Circular Textiles Foundation: Driving Sustainable Fashion

Tim Cross

“The clothes we wear say something about who we are. Let’s make sure they’re saying the right thing.” – Colin Firth.

The fashion industry, long celebrated for its design innovation, quality and speed to market, is increasingly scrutinised for its environmental impact. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reports that the fashion industry is responsible for about 10% of global carbon emissions, 20% of wastewater and annually generates over 92 million tonnes of waste. These figures have been rising due to an increase in demand for fast fashion. For example it is estimated that people are buying 60 per cent more clothes and wearing them for half as long[1]. Although there are benefits to more accessible fashion, many believe there is a need to shift towards more sustainable practices within the sector.

Sustainable Responsibility

In addressing these concerns, many in the fashion industry are realigning their strategies towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), focusing on key areas like resource efficiency and waste reduction (Goal 12), lowering carbon emissions (Goal 13), and ensuring safe, equitable work conditions (Goal 8). These goals address critical issues such as waste management, excessive water use and greenhouse gas emissions, guiding brands towards more sustainable practices.

The push for sustainable fashion is growing, with both consumers and brands recognising the need to minimise the environmental impact of clothing. This includes using organic materials, engaging in fair-trade agreements and textile recycling. Notably, the adoption of organic cotton reduces environmental damage by requiring fewer pesticides and less water.

This shift is gaining momentum as the demand for environmentally and socially responsible products increases across generations. As reported in The Global Sustainability Study 2021, 42% of millennials and 39% of Generation Z are more likely to purchase sustainable services or products.  Another study by First Insight, a technology solutions provider in the retail sector, shows a 25% increase in Generation X’s preference for sustainable brands over the past two years, accompanied by a 42% rise in their willingness to pay more for these products. This shift reflects a broader change in consumer priorities, where sustainability has become a decisive factor in purchasing decisions. Observing these trends, companies are encouraged to integrate sustainability more deeply into the core shopping choices of consumers, ensuring that it becomes a staple in fashion consumption across the age groups.

The Circular Textiles Foundation

The Circular Textiles Foundation

The Circular Textiles Foundation is driving a transformation within the apparel industry by promoting the principles of a circular economy. The Foundation seeks to make fashion sustainable, ensuring that textiles remain continuously valuable and never turn into waste. By focusing on extending the lifecycle of clothing, using safe and recyclable materials and developing innovative recycling design solutions, the Foundation is redefining industry standards.

The principles of a circular textile economy, supported by the Foundation, centre on retaining resources and keeping them in rotation, by ensuring they hold their value and can always be recycled.  For example, if you are making a garment you need yarn.  If you are part of the circular economy, you want your garment to be produced in such a way that it can be turned back into high-quality yarn, and for this to be the yarn that you buy back to produce more garments.

Dismantling clothing can be expensive and this can prohibit recycling, so some polyester shirts are now made with polyester buttons so they can all be recycled together in a cost-effective way and without any loss in form, function or quality.  It is only circular if it can be recycled at a comparable quality.


Sustainable Fashion

If clothing is designed with its end-of-life recycling in mind, it will always reach its recycling route.  The Circular Textile Foundation works with all sizes of clothing company, predominantly high-volume clothing companies, assisting them to change the design of their clothing so that they fit within the parameters of the fibre-to-fibre recycling technologies that exist today.

The Foundation’s innovations include collaboration with Project Plan B’s fibre-to-fibre mechanical extrusion technology, which facilitates commercial-scale recycling of textile fibres. This technology ensures materials can be perpetually reused, aligning perfectly with the ethos of a circular economy. This technology is now up and running in partnership with The Salvation Army in Kettering, called Project Re:claim.

The Circular Textiles Foundation dedicates significant effort to educating the market. It aims to enhance understanding among all participants in the fashion ecosystem — from consumers to designers, retailers and manufacturers — about the benefits of circular practices and the importance of making sustainable product choices. This educational drive is essential for fostering a widespread commitment to sustainability.

The Circular Certification Mark

The Circular Certification Mark

The Foundation has also introduced a certification mark with labels that guide consumers and industry stakeholders towards more sustainable choices. The mark indicates to consumers that the garment is fully recyclable and can be recycled by a textile-to-textile recycler.  It can be found on cotton, wool and polyester garments and is a growing certification mark for the textile industry, enabling garments to enter a closed loop system where they are reused and ultimately recycled back to yarns for new garment manufacture.

The role of Intellectual Property

Director of the Circular Textiles Foundation, Tim Cross, recently discussed the sustainability challenges of the fashion, textiles and technology industry at the V&A’s ‘Materials Futures: Transdisciplinary Approaches to Sustainable and Circular Innovation’ event. He shares his thoughts on how intellectual property is helping the Circular Textiles Foundation and the fashion industry as a whole to move towards a more sustainable future:

“Intellectual Property (IP) plays a crucial role at Circular Textiles Foundation, especially through the ‘Circular Mark’ certification mark. This mark underpins the Foundation’s commitment to sustainable practices and use of the ‘Circular Mark’ certification mark indicates that products meet specific sustainability and recyclability production criteria.  Protecting the mark as a certification trade mark ensures that it can be used with the permission of the Foundation, subject to the recyclability criteria which provides clarity for consumers.”

Distinct from traditional trade marks, which denote the commercial source of goods or services, a certification mark confirms the quality and compliance of products with specific standards. See our earlier article for further information on the difference between trade marks and certification marks.

“By promoting high sustainability standards, the ‘Circular Mark’ not only guides consumer choices but also encourages the wider industry to meet the criteria required to qualify for this certification. This broader impact fosters industry-wide improvements and steers more brands towards adopting circular practices.”

Tim also shares his thoughts on the importance of obtaining intellectual property advice from a professional:

“In considering the best strategy to develop and protect the certification trade mark, it was invaluable to have input from someone who not only understands the nuances of international trade mark law, but who was prepared to invest time to get to know the background and context of how and why we wanted to use the mark. Because of this, the advice we received from Lucy [Pope] was both practical and realistic, and we relied on her to guide our decision making throughout the process. Moreover, Lucy has enthusiasm for the subject and is innovative in her thinking, which makes it a pleasure to work with her.”


Tim Cross Speaking


This is the last article in our 2024 World IP Day series exploring the role of IP in achieving the UN’s sustainable development goals and ‘Building our common future with innovation and creativity’. Click here for the introductory article and links to the full series.

If you have any queries regarding this topic, or would like assistance implementing your IP protection and strategy, please contact our team.


Category: Latest Insights | Author: Lucy Pope | Published: | Read more