Circular fashion Doing more good

With the global population set to reach nine billion people by 2030, nature will struggle to meet human demands like never before. That means there’s an urgent need for our goal: to make circularity the norm across the value chain. To move from doing less bad to doing more good.

newborn collection


Sustainability means rethinking how we design our products for their next life. We want to move towards an apparel industry that uses and reuses safe materials, protecting ecosystems and providing dignified work for people. This means products that are ‘made with their next use in mind’ - where we no longer talk about ‘end of life’, but rather ‘end of use’. This is the philosophy of circular fashion. 

For the apparel sector to become circular, each part of the value chain must evolve. We are partnering with the Fashion for Good Initiative to bring this aspiration to life. 

Circular fashion products

Product innovation

Our vision

We believe in ‘circular fashion’. Our vision is a restorative circular economy, where nothing is wasted in the creation or disposal of our clothing.

We believe that there are 6 enablers to a circular fashion industry and we are currently working on all of them with our partnership with Fashion for Good and demonstrated in our GOLD level Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM T-shirts – all supported by our emerging in-store take back programme so that our customers can recycle clothing that has reached it's end of life.  The following graphic explains the areas of focus to drive a circular fashion industry, but more importantly where we need  to partner for systemic change.

The 6 enablers to a circular fashion industry

Why we need to develop circular fashion

  • There will be a 67% increase in CO2 emissions if the apparel sector continues its current rate of growth to 2025. Extending the average life of clothes by just nine months could reduce carbon, water and waste footprints by 20-30% [SOURCE: WRAP].
  • Regulations have not always prevented the release of toxic chemicals into the environment, particularly in the Global South [SOURCE: Greenpeace]. Moving to circular fashion would optimise the apparel sector’s use of chemicals in the production of raw materials and in manufacturing processes like dyeing.
  • More than 20% of the world’s commercial products are produced in water-scarce areas of the globe [SOURCE: Growing Blue]. Only 30% of clothing is currently being reused or recycled in the developed world [SOURCE: Wall Street Journal (2016), Fast-Fashion Castoffs Fuel Global Recycling Network]. Circular fashion offers the opportunity to regain value from materials that are currently being thrown away.

Throughout the value chain – from raw material extraction to end of use – the apparel sector’s use of water and pesticides to grow cotton, chemicals to dye or treat our clothes and carbon in agriculture, production and transport has a huge impact on the environment. To truly create the pathway to a new normal, we must reimagine much of what we do.

In a circular model, products are designed and developed with their next use in mind. This means they are produced with pure materials, using safe chemicals. This way, fibres can be reclaimed at the end of the garment’s use, reused or recycled into new clothing, carpets, or other products – or safely returned to nature through composting. Social justice, including safeguarding health and safety and fair labour, water stewardship and the use of renewable energy, are also an integral part of the circular model. This reduces the need for virgin fibres, limits waste, improves effectiveness, and creates social fairness. 

Read more about chemicals

Read more about safe and fair labour

Why circular fashion is necessary for sustainable apparel production

Our 2016 actions

To become a partner of the Fashion for Good Initiative focused on incubating and accelerating circular technologies in the apparel industry – aiming to create endless flows of fibres and clothing.

To develop and launch the first circular collections in our retail stores. 

Our 2016 performance

The first GOLD level Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM T-shirts 

Imagine a T-shirt made of 100% organic cotton, using only safe chemicals and produced in a socially and environmentally responsible way, so much so that it can be returned to nature. We’ve made four, developed in collaboration with Fashion for Good. The Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM collection is the first ‘circular collection’ at C&A and the first GOLD level Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM fashion T-shirts in the world. It shows that this cutting-edge standard is achievable and that sustainable products can be produced in Asia and sold at a price that makes them accessible to everyone. The T-shirts will be launched in our stores in Europe in June 2017. They will also appear in our stores in Brazil and Mexico in September 2017. The Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM How to Guide has been launched on the Fashion for Good website, making our experience available to all – our contribution to making Cradle to Cradle the new normal. 

The first brand partner of Fashion for Good

In March 2017, C&A Foundation launched the Fashion for Good Initiative in Amsterdam, with C&A as its first brand partner. The Initiative’s single focus is to transform the apparel sector, making ‘good fashion’ the norm. 

Fashion for Good is a joint industry initiative that involves the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and IDH, the sustainable trade initiative. The initiative offers practical action in the form of support, funding and roadmaps, and fosters a sector-wide collaboration, rather than competition. And it aims to enable innovation and widespread adoption of good fashion practice.

With an innovation hub in Amsterdam, a start-up accelerator operated by Plug and Play from Silicon Valley, California, and a global network of ‘change makers’, Fashion for Good reimagines how fashion is designed, made, worn and reused so that people, companies and the planet can all thrive.  In addition, through our partnership with Plug and Play, we have joined the Galleries Lafayette Plug and Play accelerator to support innovations in analytics, fashion tech and E-commerce.

Who we work with 

Normalising circular fashion

Although we are proud to be bringing the first GOLD level Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM products to market, we know circular fashion is still a long way from being 'normal'. 

One of the most important things we can do to change this is continue sharing what we've learnt about circular fashion with the rest of our industry. For example, true circularity involves looking at how products are designed, developed and manufactured. We know our certified T-shirts have been designed this way: they are made of 100% organic cotton with only safe chemicals and produced in a socially and environmentally responsible way – using renewable energy and reusing water for the production process. This not only makes them better for the environment, but also for the workers and their communities. They are also compostable.

These products prove that circularity is possible today. We want to encourage others to join us so this becomes part of the new normal. Only focusing on end of use, without thinking of how products are designed and produced, will not take us and the industry where we need to go.

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