The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the fashion industry into disarray, leaving supply chain workers without wages and causing major global brands to file for bankruptcy. In Bangladesh, the garment sector is expected to lose over a million jobs by December, with over 70,000 workers already laid off. While many underlying issues are not new to the industry, the unprecedented situation has made us acutely aware of the fragilities of our current economic system and of just how vulnerable people — especially workers and their communities — are to significant business disruption.

As our society looks to build back better by emerging from the crisis with a more resilient and sustainable system, many industries are planning to integrate circularity into their recovery plans. Indeed, even before the COVID-19 outbreak, circular economic models had been sprouting up at increasing speed in the fashion industry, both to counter its enormous environmental impact and to respond to economic opportunities. The textile industry alone produces 1.2 billion tons of CO2 per year and accounts for around 20 percent of global industrial water pollution. Companies, brands and designers are increasingly looking to circular fashion models, including resale, rental and repair, to mitigate these impacts.

While the potential positive environmental impact of a shift to a circular economy is enormous, few organizations are considering the social implications for the more than 60 million people in its value chain. Given the sheer size of the industry and the many ways people intersect throughout production and consumption, social implications, whether positive or negative, are unavoidable. Women, who comprise between 60 to 90 percent of total apparel workers, of whom an estimated 80 percent are women of color, likely will take the brunt of the impact due to their precarious working conditions and existing gender-based discrimination.

Read the full article about circular fashion by Annelise Thim and Cliodhnagh Conlon at GreenBiz.