Growing energy and creativity within the fashion industry is directed towards circular economy initiatives, often under the umbrella of “sustainable fashion”. In fact, we’re likely in a golden age, with designers given broad scope to consider apparel inputs from unconventional sources, including secondary market materials (some historically viewed as wastes), as well as agricultural by-products.

Similarly, thought is being paid to the range of functionality which an item of clothing may offer. In short, there is some fragmentation within conventional fashion offerings as innovation takes brands in a multitude of directions.


Uniformity Pressures of End-of-Life Supply Chain

Much will no doubt be achieved by the apparel industry with improvements to their product supply chains, such as:

–       more responsible materials sourcing;

–       better durability;  and

–       reduction of harmful substances usage.

All of these problems can reasonably be solved within each of the brands. But what about the post-consumer, product end-of-life supply chain? Here, there are pressures for a more uniform “feedstock” so that a narrowed, undifferentiated set of solutions may be applied to the garments collected, regardless of whether it is a mechanic or chemical treatment, or perhaps a repurposing.


Are Design Standards Coming?

Brand owners of products with a history of waste diversion obligations know all too well what can happen when the dictates of a recycling process results in the appearance of uniform product offerings.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Circular Fibres Initiative has (delicately) signaled that the requirements for robust textiles recovery will mean fashion industry design guidelines to align clothing design and recycling processes.

As part of this coming reorientation among clothing producers, there may be pressures to reduce the textile varieties, phase out less recyclable fibres and eliminate unique materials in seams, buttons, zippers, etc. Brands also must commit to using more recycled fibres, which further impacts choices. And this is likely only the beginning.


But Who Are Your CE Collaborators?

This push towards more homogenous fashion offerings – driven by the waste industry no less, will appear dystopian to many in the fashion industry. But this would undervalue the potential dynamism of these new collectives, driven by shared sustainability demands and aspirations. Accepting the socialization inherent within a circular economy model may also lead to unforeseen economies of scale and other efficiencies.

What individual brands need to consider now, while the voluntary initiatives have yet to become institutionalized (and made regulatory), is exactly what is their industry?

In other words, whose interests do they truly share in an end-of-life supply chain, and which related parties, from manufacturers and distributors to recovery processors and re-manufacturers will be allied in interest?

The answer will form the foundation for brands and their supply chain partners to both meet their coming circular economy obligations and maintain product differentiation


For further information, please contact Jonathan Cocker:

[email protected]



Jonathan D. Cocker heads Baker McKenzie’s Environmental Practice Group in Canada and is an active member of the firm's Global Consumer Goods & Retail and Energy, Mining and Infrastructure groups. Mr. Cocker provides advice and representation to multinational companies on a variety of environmental and product compliance matters, including extended producer responsibilities, dangerous goods transportation, GHS, regulated wastes, consumer product and food safety, and contaminated lands matters. He assisted in the founding of one of North America’s first Circular Economy Producer Responsibility Organizations and provides advice and representation to a number of domestic and international industry groups in respect of resource recovery obligations. Mr. Cocker was recently appointed the first Sustainability Officer of the International Bar Association Mr. Cocker is a frequent speaker and writer on environmental issues and has authored numerous publications including recent publications in the Environment and Climate Change Law Review, Detritus – the Official Journal of the International Waste Working Group, Chemical Watch, Circular Economy: Global Perspectives published by Springer, and in the upcoming Yale University Journal of Industrial Ecology’s special issue on Material Efficiency for Climate Change Mitigation. Mr. Cocker maintains a blog focused upon international resource recovery issues at


Mr. Sanders leads Baker & McKenzie’s U.S. environmental litigation practice. He represents both domestic and non-U.S. corporations before federal, state and administrative courts in environmental, class action, mass tort and product liability litigation, government enforcement, permitting and criminal proceedings. He counsels companies with respect to compliance with CERCLA, RCRA, CWA, TSCA, OSHA and state environmental and product regulations. Mr. Sanders advises multi-national and domestic corporations on environmental, health and safety statutory requirements and legal risks with respect to products sold or marketed in the United States, including responding to product liability claims and recalls. He also advises clients on environmental, health & safety risks and liabilities in transactions.