How the circular economy is gaining popularity in the current climate

Thrifting is “in”. And I mean “in”. Influencers are no longer engaging in it just for brownie points; thrifting has made a comeback in the past year and a half.

Personally, I love thrifting. It’s a cool, inexpensive, and a sustainable way to experiment with fashion, and figure out what works for me. I like the stories that come with each garment I pick up in thrift stores; a jacket that someone wore to their best friend’s wedding, or maybe a pair of heels that supported them through their final year at college - the possibilities are endless.

Some people call thrifting rehoming – to eliminate the negative connotation that comes with using “secondhand” products. The actual difference that this makes is unknown to me, but I’d like to think that there are more people like me, who enjoy imagining the stories behind the garments they pick up, and like the part they play in that cycle.

The thing is – we can call it what we want to, and think of it the way we’d like to, but the fact that thrifting is here to stay is indisputable. The cost of thrifting is much lower than it is for retail brands; simply because of the fact that these items tend to be sold at less than half of their actual retail prices, which creates an optimism bias in consumers, and makes them perceive the purchase to be of “great value for money”.

The ecological benefits of thrifting deserve an article to themselves; one cotton shirt uses up 400 gallons of water; so the less the number of new shirts produced, the more water we save.

The purchase of one used item instead of a new one can reduce your carbon footprint by up to 82%. If everyone would purchase just one used item in the next 12 months, it would save 11 billion kilowatts of energy, 25 billion gallons of water, and 449 million pounds of waste.

As economies start to recoup from the pandemic, thrifting has emerged as an unlikely avenue that holds the potential to bolster this recovery. The industry has witnessed a steep increase in consumer interest, with as many as 71% of consumers insisting that they plan to spend more on the resale industry in the next five years, than anywhere else.

A key reason for this is the growing distaste for fast fashion, and departmental store produce, but at its essence, this shift has been prompted by the fact that the retail supply chain has not fully recovered yet. The economic impact of the lockdown still stings; and while malls and restaurants might technically be open – one is still not allowed to try on garments before purchasing, which dissuades consumers from spending in malls – where the average cost of a garment is much higher than at a thrift store.

More and more hopefuls have started to gravitate towards upcycled garment stores and are taking advantage of the lower costs associated with thrifting. In the current economic situation, it hasn’t taken long for supply to match demand. The advent of such retail channels has long overdue, and I for one, am here for it.

This is a very micro level example of the circular economy, and how it can accelerate economic recovery from the pandemic. In a nutshell, a circular economy system is a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible.

In practice, it encourages the reusing of a product to the fullest extent possible. When a product does reach the end of its life cycle, herculean efforts are taken to retain its materials, and keep them within the economy. These are then pumped into the economy again, creating a circular value chain; as opposed to the traditional, linear model, which is based on a use-once-and-throw-away system.

My earliest memory of reading about sustainability involves the triad of reuse, reduce, recycle in some shape or form – and perhaps that’s exactly what makes me so passionate about the circular economy; the three tenets of an eco-friendly practice come together and fit like never before.

Thrifting encourages the acceptance and growth of the circular economy model, by pumping used clothes into the economy, for resale. Not only does this reduce the cost of production, but it also creates employment – which pumps more money into the economy and encourages spending.

While thrifting may not be widely accepted everywhere, the circular economy has always existed; any hand-me-downs you wore, or donated to someone who needed them, were examples of the same model we discussed above. This not only allowed the receiver to wear ‘new’ clothes, but they were also free to redirect their income to other avenues.

A growing interest in thrifting is in the best interests of every stakeholder; even large retail corporations. The equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is either incinerated or landfilled every second of each day. That means there are 108 million tons of non-renewable resources used to produce clothing each year that will never see wear, accounting for up to 25% of the global carbon budget.

Simply put, this means that if retailers are able to dovetail their marketing strategies to match consumer preferences for upcycled, recycled and secondhand garments – they will not only save on costs, but will also be able to develop and maintain a favorable image in the eyes of consumers. A recent survey found out that more than 60% of consumers said that they would be more loyal to a specific brand if there was a recycling program offered as part of the experience.

I’m not trying to go around in circles, but the fact is that every aspect of the circular economy is linked to another, and the widespread adoption of such a system will not only reduce the time to market for many products but will also increase the purchasing power of consumers (as fashion becomes more affordable), leading to a marked increase in spending.

All the statistics are from -

 Written by Pooja Agrawal

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