Circular+: Evidence for Inclusive Circular Business Models in the Indian

Textile waste from the global fashion industry is estimated to increase by about 60% between 2015 and 2030 to reach 148 million tons — equivalent to an annual waste of 17.5 kg per capita globally. For India, the problem of textile waste is two-pronged – 1. Waste from domestic manufacturing (pre-and post-production waste) and 2. Post-consumer waste imported from US and Europe for recycling, in addition to the waste generated in India. Estimates suggest that 10%-30% of fabric waste occurs at various stages of the textile production process in India. On the other hand, India is also a leading importer of used clothing and imported old clothes worth USD$ 182 million in 2013.
The sheer magnitude of negative environmental footprint of the textile industry points towards an urgent need for the industry to innovate and adopt circular economy practices. In India, circular practices have historically been a part of the culture, reflected in second-hand trading, tailoring, repair and customization as well as swapping, sharing and passing on clothes from one generation to the next to extend their usage. However, adoption of such practices has largely been informal. The mainstream textile and apparel industry until recently, exhibited little effort towards incorporating circular practices to shift from the existing linear models of production and consumption to alternate models that would help deliver on both planet and people positive outcomes.
While the need to address environmental risks remains the key motivator for the textile and apparel industry to accelerate the adoption of circular economy models, it is equally important for such models to factor in the human aspect. This is particularly relevant in the context of India where the industry employs around 45 million people across the value chain, a majority of them being women. Given the industry’s deep social implications on aspects such as gender equity, economic parity and the future of work, it is imperative for initiatives focusing on circularity to be designed to further social inclusion.
In 2019 Circular Apparel Innovation factory (CAIF) launched Humans of Circularity (HoC), a Working Group that convenes stakeholders of the Indian textile and apparel industry on collaboratively driving the agenda around a ‘just & fair’ transition towards circularity – balancing economical & environmental sustainability while delivering positive social outcomes.
Project Circular+ was launched as a Sub-Working Group within HoC, with support from the Laudes Foundation with the objective of exploring how circular business models in the Indian textile and apparel industry can be designed to deliver social inclusion and impact at scale.
With the successful completion of the project, this report captures lessons from the design and implementation of the project as well as industry-level insights that have been captured from the Working Group deliberations.
The first section presents a repeatable approach and methodology to surface inclusive circular business models that can inform the design of future initiatives. The section provides a detailed overview of the project design and approach along with methodologies used to drive a highly collaborative and sustained co-creation process with a diverse set of ecosystem stakeholders.
The second section includes insights generated from the Circular+ Working Group which served as a platform for knowledge exchange amongst a diverse set of industry stakeholders to create a shared and unified understanding of the circular business models landscape in India and beyond. The section contains insights on the role and current state of a set of circular business models in India, associated gaps and challenges, and explores the whitespaces and opportunities for scaling their adoption.