What is circular fashion?

Origin of the concept ‘circular fashion’

The concept ‘circular fashion’ was first coined and used in 2014 by two actors, almost simultaneously and independently of each other. One of these was Anna Brismar, owner of Green Strategy. Anna coined the term circular fashion in June 2014 at an early project meeting, in preparing for a sustainable fashion event in central Stockholm. (This event was later named Circular Fashion – Show & Talk 2014.) To start planning for the event, Anna and the other three team members met over lunch at a restaurant in central Stockholm, in late June 2014. As the meeting began, Anna asked the others: “What shall we call the project?” Before no one had replied, she suggests: “What about circular fashion project?”. The others agreed positively to the name. Later at home the same evening, Anna searched widely on the Internet for the term “circular fashion” to see if it had been in use prior to this, but it was nowhere to be found. A couple of days later, Anna decided to go public with the term. However, the day before she was to announce the new concept, she happened to glance at a Twitter feed (on the side column of a website), and there – by pure chance – she discovers a tweet with the words “Circular fashion in global supply chains” (but written in Swedish). It was a Twitter post displaying the title of a power point slide from a public presentation that had been held the previous day, by a Sustainability staff member at H&M, at a event on Gotland in the South of Sweden. Later, the presenter from H&M confirmed to Anna in a personal conversation that the Sustainability staff at H&M had in fact been using the term “circular fashion” in its Swedish form (as “cirkulärt mode”) for about one or two months prior to the event on Gotland. Apparently, the time was right for the two concepts of circular economy and sustainable fashion to merge – as circular fashion. 2014 was the year when the notion of circular economy sailed in strongly on the political agenda in Sweden and in other European countries too, and when the notion circular fashion was born.

Back to the CFST 204 event in Stockholm… As developer and manager of the event, Anna introduced the concept of circular fashion and associated key principles to all brands and panelists who were invited to participate at the event in September 2014. The concept and principles formed central elements of the theoretical framework that Anna developed for the event. The framework was to serve as guidance for the brand representatives and panelists in preparing for the fashion shows and two panel debates. Some of the more well-known Swedish brands showcased at the event were Filippa K, Houdini, and Nudie Jeans. Panelists at the panel debates were professionals working in the sustainable fashion field in Sweden at the time. The CFST 2014 event became an important catalyst for spreading the concept of circular fashion within the fashion industry, first in Sweden and soon across a wider audience in both Europe and globally.

Definition of circular fashion

As defined by Brismar, the concept ‘circular fashion’ is based on the main principles of circular economy and sustainable development. It relates to the fashion industry in a wider sense, that is, not only to fashion products but also to apparel, sportswear, outdoor wear, footwear, home textiles, and similar products. Circular fashion concerns the entire life cycle of a product, from design and sourcing, to production, transportation, storage, marketing, and sale, as well as the user phase and the product’s end of life. From a theoretical perspective, Brismar’s invention and definition of circular fashion was inspired by the ideas of circular economy, primarily the framework presented by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

The following definition has been developed by Brismar; it was originally formulated in 2014 and refined in 2017, and it is the only existing coherent definition of circular fashion to date (2022).

Circular fashion can be defined as clothes, shoes or accessories that are designed, sourced, produced, and provided with the intention to be used and circulate responsibly and effectively in society for as long as possible in their most valuable form, and hereafter return safely to the biosphere when no longer of human use. (Anna Brismar, Green Strategy, 2017)

Suggested further reading

To lear more about circular fashion, please consider purchasing the article “Circular fashion – background, definition and 16 key principles”, which is available on the Articles For Sale page. The article contains the 16 key principles of circular fashion, as well as a comprehensive summary of the concept ‘circular economy’. (These elements are not presented elsewhere on the website.)

The following indepth articles may also deepen your understanding of circular fashion further. They are available on the Articles for Sale page, where they can be purchased via PayPal and downloaded as pdfs.

For referencing and quotations

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To reference this webpage, please use the following reference:

  • Brismar, Anna. 2017. What is Circular Fashion? Accessed via: https://greenstrategy.se/circular-fashion-definition/. Accessed on [date].