Feb 15 2023 - Seattle, WA, United States

How the apparel industry is embracing circularity

Green is the New Black feature image.

Remnant material repurposed for Cotopaxi’s Del Dia Collection reduces the environmental impact of sourcing new fabric.

Carbon Neutrality Circular Economy Retail Sustainability Secondhand Supply Chains Upcycling


Paula Peña photo.

Paula Peña

Social Media Manager

Preworn. Preloved. Reimagined. Call it what you want, this new apparel market is booming—and making a strong case for the fashion industry to adopt circular business practices.

That’s a wrap: Another New York Fashion Week concludes today. Over the past seven days, tens of thousands of visitors braved the harsh February temps of the Big Apple and descended upon midtown Manhattan to witness the latest in daring designs and, if they got lucky, maybe even catch a glimpse of Anna Wintour’s signature bob. While these high-end fashion events produce no shortage of headlines—cue musician, Doja Cat, looking like a glamorous sci-fi character at last month’s Paris Fashion Week—we’re most interested in the noteworthy creativity and innovation happening off the runway.

Fashion brands and, more specifically, Climate Pledge signatories in the apparel sector, are finding meaningful ways to reduce the industry’s impact on the environment. A major component of this transition to “responsible fashion” is the adoption of circular business practices like reselling previously worn clothing or repurposing used or remnant materials. Resale allows planet-conscious shoppers to participate in evolving fashion trends and drive emissions reductions without compromising their style—and with a $119B global secondhand apparel market expected to more than double in the next three years, it’s safe to say fashion circularity isn’t just a fad. According to ThredUp’s 2022 Resale Report: “Secondhand is becoming a global phenomenon, expected to grow 127% by 2026. The global secondhand apparel market will grow 3x faster than the global apparel market overall.” If you need further proof, here’s how some of our signatories are incorporating circularity into their business models:

Selfridges’ Reselfridges resale section at their Oxford Street London Store. Image courtesy of Selfridges.
Selfridges’ Reselfridges resale section at their Oxford Street London Store. Image courtesy of Selfridges.

Selfridges embraces resale market

Secondhand clothing—or what UK retailer, Selfridges, sweetly refers to as “pre-loved” clothing—is no longer exclusive to thrift shops and vintage boutiques. Selfridges recognized the value (for the customer, for the planet, and for their business) in extending the lifecycle of their products by launching their “Reselfridges” initiative, which puts circular models at the heart of its business including resale, rental, refill, repair, and recycle. As part of Project Earth, Selfridges’ sustainability strategy, they’ve recently set an ambitious target for 45% of transactions to come from circular products and services by 2030—and to only sell products that meet strict environmental and ethical standards. Selling better, lower impact products, and keeping them in circulation for longer are critical to supporting Selfridges’ net-zero carbon emissions target by 2040.

Deborah Dull, Founder of the Circular Supply Chain Network, and VP and Global Supply Chain Sustainability Lead for Genpact, says that more companies will need to take a similar approach. “Today, fashion—and most industries—measure success through inventory turns. But in a circular economy, turns is no longer the goal—instead, it’s utilization. The idea is that when items are used they add value to the economy.” And it seems to be working: By accelerating its circular business models, Selfridges increased sales of pre-loved items by 240%, facilitated over 28,000 repairs, rented more than 2,000 items, and sold more than 8,000 refills (i.e., refillable beauty and home fragrance products) in 2021. This exemplifies how retail brands can make profits without making new products. In a financial spin: Green is the new green.

Cotopaxi’s Del Dia bags from their (Re)Purpose® collection. Image courtesy of Cotopaxi.
Cotopaxi’s Del Dia bags from their (Re)Purpose® collection. Image courtesy of Cotopaxi.

Cotopaxi turns waste into wardrobe

Another important consideration when transitioning to circular business models are material inputs. Cotopaxi started by trying to design its products in ways that eliminated waste as opposed to contributing to textile landfilling. Using fabric scraps from other brands that a supplier was left to incinerate, Cotopaxi has been leaning into cradle-to-grave strategies that aim to reduce virgin inputs and keep products in circulation through repair and resale. According to Dull: “The whole premise of the circular economy is that materials circulate because they have more value to give, and we should maximize their value for as long as possible.” B-Corp adventure gear brand, Cotopaxi, is doing just that.

At present, 94% of Cotopaxi’s products are made using non-virgin materials. By 2025 their goal is to ensure all of their products are created using the three Rs: recycled, repurposed, and certified responsible materials. Currently, Cotopaxi’s (Re)Purpose® collection turns other companies’ fabric waste into vibrant one-of-a-kind pieces like these colorful patchwork-like Del Dia bags. (Author’s note: Our whole team is obsessed.) From Fair Trade Certified™ hats to cruelty-free Responsible Down, Cotopaxi’s mission is as thoughtful as their products are fashion forward.

The Ghost 15: Brooks Running’s second carbon neutral product. Image courtesy of Brooks Running.
The Ghost 15: Brooks Running’s second carbon neutral product. Image courtesy of Brooks Running.

Brooks Running doubles down on recycled materials

The shift toward a circular economy should go relatively unnoticed by most shoppers, aside from providing them with more planet-friendly options. Case in point: The Ghost 15, Brooks Running’s second carbon neutral product—and the brand's highest volume selling shoe—hit shelves last November. Similar to the Ghost 14, its successor, the Ghost 15 running shoe also includes textiles made from recycled materials—but a lot more of them. 92% of the total textiles in the Ghost 15 shoe upper are made from recycled materials (a 28% increase from the Ghost 14) and 24% of the total shoe weight is from recycled materials (a 9% increase from the Ghost 14).

Brooks remains on track (pun intended) to meet their commitment to source only materials with a minimum of 50% recycled or bio-based content by 2030. As of 2022, they’ve made big strides (again, wink) in the circularity space, reporting that 71% of total polyester used in their footwear is made from recycled yarns. And this year Brooks introduced their first rubber outsole containing recycled content. While we know the race to a circular economy is a marathon, not a sprint, Brooks is well on their way.


Despite challenges in hard-to-abate sectors like fashion and retail, the market will reward companies that prioritize circularity. Dull explains, “by incorporating circular business practices, companies are able to respond more quickly to disruptions and create higher margins. It sounds counterintuitive, but starting with a product that already exists means putting fewer resources into an item before it can rejoin a value chain.” In order to catalyze an industry-wide transition to circularity, more clothing brands will need to prove profitability, so Dull stresses that “many companies won’t transition behaviors until they are required to do so—having both ‘carrot and stick’ incentives will be critical to making a transition.”

We were thrilled to see circularity arrive on the runway last weekend by way of Collina Strada’s trippy animal-inspired collection made using deadstock materials and recycled yarn. And we hope all future fashion industry events will take a cue from Copenhagen, a Fashion Week host city that’s requiring brands to get on board. The organizers of Copenhagen Fashion Week, which concluded earlier this month, mandated that all participating designers comply with 18 minimum sustainability standards—one of which focuses on the use of sustainable, upcycled, or recycled materials—sending an important message to the rest of the fashion community: style and sustainability are not mutually exclusive.