Is A Circular Capsule Wardrobe The Answer To Being (Sustainably) Fashionable?

4 Mins Read

Our addiction to unsustainable consumption to end if we are to truly minimise our impact on our planet. With the current demise of the high street retail industry, demonisation of the fashion industry as a major polluter leading to cleverer green marketing – or as some would say, greenwashing – by both fast fashion and luxury brands alike – perhaps it is time to rethink our attitude to consumption. One of the solutions is to avoid buying new, even if a garment is marketed as more “sustainable” than conventional brands, and embrace recirculation and living with a “capsule wardrobe.”

In an attempt to retain customers, especially the more eco-conscious younger generation of shoppers, fast fashion brands are now scrambling to appear more sustainable. This comes amid a wave of information highlighting the massive pollution the industry is accountable for – 92 million tonnes of landfill waste, 20% of global water wastage and 10% of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Copenhagen Fashion Summit

Perhaps succumbing to the pressures of an increasingly aware consumer market and of course the competition from online commerce, after months of speculation from reports surfaced about failed restructuration, Forever 21 has officially filed for bankruptcy last week. In the face of this news, other fashion behemoths are currently trying to polish their names with sustainability initiatives. Zara, for instance, has recently outlined their pledge to use organic, recycled fabrics and wishes to phase out non-sustainable viscose by 2023.

But still, consumers are sensitive to messaging and have called brands out for using “sustainability” as a brand-word to only appear environmentally-forward, with little action to follow. Many activists have called foul on Zara’s green campaign, citing greenwashing over its poor labour practices and its toxic-waste producing supply chain. A recent ruling in Norway has even demanded H&M to make clear what their “conscious collection” actually means. 

Even expensive luxury stores are battling a PR-crisis when it comes to their environmental footprint, and are trying hard to keep customers engaged. Take Gucci, for example, who has taken the step to plant enough trees to make their entire supply chain and operations completely carbon-neutral

And more and more so, celebrities are backing new upmarket sustainable brands and retailers. When eco and ethical fashion platform Zady launched, it earned widespread attention, including Emma Watson. While it probably comes from a good place, the real question is: when “sustainable” companies are still producing new garments how are they any different from the conventional fashion brands that tangled us up in the first place?

Or more eloquently put by the CEO of The Slow Factory Céline Semaan in an interview with Forbes: “As if we can purchase our way into a more sustainable world”! 

So what can we really do? We ought to ask ourselves twice before buying new items, even if they have been produced using supposedly sustainable fabrics. Living in a world full of mass consumer products, we do have enough to repair and recirculate products instead of producing more. 

Some retailers have already embraced this, such as high-end retail giant Harvey Nichols partnering up with refurbishing company The Restory to launch an aftercare programme to recondition goods for resale. Even Selfridges are offering drop-off points for reconditioning work with the same company. 

Coined by Susie Faux in the 1970s and popularised by designer Donna Karan in the 1980s, a “capsule wardrobe” could provide some inspiration for conscious living. A capsule wardrobe is one that only contains a few essential or “staple” pieces that won’t go out of fashion. While it wasn’t imagined as a sustainability specific term, it does encourage going back to a simpler back-to-basics life that is aligned with low-waste living. 

With a host of eco-minded fashion players coming up in the industry, we could perhaps start curating our capsule wardrobe with high-quality luxury preloved pieces, for instance. Blockchain enabled Lablaco have even managed to enable traceability to every preloved garment, to both rid the secondhand luxury market of its biggest insecurity – counterfeits – and prove that items are truly sustainable down the production line. It doesn’t have to be luxury either, with the rental and resale economy in China already set to take over a fifth of the country’s GDP by 2025. 

This could be the solution to a truly sustainable approach to fashion: by curating a capsule wardrobe through recirculated fashion pieces. As the zero-waste fashion pioneer Christina Dean said in an interview with Green Queen, “Fall in love with your clothes and see your closet as an entry point to a beautiful, creative industry that can be a powerful force for good.”

Lead image courtesy of Today.


  • Sally Ho

    Sally Ho is Green Queen's former resident writer and lead reporter. Passionate about the environment, social issues and health, she is always looking into the latest climate stories in Hong Kong and beyond. A long-time vegan, she also hopes to promote healthy and plant-based lifestyle choices in Asia. Sally has a background in Politics and International Relations from her studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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