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Jeans cut up with sissors

As the fashion industry contemplates the rapid changes to a circular economy, it cannot ignore the human side.

This article originally was published in the BSR Insight.

We know that “rapid and far-reaching” transitions are needed across our global economy and societies to limit the worst impacts of the climate crisis. The fashion industry — linked to environmental degradation along the entire value chain — is no exception. Momentum is building to reshape the industry around the principles of a circular economy, to design out of waste and pollution, regenerate natural systems and keep products and materials in use.

Shifts toward a circular economy are plentiful as many big fashion players embrace repair, reuse and recycling practices. Simultaneously, consumer interest in new models of ownership continues to rise: Despite COVID-19’s harsh impacts on the industry, the online resale platform ThredUp grew by 20 percent in 2020, and in India, Flyrobe’s rental platform has gained substantial ground in recent years.

As the industry contemplates the rapid and far-reaching changes, it cannot ignore the human side of a transition this major.

Fashion is a people-powered business, serving billions of customers daily and employing millions of workers. Estimates suggest that from growing cotton to garment construction, one in eight workers globally participates along the industry value chain. If we include informal employment, those estimates may climb even higher. Many highly populated emerging economies, especially in Asia, rely upon the industry for economic and employment growth, where in many places it has boosted female labor market participation. Read more