Circularity in Fashion

Fashion's Waste Problem

Before we can even begin to explain how to make fashion circular, it is important to first understand fashion’s waste problem.

Here are some quick facts:

  • Clothing represents more than 60% of total used textiles and relies mostly on non-renewable resources, including oil to produce synthetic fibres, fertilizers to grow cotton, and chemicals to produce, dye, and finish textiles
  • Driven by cultures of overconsumption, the last 15 years have seen an increase in clothing production of nearly 200%, and consumption is 60% higher in the same timeframe.
  • More than half of fast fashion produced is disposed of in under a year
  • The global average number of times a garment is worn before it ceases to be used is 7 times.
  • Currently, most apparel & other textiles end up in landfill; less than 1% are recycled
  • The growth of this industry is only projected to accelerate and thus negative environmental impacts are likely to increase in scale and severity

Why Circular Textiles?

At its core, circular fashion and the circular fashion economy aim to reduce the amount of waste created by the industry, as well as encourage recycling and the use of regenerative and sustainable materials. A circular textiles system addresses this wasteful use of resources and adverse impacts by innovating textile design, adopting new technologies and renewable materials, increasing the reuse and recycling of old garments, and by eliminating waste and pollution.

While some countries have high collection rates for reuse and recycling, much of this collected material is exported to countries with little to no collection infrastructure of their own, which only marginally increases clothing utilization, and does not provide a long-term solution. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation “more than USD 500 billion of value is lost every year due to clothing underutilization and lack of recycling” with material disposal alone representing a value loss of more than USD 100 billion each year.

Circularity in any industry, but for fashion in particular, necessitates collaboration between stakeholders and requires significant investment and innovation. It will demand greater transparency and traceability, along with significant shifts in the way we treat, value, and understand clothing.

Collaboration is Key!

In order to change a system, we must engage the private sector, government and civil society so that we take a multi-stakeholder approach through a collective impact lens. This means engaging the entire value chain – those who make, sell, buy, wear, dispose, reuse and recycle clothing and textiles – including:

  • municipalities
  • charity collectors & private collectors
  • thrift retailers
  • brand owners and retailers
  • academics
  • NGOs
  • industry associations
  • innovators
  • policy makers
  • sorters / graders / exporters
  • recyclers
  • yarn and fabric mills
  • apparel manufacturers
  • other textile products manufacturers

It is using this systems change approach that we are excited to launch the Canadian Circular Textiles Consortium (CCTC) in spring 2023.

Through our work in this area over the past 7 years, we have seen an increased appetite for waste diversion, reuse and recycling – by all stakeholders in the value chain. We also understand the role that circularity plays in the pathway to achieving net zero carbon emissions. As a result several stakeholders are now engaged in a number of projects from research to feasibility studies to pilots. Which is so exciting!

While there are many projects taking place, and advancements are being made, much of the work is happening in silos. This makes it difficult to track, connect and partner on various projects. In an effort to reduce the duplication of resources and to foster collaboration, FTA will convene the CCTC, inviting stakeholders to partner with us on a vision and strategy that includes working groups and that ultimately will benefit all stakeholders who share a vision of a new and “circular” textiles economy for Canada. Please connect with us by email to learn more about the CCTC.

Our Work to Make Fashion Circular

Since 2016, FTA has taken a keen interest in making fashion circular.  And we know that the only way to accelerate action is through Collaboration, Transparency, Investment & Innovation.

Through our annual WEAR conference and webinar series, we have supported this topic multiple times, with speakers that include Circle Economy, Bank & Vogue, Re:newcell, H&M Foundation, HKRITA, Evrnu, Circ., Worn Again, Queen of Raw, Goodwill Industries, Value Village, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Outerknown, Wearable Collections, Fashion Positive, EON, thredUP, Debrand, The Renewal Workshop, MBDC, Circular Systems and many more.

From 2017-2019, we convened the Ontario Textile Diversion Collaborative (OTDC) that brought together multiple stakeholders (charities, municipalities, academics, retailers, NGOs) to address textile waste diversion and circular solutions. Through the OTDC we created three working groups to address policy and regulations, textile waste audits, and consumer awareness.

In 2021, we published Canada’s first Textile Recycling Feasibility report, with financial support from Environment & Climate Change Canada and in partnership with Seneca College, Ryerson University, George Brown College, Goodwill Industries and the CTTEI. In addition, FTA is a collaborative partner of Accelerating Circularity based in the U.S and a strategic partner of Circular Economy Leadership Canada where we hope to soon be leading a textiles work stream.

Our methodology involved analyzing data from our own post-consumer textile waste audits in 10 different municipalities, over the course of one year. From this research, we determined the volume of textiles that consumers are throwing away, as well as their condition, and in some cases the fibre composition and brand name. In addition, we surveyed the apparel industry – yarn, fibre and fabric mills, apparel manufacturers, brands and retailers – to determine the volume and composition of post-industrial and pre-consumer textile waste in Canada. In total, we estimate that nearly 500,000 tonnes of textile waste is ending up in Canada’s waste streams each year. This does not include textiles from the Industrial, Commercial & Institutional sector (ICI), which means this number is even higher.

Canada's Textile Recycling Pilot

We have been mechanically recycling textiles for years in Canada, which most often results in an end product that is not aesthetically pleasing, “hidden” behind walls or under carpets in the form of insulation or under-padding, or more commonly into wipers, rags and shoddy. While chemical recycling can offer a true circular solution for fashion – garment to garment recycling – it could be years before we see this technology widely adopted.In the meantime, we know that at least 500,000 tonnes of post-consumer textile waste ends up in Canada’s landfills each year, many of which are garments made from synthetic (or plastic) materials such as polyester, nylon and acrylic. And to address this, we needed a more immediate solution – mechanical recycling.

This “downcycled” end product is seen as having low value, and as a result there is no financial incentive to turn textile waste into these products. It is more profitable to instead export our unwanted textiles to the global south. Our pilot chose a different path, by starting with an end market, and working our way back in the hopes that we could prove that the recycling of unwanted textiles in Canada could actually result in a product of higher value. And that this may, in turn, create a local demand for textiles that are not fit for resale, as feedstock for recycling. And we are thrilled that our pilot has resulted in a stylish, consumer facing end product that has value, and that was entirely made in Canada! This laundry hamper is made from 40% post-consumer polyester textiles (our unwanted clothes) and 50% recycled PET (from plastic bottles). Note: 99% of recycled polyester on the market today is made from plastic bottles and not from polyester textiles!

The hamper will be available in Canadian Tire stores across Canada in winter 2023.

So how did we do this?

The first step was to create a local recycling supply chain which consisted of:

  • SportChek (retail partner who ran in-store collection)
  • Goodwill (charity collection partner that sorted and cleaned the garments)
  • Jasztex (industrial shredder partner that tore the fabric)
  • Alkegen, formerly Texel (mill partner that carded and needlepunched to make a felt) 
  • Textile expert Marianne Mercier (testing and design of felted product)
  • Canadian Tire (retailer who will sell the final end product in select stores across Canada)

And from there, we broke the pilot into phases, which were all documented (along with our learnings). These phases include:

  1. Pre-pilot activities – in addition to our supply chain partners, we formed a national stakeholder learning group to provide deeper insights along each step of the journey in an effort to scale and replicate; and determined the type of feedstock in a Guidance Document that will be published in spring 2023.
  2. Collecting the material – included marketing to the customer, choosing the bins and locations
  3. Sorting the materials – manually sorting based on fibre (100% polyester) and removing any contaminants, then transportation of materials (1000kg  pilot sample)
  4. Defiberizing the materials – chopping and shredding, then transportation of materials
  5. Creating a nonwoven fabric – blending, carding, needlepunching, finishing and testing
  6. Product development – material characteristics, circular design principles, product design, testing, quoting and prototyping.
  7. Manufacturing – gathering quotes from local providers
  8. Commercialization – labelling, packaging, pricing & marketing
  9. Putting the product on the market plus – assessing the financial return

Pilot Supply Chain Partners:

Stakeholder Group:

Interested in learning more?

Reach out to us at [email protected]

Our Partners in Circularity

At FTA we look for as many opportunities to collaborate as possible. As such we are pleased to be partnered with the following leaders in circularity. If you are interested in how to partner with us please send us an email.


Textile Recycling Feasibility Report

We respect your privacy. You may unsubscribe at anytime.

Get our Newsletter

The inside scoop on what's happening

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.