Dame Ellen MacArthur Shares Her Vision of Circular Fashion in a New Book

Dame Ellen MacArthur has been talking about circularity since 2010, but only recently has the idea caught on in fashion. After retiring from her sailing career 12 years ago—MacArthur was once the world record-holder for circumnavigating the globe solo—she launched the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to connect the worlds of business, education, fashion, agriculture, and beyond to imagine a radical shift to a “circular economy.” Unlike our current linear model—we create, we consume, we discard—a circular economy involves eliminating waste, keeping products in circulation, and regenerating nature.

They’re principles that dovetail neatly with fashion’s big sustainability ambitions; consider the booming secondhand and vintage market, the rise of upcycling at luxury brands, and designers’ budding interests in regenerative textiles. Those are positive trends, but if there’s one takeaway from MacArthur’s work, it’s that we could be missing the forest for the trees. Transitioning to a circular economy will require systemic change and industry-wide collaboration. “There are a hundred innovations going in a hundred different directions, and everyone is trying to do the right thing,” MacArthur said on a video call yesterday, “but that doesn’t add up to a solution. We need to consider what success looks like for the entire global economy, and get all of the actors in the room to agree on where the industry needs to go.”

That’s essentially what MacArthur and her team work on every day at the Foundation, but for those of us who aren’t in the room—literally or figuratively—there’s her new book, Circular Design for Fashion. Out tomorrow, it features a diverse mix of voices: There are familiar names like Stella McCartney, Gabriela Hearst, and Eileen Fisher; emerging designers including Bethany Williams and Duran Lantink; upcycling experts such as ADIFF’s Angela Luna and Loulwa Al Saad; regenerative agriculture resources like Fibershed and FarFarm; Gucci and its parent company Kering; and some of the industry’s most profitable companies, among them Inditex, Fast Retailing, and H&M.

Each person and brand brings different ideas, opinions, and goals, but all are united around the north star of circularity. “The idea of the book is that it paints a clear picture of what circular fashion really looks like,” MacArthur says. “We don’t have all the answers—it isn’t an A-to-Z guide for taking fashion from linear to circular. It’s an inspirational, creative attempt to bring our principles to life through examples in different parts of the industry, from H&M to Gucci. It’s relevant for everyone.”