Assessing the social impacts of circular strategies in the Apparel Value Chain

portraits of people in India and Spain

The apparel value chain is essential for the livelihood of millions of workers around the globe. However, human rights violations, and the lack of a sustained income of workers demonstrate the poor working conditions present in this sector. Circular Economy (CE) is applied by businesses as a framework to achieve sustainability, thus contributing to its economic, environmental, and social dimensions. Nevertheless, there is a lack of knowledge on its social impact. Our research project Assessing the social impacts of circular strategies in the Apparel Value Chain is a collaborative 4-year research project supported by the Laudes Foundation.

We aim at analysing the Fashion Value Chain from a Global and local perspective with emphasis in India, Spain, and the Netherlands. We use a novel framework to assess social impact for CE called the SIAF-CE⚥, the first phase of the research project provides evidence of quality of jobs, community wellbeing and gender equality of applied circular strategies in the fashion field.  The second phase is concerned in co-creating, alongside of key stakeholders of the global apparel value chain, images of the future that are both circular and inclusive and that leave no one behind. The third phase comprises a piloting phase where a selection of environmental and social impact recommendations will be tested and evaluated with different businesses in the three countries. Finally, the fourth phase consist of an analysis of power dynamics, barriers, opportunities, threats, and levers to a transition to a more Inclusive, and fair circular apparel value chain.

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Timeline

Phase 1: Map the System (2020/2021)

  • Desk research to identify key issues and considerations for quality of jobs, sustainable livelihood, and gender equality.
  • 90 semi-structured interviews & 210 workers surveys in three countries
  • System mapping of the current Apparel value chain
  • Gender based Job Inventory  (link opens PDF 242 kb)

Phase 2: Scenario Analysis (2021/2022)

  • Series of collective futuring workshops, aimed at devising four scenarios of circular strategies along the identified VCs. During workshops we will co-create different scenarios identifying drivers, barriers, impacts and trade-offs and draft recommendations for both businesses and policymakers on how to implement inclusive circular strategies for each scenario.

Phase 3: Piloting (2022/2023)

  • Piloting of recommendations with incumbents and startup businesses in the Netherlands, Spain and India
  • Creation of Community of Practice (CoP).

Phase 4: Amplify (2023/2024)

  • Dissemination plan detailed in communication annexe including organizing - along with partners - practical workshops in respective countries.
  • Active engagement of the community of practice

Events

Book chapter launch

On March 6th 2024, the launch of the book Accelerating Sustainability in Fashion, Clothing and Textiles will happen from 13:30 –17:30 GMT in London.

The issue of sustainability is now ‘front and centre’ in fashion, clothing and textiles. Tackling climate change, waste, and social issues are now important agenda items for policymakers, consumers, businesses and academia in the sector. How to accelerate sustainability is an evolving conversation amongst thought leaders and practitioners.

Along with Jesus Rosales-Carreon, Claudia Stuckrath, and myself Lis Suarez-Visbal, we wrote the chapter Circular economy in the textile and apparel sector: an overview of global trends, challenges and opportunities. We will be presenting a snapshot of our chapter along with the three editors and six other chapters contributors. A roundtable discussion will follow the presentation.

You can find full program description here

The event is free; you can participate virtually or come to the premises. To register, please email rcarruthers@uca.ac.uk with your name, job title, and organisation. On receipt, you will be sent instructions to join the webinar.

To order a copy of the book, you can follow this link https://www.routledge.com/Accelerating-Sustainability-in-Fashion-Clothing-and-Textiles/Charter-Pan-Black/p/book/9781032225173

Book chapter launch

We are proud to announce that the book 'Social and Cultural Aspects of the Circular Economy: Towards Solidarity' has been published by Routledge. This collection of essays brings together discussions arguing that circular economy must be linked to society and culture to create a viable concept for remodelling the economy. 

We wrote Chapter 9 'Assessing through a gender-inclusion lens the social impact of circular strategies in the apparel value chain: The Dutch case'. In this chapter, we discuss the social ambition of the circular economy in the sector and introduce the Social Impact Assessment Framework for Circular Economy called (SIAF-CE⚥). It assesses social impacts for workers and communities in a gender-disaggregated way. Using the SIAF-CE⚥ framework practitioners can identify impacts attributed to the implementation of circular strategies on the quality of jobs, and at an individual and community level. You can pre-order a copy through the Routledge website. 

We will be sharing some of the insights recalled in this chapter during an open and free webinar taking place on April 5th, at 1:00 pm (CET). You can register for the event using this registration form.

Workshop 1

The Netherlands, Spain, and India: From June 2021 to October 2021. Using futuring techniques of world making scenarios a total 80 key stakeholders of the Apparel value chain (of the three countries) co-created a first draft of 4 collective images of inclusive circular fashion futures per country.

Workshop 2

The Netherlands, Spain, and India: From September 2021 to January 2022. Using futuring techniques of people centre designed and Back casting a total 80 stakeholders of the Apparel value chain co-created a first draft  of 4 collective images of inclusive circular fashion futures.

Exploring the social impact of circular economy in the textile and apparel value chain

In this session, we will explore the outcomes of our most recent social impact study in the apparel value chain. The study explores the social impact of the different circular strategies implemented in India, Spain and the Netherlands. The panel will discuss critical challenges and possible ways forward to a more inclusive and circular sector.

Research team

Doctoral Researcher: Lis Suarez Visbal

Lis Suarez-Visbal is an ASHOKA Fellow, Fabric of Change Globalizer, founder and former director of FEM International and ETHIK; two NGOs focused on women empowerment and sustainability in the fashion industry. Lis has over 15 years of international experience working with a range of stakeholders from businesses, policymakers from north and south, around sustainability issues in the sector. She holds a MSc in Sustainable Business & Innovation from Utrecht University, a Certificate of Management from Harvard University and a BS in Finance and International Development & Finance. 

Supervisor: Dr. Ir. Jesus Rosales Carreon                

Dr. Jesus Rosales Carreon is an assistant professor at Utrecht University. Jesus is part of the Copernicus Institute leading efforts to develop work in circular economy and sustainable cities. He has profound knowledge of increasing eco-efficiency and reducing the environmental and social impacts of industrial processes and has proven skills in leading interdisciplinary projects and multi-cultural teams.

Supervisor: Dr. Blanca Corona Bellostas

Dr. Blanca Corona Bellostas is an assistant professor at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development. Her main research interest and expertise are related with the sustainability and circularity assessments of products and services. She has more than 7 years of experience in the life cycle sustainability assessment of innovative technologies and products. She develops and applies assessment approaches to make informed decisions about which strategies to prioritise, and how to improve them.

Promotor: Prof. Dr. Ernst Worrell

Professor. Ernst Worrell PhD is professor of Energy, Resources & Technological Change at Utrecht University. He has experience in multinational research teams and has led studies for corporations, government, European Commission, World Energy Council and the United Nations. Author of over 300 scientific publications, he is also the former Editor-in-Chief of the peer-reviewed journal Resources, Conservation and Recycling (until 2013).

Book chapter co-author: Claudia Stuckrath

Claudia Stuckrath is a consultant and a researcher at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development with a focus on Circular Economy and Innovation. She works as a specialist for Utrecht University Living Labs for Sustainable Development. She has been published in recognized peer-reviewed journals and actively participated in innovations within the built environment and fashion industry.

Research Assistant Utrecht: Lia Sweetman de Clar

Lia Sweetman de Clar is an International Development Master student at the UU (with a bachelor's degree in Global Sustainability Sciences). Her academic focus revolves around the intersection of feminist political ecology and social justice. Currently, Lia is engaged in constructing her master's thesis, exploring the transformative potential of art as a means of empowerment for women in Eswatini.

Research Partner Spain: Maria Almazán – Smart Green Industry

Maria Almazán is an Ashoka Fellow, and Fabric of Change Globalizer. Former director of Fabrics for Freedom Foundation and director of Latitude. Currently, she leads the innovation front of SGI. Maria has taught at IED Madrid and Vigo University, where she combined teaching with technical and strategic advice on textile projects, sustainability, and the study of new methodologies to deal with the sustainable issues we are facing.

Research Partner India: Kanika Ahuja - Conserve India

Kanika Ahuja is the Director at Conserve India and the India Project Manager for this research project. She holds an MBA from Shri Ram College of Commerce and a Bachelor of Engineering. She is also a Certified trainer for Livelihoods creation by UNHCR and a Mentor for Atal Tinkering Labs, NITI Aayog, Government of India. She is a social entrepreneur passionate about fair trade and circular economy to shape responsible businesses of the future.

Associate Project Manager: Sonal Chaudhary - Conserve India

Sonal Chaudhary is an impassioned environmentalist deeply committed to conservation and sustainability causes. With a rich professional background, Sonal has contributed significantly to various projects and organizations dedicated to wildlife preservation, environmental education, circular economy and combating climate change. Her role as an Associate Project Manager at Conserve India reflects her diverse expertise and proactive approach towards addressing pressing environmental issues. Sonal holds a Master's degree in Environmental Sciences and Disaster Management and a Bachelor's degree in Botany from KJ Somaiya College. Her skills encompass a wide range of areas including research and analysis, social media management, and effective communication. With strong interpersonal skills and a solid ethical foundation, Sonal is poised to continue making meaningful contributions to the field of sustainability.

Past collaborators

Research Analyst: Devanshi Bhatnagar-Conserve India

Devanshi Bhatnagar is a public policy graduate from National Law School of India University, Bangalore (India). She also holds a Bachelor’s in Economics. She is working with Conserve India as a research analyst. She is deeply passionate about sustainability and education and believes that sustainability should always be at the core of any change-making activity.

Research Assistant: Doria Zabeo

Doria Zabeo is a circular economy and waste management enthusiast. She recently graduated from the Master in Sustainable Development at Utrecht University, specialization in Earth System Governance She holds a bachelor's in international sciences and Diplomacy.

Research Assistant Utrecht: Alex Myerson

Alex Myerson is a Sustainable Development (Energy & Materials) Master student at the UU. His main interests orient around post-growth ecological economics, just transitions, and social innovation, with a keen curiosity towards how humans can live well within environmental limits. He is currently completing his thesis researching the potential for energy communities to contribute to distributive justice. 

Research Analyst: Sumaiya Rahman - Conserve India

Sumaiya Rahman holds an MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development from University College London (UCL). She also holds a Bachelor’s in Economics. She is currently associated with Conserve India as a Research Analyst, particularly focusing on the circular economy in the textile value chain. She is passionate about exploring the integration of economic development and environmental conservation. 

Funding partners

Laudes Foundation

Collaborators

Ashoka

Research Steering committees

The research Steering committees in the three countries are groups of volunteer experts that help advance the mission of the research. Many thanks to their insight and contributions.

The Netherlands

Ytha Kempkes: Co-Founder at the Atelier Made Here

Laura Coppen: Head of Circularity in Zalando

Marjolein Mann: Senior Policy advisor in ROVA

Prof. Dr. Elise Van Nederveen Meerkerk: Professor Economic and Social History at Utrecht University

Spain

Diego La Moneda: Director of the NESI Forum, Co-founder Fundacion Global Hub for the Common Good

Maria Lopez Escorial: Independent consultant specialized in social innovation, Professor at IE Business School

Victoria de Pereda: Independent Sustainability and Design Consultant

Francisco Blanco Caracciolo: Área de Salud Laboral y Medio Ambiente de CCOO de Industria

Tamara Antón Nadales: Tecnica del Area de Salud Laboral y  Medio Ambiente de CCOO de Industria

India

Archana Datta: Expert- SCP and Circular Economy at Asian Institute of Technology

Bhaskar Natarajan: Senior Policy Advisor at Alliance for Energy Efficient Economy

Pranav Khanna: Business and Creative Lead at Frajorden, UN/CEFACT Contributor- Traceability for SVCs (Leather & Textiles)

Vivek Ahuja: Assistant Director, Academics and Peer Learning at Ashoka University

Shalini Goyal Bhalla: Managing Director, International Council for Circular Economy

Anita Ahuja: Ashoka Fellow, Co-founder and President at Conserve India