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The UK is hosting the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (Cop26), which brings together decision makers and industry experts from 197 different countries to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. 

More than 120 world leaders are expected to attend the World Leaders’ Summit today and tomorrow. As part of this, British Prime Minster Boris Johnson will ask every country to commit themselves to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. And the next decade will be crucial in the roadmap to achieving this.

At Cop21, which took place in Paris in 2015, for the first time ever every country attending agreed to work together to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees (aiming for 1.5 degrees), to try and mitigate the disastrous effects of climate change on humanity and the natural world. However, despite these targets, the world is falling far short.


The fashion industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters. If it continues on its current trajectory, it will miss its 2030 carbon emissions reduction target, set in line with the Paris Climate Agreement, by 50% warns the Global Fashion Agenda (GFA).

But changing manufacturing methods can only do so much - too much fashion is being produced and thrown away, and very little of it is recycled.

According to data by McKinsey & Company, the UK apparel sector is over producing inventory by a rate of 40%.

The British Fashion Council’s (BFC) Institute of Positive Fashion (IPF) Circular Fashion Ecosystem Report, which was published in September, claims that a circular fashion economy is the only way the sector can hope to achieve these targets.

However, at the Global Investment Summit in October, there was no mention of the circular economy and its potential to be a major driver towards net zero targets, nor did the circular economy make it into the UK government’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution. 

Having the correct infrastructure, enabling consumers to effectively recycle garments, is crucial if the industry is to meet climate objectives, particularly with regards to the Paris Agreement. Quantitative evidence around circular fashion and existing technology could also bring faster results, one of the clear aims of Cop26, whilst other technologies would need to be invented or are in development for scale. 

But despite this, there has so far been no leadership on the vision to roll out an infrastructure that facilitates fibre-to-fibre recycling, to preserve finite resources and reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions through reducing waste.

According to McKinsey & Company’s new UK October sustainability survey, 40% of consumers are actively looking for circular options such as donations, repair, resale or recycle. And there is a growing preference towards circular models of recycling, resale, and donation. 

Sustainability at the end of life of an item is less polarized in consumer opinion than at the point of purchase, with the majority of consumers being excited about actions they can take to extend their items’ life, says the report. As a result, the industry should be focusing on offering consumers a frictionless way to close the loop.


Anita Balchandani, McKinsey & Company’s Partner, Head of Apparel, Fashion and Luxury for EMEA, says: “The momentum around end of life and what you do about it is gathering storm. What we’ve seen through Covid is a huge explosion in recycled/resale propositions and online models that enable it.” But the industry is still at an early phase, she warns.

It is clear that the correct infrastructure needs to be in place and action needs to be taken now. Will Cop26 be able to offer more clarity on how world leaders and governments plan to help move towards a circular economy in the future? Only the next 12 days will tell, but the fashion industry has much to achieve, and time is running out. 

Brought to you by London W11, the world’s first circular cashmere brand.