‘Woah!!!’ I hear you cry. ‘What happened to Reducing, Reusing, Repairing and Renting?’ Well, even though some people are able to (and aspire to) buy nothing new at all, it is a hard fact that most of us need to buy something new at some point, either for ourselves, our families, friends or even our animals. Of course, to work within our circular economy principles, we should look at the other R’s first (Reduce – do I really need it? Reuse – can I buy it secondhand? Repair – if it’s broken can I fix it? And if I only need it for a short amount of time, can I borrow/Rent it?), but when we are faced with the fact that we do actually need to buy something new, what should we be looking for?
The first thing to realise is that if it is new and cheap, there is probably some exploitation going on in the supply chain. Cheap prices mean compromises of cut corners, exploited materials/resources and exploited people trapped in modern slavery conditions. That is not to say that expensive automatically means virtuous. As consumers we need to dig a little deeper and ask what the brands are doing.
Where are materials sourced? Are they organic, fair trade, recycled, reprocessed? Who makes the item and where? When it gets to the point of needing repair, can you get it fixed? And when it does, eventually get to the end-of-life, does the company have a return and reprocess policy to allow them to recover the materials? (The t-shirts and sweatshirts in our own store have that). What distinct measurable data is the brand working to – reducing emissions, packaging, transportation?
Look for brands that can answer these questions – and more. Do they belong to any certification schemes, such as being a B-Corp or part of the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)? Remember – you can vote for change with your wallet!
So, how can we find circular Retail?
- look at the type of materials a brand uses – reprocessed, recycled, second-life?
- do they have clear communications about their practices – and does this carry across the entire range (not just one token product?)
- how transparent is the supply chain? Can you find out where the item is made?
- do they actively support repairing?
- what happens at ‘end-of-life’? Do they have an Extended Producer Responsibility scheme to reprocess their products?
- and if in doubt… ask questions!