemicals is well known, as is it’s links to contributing to modern slavery

A circular fashion economy would encourage brands to not only be concerned with their supply chain on the front end, but how fashion items are disposed of, repurposed or reused. It’s a “fundamental rethink of how fashion can exist within a capitalist society”, according to Marie Claire.

Why are brands going circular?

Apart from the obvious ecological benefits, why should your brand care about the lifetime of your products? According to Vogue Business, “the potential value of fashion’s circular economy could be as much as $5 trillion” (source). A pretty good reason, non?

It’s not only startups with a sustainability focus that are thinking circular. Big retail brands are jumping on board trend. The Iconic and David Jones have both recently announced partnerships with AirRobe and GlamCorner in an attempt to reduce the impact of their fast fashion sales, while also appealing to a millennial audience. AirRobe x The Iconic’s integration allows users to add their pre-loved pieces directly to an AirRobe account, reducing the friction for those wanting to onsell their second hand pieces. GlamCorner’s David Jones pop up allows users to book event outfits from the Elizabeth St store, or book in with a styling session as part of the experience. Australian designer KITX has launched the Future From Waste LAB, where designers can create collections from recycled materials and then sell them directly to consumers – all activities designed to raise awareness of the waste that occurs in the fashion industry. 

But do consumers actually care? According to research, shoppers are now demanding more environmental accountability from the brands they shop with. According to a study done by the BBC:

  • 77% of consumers say that they want brands to demonstrate their actual sustainability record alongside their commitments
  • 73% are happy to pay more for brands with strong sustainability and eco-friendly practices
  • 58% say they would stop buying a product they were previously loyal to if they discovered it was not committed to sustainability

While survey responses don’t equal action, these statistics indicate that a focus on sustainability is becoming non negotiable for brands and consumers alike.

Why do PR’s need to know about circular fashion?

You’ll be asked questions about your credentials. 

And you’ll need to know the answers. Whether your brand is claiming to be sustainable or not, there’s a crisis comms case study waiting to happen if you’re not across your brand’s supply chain.

It’s a key media and consumer trend

We’ve already seen big media agencies like Ogilvy announce their commitment to stop working with influencers who retouch their photos, and the day may not be far off when media outlets raise their expectations of the fashion brands they cover. At RetailFest 2022 in April, Afterpay released statistics showing that 1 in 5 young Australians stopped shopping from a brand that did not meet consumer sustainability standards in 2021, and that 56% report sustainability is a key consideration in their purchase decision process. 

Sustainability has a ‘halo effect’. 

According to Google Trends, communicating your sustainability messaging isn’t just about whether you recycle your fabrics or not. “The true commercial value of sustainability lies in its impact on shoppers’ broader decision making. Communicating genuine sustainable attributes has a halo effect, influencing customer perceptions — especially around quality and value — at key decision-making moments” (source). Essentially, if you’re able to clearly communicate your commitment to sustainability, consumers also see you as having higher quality products and offer better value.

How you can tell your sustainability story

  • Start where you are. Brands that attempt to greenwash are quickly called out by consumers, and once that trust is broken, it’s hard to get it back. Cancel culture is real in the sustainability space. 
  • Showcase your progress. According to Valentina Zarew, sustainability storytelling expert, you need to prioritise the fundamentals before “moving towards the ‘shinier’ layers or tokenistic gestures. You will always be on that journey, so start with your website, share your mission, strategy, policies, goals, results, and challenges”.
  • Celebrate your wins, while acknowledging you’re continually learning.

Want to learn more about communicating your sustainability story? Watch our interview with Audrey Jaggs of Spell or read our interview with Valentina Zarew of Newromantic.

Image via @nowness taken by @yangjihoon_