Integrating Circular Economy in Fashion in the South/ South-East Asia region

(Some months back, got the amazing opportunity to attend the Oxford climate society’s School of climate change. It was actually a set of presentations by Oxford faculty, initiated by the society, which was now opened up to a larger audience via the online medium. Groups were formed to work on a problem area and offer solutions. Teaming with Thae Thae (from Burma) and Jim (from Philippines), we explored the fashion industry. Here i’m sharing our key points, however the tone of the article is a bit academic in nature. South-South East region is encompassing countries from Pakistan in the western side, extending southwards till Indonesia.)

Overview

 The global fashion industry, valued at $2.6 trillion, is growing at a rate of 5.5% annually. It is also said to be highly polluted and contributing 4% of global emissions [1]. The South /Southeast Asian region is home to a fourth of the world’s population. Part of the global supply chain due to low labour cost and abundant raw material, it exports $32 billion (6%) of the world’s clothing and footwear[2]. Many countries in this region face high levels of climate risk. Tropical cyclones and extreme events leading to floods, occur more frequently; more severe with each year; posing a threat to life and livelihood[3]. An emerging market for fashion products; its young and growing middle class; are rapidly adopting western fashion[4]. As the world gears towards a circular economy, could this region too adopt circular business practices to leapfrog the problems of the developed world, towards a climate safe future?

Challenges

Fashion is among the most environmentally and socially damaging industries globally. 70% emissions are created In the manufacturing process; due to excess water use, fossil fuel as power; and over 30% in the use phase and discard of textile waste, due to overproduction and faster fashion cycles; discard often ending in landfills[1,4,5]. This region also has weaker environmental regulation and a huge informal labour force dependent on production for export[6,7]. Nonetheless, transition from a linear take-make-discard system to a circular looped system can help mitigate these problems and the associated climate risk.

Solutions

Embracing circular economy tactics while mitigating climate change can also achieve sustainable impact and business growth. This region has a high potential to lead the change towards a greener, socially just future by integrating the circular economy concept into the region’s small- and medium-sized enterprises. Feasible solutions explored through research of environmentally safe indigenous methods of production, supported by government policy to regulate waste management and decarbonising production, incentivising SME and artisans to adopt circular strategies, can help the environmental agenda. Consumer awareness and offering technology driven services such as personalised clothing, zero waste design/production, rental, reuse and repair to increase longevity, can be adopted. There is also opportunity for new circular businesses.

References

  1. Fashion on Climate, McKinsey & Co., 2020
  2. Textile & Clothing Exports by Country & Region, World Bank, 2019
  3. Global Climate Risk Index, GermanWatch, 2021
  4. Fashion Sustainability Report, Fashion Revolution, 2021
  5. The Impact of Climate Change in Southeast Asia, IMF Finance and Development Magazine, 2018
  6. Southeast Asia: The Fastest growing Apparel hubs of the World, Fibre to Fashion, 2014
  7. India Sustainability Report, Voice of Fashion, 2020

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