Our Sage Anorak sits in our eCommerce box that talks about our lifetime repairs program.

Circular Economy: An Introduction

At ecologyst, we’re firmly committed to scrapping the status quo of traditional business — specifically within the fast fashion and plastic-dominated apparel industry. Our clothing is instead rooted in a sustainable supply chain. We’re not perfect, but we’re passionate about finding opportunities to do business in a way that respects people and the planet. One such way is by moving towards a circular economy.

What is a Circular Economy?

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation cites a circular economy as “a systems solution framework that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution.”

Transitioning to a circular economy means redefining how we value resources, and ultimately stopping the production of valuable materials unnecessarily going to landfill. It moves us away from depleting finite resources and replacing them with renewables. 

The majority of our economy follows a linear structure: a resource is extracted, turned into a product, and (sometimes rapidly, as is the case with single-use plastic) ends in waste when a product is done being used. In the clothing industry, a garment is only worn an average of seven times before it’s thrown away, according to a study by British charity, Barnado’s. Meanwhile, 10.5 million tonnes of clothing and textiles go to landfill every year in North America alone.

In contrast, a circular economy moves to a waste-free model by reusing, repairing, refurbishing, remanufacturing, repurposing, or recycling products and materials. This is absolutely what we’re trying to do here at ecologyst.

The Circular Economy Principles

The circular economy framework is based on three core principles: “eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials, and regenerate nature.

Eliminate Waste and Pollution

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is an internationally-respected foundation for all things Circular Economy. They vocalize the need for a shift in perspective for dealing with waste at the forefront of their “Eliminate Waste and Pollution” principle, stating: “we need to consider waste and pollution as design flaws rather than inevitable by-products of the things we make”. 

Our move from producing overseas to back home in Canada supported the elimination of single-use plastic bags that most companies use to protect individual products during shipping overseas. We also replaced fossil fuel-based, synthetic fabrics in our supply chain with all-natural wool and organic cotton mono-materials which are easier to recycle. Through a Direct to Consumer (D2C) model, we’re able to closely monitor the runs we’re making to avoid overproducing. Plus, without the tags and finishings, a lot of our products are biodegradable in the right conditions. This model shows the production cycle of our wool shirt from 2013–2020. 

Commitment doesn’t come from a single source, which is why our supply chain partners are so important. A recently onboarded fabric supplier is one of the only BCORP-certified facilities in the world. They report annually on their emission reduction targets and follow the Zero Discharge Hazardous Chemicals protocol ensuring when chemicals are used, they are controlled and do not leach out into the surrounding environment.

Circulate Products and Materials

This looks like keeping products — or if they’re no longer usable, the materials they’re made of — in circulation longer than their average lifespan. Once again avoiding the production of waste. For example, if you’ve fallen out of love with your favourite tee you might gift it to a friend, or donate it to a thrift store. Recently, we launched our Second Life program, a resale platform where you can both buy and sell pre-loved ecologyst gear. You might even find some gems from our days as Sitka!

Our lifetime repair program is another great way to keep goods in circulation longer. This program covers ecologyst apparel purchased after January 2015, and plays a part in the upfront investment of our wares. If that same tee has been worn to just about every activity under the sun (easy if it’s merino wool!), and has a snag or hole, just reach out to info@ecologyst.com, and we’d be happy to help fix any rips and tears in your well-loved gear.

A person wearing our Fisherman Full Zip in Speckled Cream and the Work Pant in Hazelnut leans against a mirror that says, "hey! that piece has repairs for life."

If it’s beyond wear, we recommend looking at the material it’s made of to see what the next best use may be — perhaps they’re great cleaning rags, or certain sections are in good enough condition to be used in patchwork. Another way is educating our community on the benefits of extending product lifespan far past the average and wearing them more often. This is possible because of the high quality, durable fabrics we use and classic designs which are created for multiple life scenarios.

Regenerate Nature 

In making the shift to a circular economy, we’re aiming to take extraction out of the equation and replace it with regeneration. By supporting projects that use a regenerative model, we can begin to rebuild natural systems and build “natural capital,” because everything in nature has a purpose. Nature doesn’t waste.

To start, a crucial component is working with and recognizing Indigenous communities as original stewards of the land. We’ve partnered with Indigenous Tourism BC with the shared mission to educate consumers on a more intentional way of life, including a commitment to slow travel, slow fashion, and a celebration of Indigenous knowledge. 

In a recent collaboration with multimedia artist K’alapa (Rande Cook), $40,000 was donated to the Ma’amtagila People, of whom Rande is the hereditary chief. The Ma’amtagila are fighting for their sovereignty and jurisdiction to be officially recognized by the BC and federal governments. Our collaboration collection, titled Ecology Today, is still available online and in-store, with 20% of proceeds going towards the Ma’amtagila legal fund. 

A woman and a man look at each other while wearing two pieces of our Ecology Today collection.

Another great example is American Woolen Mills, who created the fabric for the Heavy Wool Overshirt using Climate Beneficial Wool — both reducing negative impacts of methane gas while offsetting directly on the farm level with regenerative farming practices that work to sequester carbon drawdown through effective land management.

Supporting initiatives such as 1% For The Planet, Carbon Neutral Club, and other regeneration/rematriation projects is our way to contribute to this core pillar of a circular economy.

In Conclusion

While we still have a long way to go until we can achieve an optimal circular fashion economy, the future looks hopeful if we can take these core principles into account. 

We know we’re far from perfect and are always open to suggestions on how we can improve. Follow along with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, as we share more resources about all things circular economy. To learn more about building a circular economy, go to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation website.