The imperatives of circular fashion

RMG Times
বৃহস্পতিবার, এপ্রিল ১৩, ২০২৩
  • শেয়ার করুন

The Bangladesh garment industry contributes a significant portion to the country’s GDP so benefits gained from implementing circularity can ultimately contribute to the country’s economic growth and development.

The concepts of both circular economy and circular fashion focus on sustainability and reducing waste, with the main difference being their scope and application.

A circular economy is an economic system that is applicable to all industries, not just fashion. It aims to create a system where materials are reused, repurposed, and recycled. It enhances the longevity and use of products by keeping materials in use and helps regenerate natural systems and reduces waste.

While the traditional fashion industry operates in a linear model, which entails the production of new clothes, their use by the consumers, and finally, their disposal as waste. This is not only unsustainable, but it also causes a reduction of natural resources, the emission of greenhouse gases, and generates huge amounts of waste.

Circular fashion builds on the principle of the circular economy, with a focus on the fashion industry. It is specifically concerned with making the fashion industry more sustainable. It aims to create a closed-loop system in which clothing items are designed, produced, used, and disposed of in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way.

Do we need circularity in the fashion industry of Bangladesh?

The Bangladesh garment industry contributes a significant portion to the country’s GDP so benefits gained from implementing circularity can ultimately contribute to the country’s economic growth and development.

Bangladesh is vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including rising sea levels, more frequent natural disasters, and decreased agricultural productivity. The textile and garment industry also contributes to the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution. Circular fashion practices can help reduce waste and mitigate the industry’s environmental impact ultimately balancing environmental sustainability.

Circular fashion encourages the design of products that are repairable, reusable, recyclable and biodegradable. These types of products ultimately help reduce the cost of sourcing raw materials and by reusing water, it also reduces the cost of water treatment, which helps bring down the costs to the whole supply chain.

The Bangladesh garment industry is one of the main sources of employment and economic growth for the country. Circular fashion practices can create new job opportunities which can significantly affect the poverty rate of the country and increase the value of textile waste, thereby contributing to the economic development of the country.

Consumers are now increasingly demanding sustainable, transparent and ethical practices in the fashion industry. Companies that prioritise circular fashion values can attract more customers and gain a competitive edge as it reduces child labour, forced labour, and unsafe working conditions.

In recent times, the industry has become a role model for other countries by implementing these practices which have eventually resulted in a positive branding of the industry.

Challenges in implementing circular fashion practice in Bangladesh and how they can be overcome

One of the main challenges in achieving circularity in the Bangladesh garment industry is the lack of infrastructure for recycling and proper waste management. Right now, the country has to export the waste to recycle in other countries, for example around 200 million worth of pre-consumer waste has been exported from Bangladesh.

Of this, over 60% is exported to India for recycling, which we then buy back as yarn to make fabric. If we recycled in our own country, it would reduce the costs of this process and make the whole supply chain smoother.

Around 4,00,000 tons of micro-fibres and scraps that are disposed of as waste every year can be recycled to produce approximately 1 billion garments products, which has the potential to generate a revenue of about 3 billion USD yearly.

Due to the limited facilities for recycling textile waste, much of it ends up in landfills or is incinerated thus contributing to environmental pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The adoption of circular fashion would require significant investment in new technology and infrastructure, which could be costly for many companies in Bangladesh.

We need support from the global circularity techno giants like Infinited Fiber, Renewcell, Spinnova etc. to get guidance on the nuances of circular business. Foreign direct investment/JV with local companies will be a game changer in fast-tracking the circular business model in Bangladesh.

We also require a conducive policy framework from the government of Bangladesh and financial support and incentives to get the maximum benefit from the implementation of circularity in the Bangladesh garment industry. So the government, stakeholders and policymakers must focus on custom-made financing support due to the need for heavy investment in technology.

The circular fashion model involves recycling and upcycling materials to create new products, which requires access to a steady supply of high-quality materials. So far, we have been producing mostly low to middle-end products so the materials we can recycle and upcycle are not so high-end on average. This could make it challenging to implement circular fashion practices in our country. As the country is focusing more on value-added products, this challenge will be overcome over the course of time.

The concept is relatively new in the industry and as a result in Bangladesh as well. There is a lack of awareness and education on circularity among workers, factory owners, consumers and the whole system. These gaps need to be addressed properly or else it will be difficult to undertake this concept.

Customer demand and taste in fashion have changed remarkably in recent times. Customers like to match trends and use new products with lower prices which makes the products’ life shorter. This is known as a fast fashion model, and it currently dominates the industry and encourages consumers to buy and dispose of clothes quickly at the end. This is leading to a high volume of textile waste that is difficult to manage and recycle.

What are the initiatives in Bangladesh so far?

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has launched a “Circular Fashion Partnership” project to support circular fashion practices in the country. The project aims to create a platform for stakeholders to share knowledge and practices and to promote the circular business model.

Another initiative is the “Switch to Circular Economy” project, which is supported by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the Government of Bangladesh. The project aims to promote sustainable practices in the garment sector, including circular fashion, by providing technical assistance and capacity building to garment factories.

Several private sector companies are also promoting circular fashion practices in Bangladesh. For example, the denim manufacturer, Envoy Textiles, has launched a “Closed Loop Denim” project to recycle post-consumer denim waste and create new denim products. Similarly, Grameen Knitwear has launched a “Circular Apparel Innovation Factory” to develop circular business models for the garment industry. In partnership with BEXIMCO, the US-owned recycling company RECOVER has invested in scale, Hameem Group has also initiated recycling, CYCLO has also been running their recycling fabric business successfully.

Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE) has been working in this arena to promote circularity in Bangladesh and they have announced the first-ever Bangladesh Circular Economy Summit and Bangladesh Circular Apparel & Textiles Forum on 15 June 2023. These game-changing events will bring together businesses, policymakers, and the development community to explore the realities of transitioning to a circular economy in Bangladesh.

Implementing circularity in the fashion industry of Bangladesh has some challenges but by addressing these properly, we can reap the enormous benefits it offers. Every profit-oriented business entity is there to primarily make profits by serving the customers in an ethical way. There must also be a minimum commitment towards sustainability to achieve economic goals.