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Engaging with Circularity: Jacinta FitzGerald

Words by Jacinta FitzGerald

Jacinta FitzGerald Sustainability Strategist and Programme Director of Mindful Fashion

Jacinta FitzGerald is a sustainability strategist with over fifteen years of experience in the clothing and textile industry. As the founder of Make Good, she works as a Sustainability Consultant supporting businesses to create a positive impact, helping them find solutions to a broad range of complex socio-ecological challenges. She’s also the Programme Director of Mindful Fashion ( which Yu Mei is proud to be a member of ) — a collective of designers, suppliers and manufacturers working to make Aotearoa’s fashion industry more inclusive and sustainable.

Here, Jacinta talks on the importance of circularity in the fashion industry, and the holistic planning and thinking this involves.

The headlines on any given day are clear. Fashion’s destructive impact on nature, climate and biodiversity is immense. Yet fashion relies heavily on these natural systems. For this relationship to be healthy, we need to focus our action on creating a system that regenerates and restores nature and ecosystems. So we can all thrive.

This is about responsibility, regeneration and the power of the circular economy.

The circular economy’s foundation is in systems thinking — and it relies on three principles all driven by design. Eliminating waste and pollution, circulating products and materials, and regenerating nature. A circular fashion system requires thoughtful and responsible design right from the beginning. It starts with taking a whole-system approach to the way a business creates and sells products. By considering the full life-cycle at the design stage, a business can design in re-commerce models and end-of-life, and through responsible choices, create shared benefits across the life-cycle for people and nature.

Circular design is a huge driver of innovation and creativity, and its roots are firmly in stewardship. First, deep consideration of the technical aspects of the product are critical to ensure it meets circular principles. This involves designing with an eye to functionality, durability and long-lasting style. It’s also about choosing renewable materials that protect and regenerate natural resources; using construction and production processes that don’t harm nature or exploit people’s lives; manufacturing processes that add value; as well as fostering skills and contributing to community wellbeing.

Each stage of the product’s life-cycle must be considered at the start to ensure no waste is created. The product must be made to last. Reusability, repairability and recyclability should be facilitated by the business through both thoughtful design, and through offering product stewardship services and new forms of commerce.

Designing for circularity also involves customer education and engagement. Businesses designing for the circular economy are leading the way in shifting our perceptions of what fashion is, and what role it plays in our lives. And customers play a key role in enabling the circular economy to work through care and maintenance of products, and through engaging in new forms of commerce. Many of us are starting to see the financial and cultural benefit in participating, and rightly viewing purchases of a circular product as an investment.

A key enabler of this transformation is personal responsibility, and taking an active role in the lifetime of our products. That means what we buy and how we care for our products. It may seem obvious, however a recent UK survey found that over 40% of garments that are thrown away needed only a small repair. We all have a role to play in making sure the products we buy have a long and full life, even if it's not with us. For me, it makes sense to invest in something of a higher value where I can. I want to support companies who are taking responsibility for what they make, and putting work into creating beautiful products with considered provenance. I want it to meet my needs for function, and I want it to retain its value.

Yu Mei is an excellent example of a business creating value through circular principles. Its products are designed for circularity, and the brand enables the circular system through both its repair and refurbishment service, and its Buyback Initiative. Both have been a core part of the brand’s offering since inception. Through the Buyback scheme, customers can return their Yu Mei bags to the brand who repair and refurbish them, in many cases adding to their value. Yu Mei’s Archive Events then ensure these cared-for items go out into the world for another life, with a new owner.

The potential of a circular business model is that it requires us to intentionally design out the wasteful, consumerist culture that has developed over the last few decades. Products created holistically, to benefit people and nature, have lasting value locked in, and that value is nurtured and celebrated. By giving makers and users shared responsibility as stewards of the things we make, buy and use, we can start to shift culture towards a more regenerative fashion system that benefits everyone.

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