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 to achieve our goal of making circularity the norm across the value chain.


Sustainability means rethinking how we design our products for their next use. We want to evolve the apparel industry to a future where every material is used and reused safely, where ecosystems are protected and where people are provided with dignified work. This means making products that are ‘made with their next use in mind’ and 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 truly circular, each part of the value chain must evolve. We are partnering with Fashion for Good to bring this aspiration to life. 

Circular fashion products

Product innovation

Why we need to develop circular fashion

In 2017, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation released a new report, entitled A New Textiles Economy. The report demonstrates the growing momentum in the industry to move towards a circular economy, and gives us a strong environmental, social and business case for doing so:

  • In 2015, around three-quarters of the plastic used in clothing ended up in landfill or was incinerated.
  • Less than 1% of the material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing, equivalent to a loss of more than $100 billion of materials a year.
  • The textile industry’s share of the global carbon budget will rise from 2% in 2015 to 26% by 2050 if it continues on its current path. Moving away from a linear and wasteful system is crucial to keeping within the 2ºC global warming limit set by the Paris Agreement on climate change.
  • With current production systems, the weight of plastic microfibres in the oceans could increase to 22 million tons by 2050. That’s equivalent to two-thirds of the fibres currently used to produce garments every year.
  • 20% of industrial water pollution globally is attributable to the dyeing and treatment of textiles.

Throughout the value chain – from raw material extraction to end of use – the apparel sector 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 to be 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.

In 2018, we have joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's Make Fashion Circular initiative as a participant to to mobilise the recommendations of the report, and turn theory into action.  The Make Fashion Circular initative drives collaboration between industry leaders and other key stakeholders to create a textiles economy fit for the 21st century. Its ambition is to ensure clothes are made from safe and renewable materials, new business models increase their use, and old clothes are turned into new.

Read more about chemicals

Read more about safe and fair labour

Why circular fashion is necessary for sustainable apparel production

Our vision

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

We believe that there are six enablers of a circular fashion industry and are currently working on all of them through our own programmes or in partnership with Fashion for Good. Our commitment is demonstrated through our GOLD level Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM products – all supported by our emerging in-store take-back programme that allows customers to recycle clothing that has reached its end of use. The following graphic explains the areas of focus required 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

Our 2017 actions

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

Develop and launch the first circular collections in our retail stores. 

Launch our in-store take-back programme in new geographies.

Our 2017 performance

Pioneering circularity in stores

In 2017, C&A brought the first GOLD level Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM products to market in stores across Europe, Brazil and Mexico. We have since developed many new products and collections, which reached the selling floor later in the year. In total we have brought over 1.3 million pieces of Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM apparel to market so far.

In 2017, we also expanded the Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM collection from Ladies to include Men, Kids and Teens, and have brought to market new innovations such as stripes, embroideries, and prints to add richness to our offer.

Following its successful launch in the Netherlands, we rolled out our in-store take-back programme to four additional retail markets – Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and a pilot in Brazil – with a view to expanding the programme further by 2020.

Read more about our circular fashion products

Read more about our in-store take-back programme

Read more about product innovation

Accelerating change through Fashion for Good

In March 2017, C&A Foundation launched Fashion for Good in Amsterdam, with C&A as one of its first brand partners. Fashion for Good’s single focus is to transform the apparel sector, making ‘good fashion’ the norm by convening brands, producers, retailers, suppliers, non-profit organisations, innovators and funders to make this happen. The initiative has started well and gained tremendous momentum, with new brands including adidas, Zalando and Target joining during the year.

In 2018, C&A will continue to work with Fashion for Good to help transform the apparel sector by supporting:

  • The Fashion for Good-Plug and Play Accelerator Programme to help start-ups grow.
  • The Scaling Programme to scale up innovations and encourage their widespread adoption.

The Good Fashion Fund to catalyse access to finance where it is needed.

Read more about our partnership with Fashion for Good

Who we work with 

Normalising circular fashion

Although we are proud to have brought 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, making them better for the environment, workers and their communities.

These products prove that circularity is possible today. We want to encourage others to join us so that attributes like this become part of the new normal. Since the launch of our circular products, Stella McCartney and G-Star have both launched Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM materials, showing that momentum is growing.

From wood waste to T-shirt: The Fashion for Good-Plug and Play Accelerator in action

“Up to 50% of every tree cut down is considered waste. Timber companies are looking for ways to use this waste because there is too much of it. Often it is left to rot, which sends CO2 into the atmosphere, or it is burned, which also creates problems and can lead to climate change.”
Jane Palmer, President, Nature Coatings

In comes Nature Coatings and its first prototype: a high performing and inexpensive black pigment made from wood waste. Jane, who has worked in textiles her whole career, including owning and operating a dye house, wanted to identify a way to shift the textile industry away from petroleum-based ingredients – and reduce unnecessary waste along the way. Most pigments, she discovered, are petroleum-based, don’t biodegrade and use complex chemistry that has been linked to DNA mutations in fish and cancer in humans.

Nature Coatings’ black pigment offers a solution that is easy to substitute in the apparel supply chain. “There is no new technology required, no new costs. It actually stays ahead of the Restrictive Substances List (RSL) so saves any unintentional sales loss,” says Jane.

And now, thanks to the Fashion For Good-Plug and Play Accelerator, the pigment should be in market in the next few months. Since its launch, the Accelerator has awarded two cohorts of start-ups and innovators, working closely with them on transforming blue-sky breakthroughs into scalable innovations through an intensive start-up programme.

Nature Coatings was part of the 2017 intake. And, as Jane puts it, the Accelerator has been everything it promised to be. “We came in with a semi-finished product. We had a solid product and a business development plan, but the Accelerator forced us to make some decisions, evolve our business plan, generate interest from investors and gave us critical access to big apparel brands to test our product,” she explains.

Connecting with C&A has been especially useful, she points out. Over a series of meetings, her team has had multiple opportunities to collect feedback and refine their value proposition. And the company has had the opportunity to work with one of C&A’s suppliers to test its pigment with one of their products.

“Our message wasn’t very clear when we entered Fashion For Good. Today, we have a clear value proposition, we’ve been able to open multiple doors among investors and partners, and generated overall excitement among the apparel sector for what we have to offer,” says Jane.