Circular economy and fashion: VIGGA, a model worth following?

vigga viggasvensson

writer icon Flavia Sandu     Vigga   |   Business     🕐 24. Apr. 2018

What if clothes could grow with your child?

Babies and toddlers outgrow their clothes quickly because of the fast rate of growth they are going through during the first years of their lives. In a world where clothing accounts for around 850 million metric tonnes of CO2 emissions per year, restocking a baby’s wardrobe every other month is unpractical not only moneywise, but also when sustainability is concerned.

Are there alternatives?
Many parents have a system of hand-me-downs, not just between siblings but even between families. However, this concept is becoming more and more commercial. Companies such as VIGGA, a maternity and children's wear brand, design for a circular economy. One of their reasons for this is because pregnant women and children grow quickly, while clothes stay the same.

The way it works is rather simple. It follows a circular subscription service model. Customers receive a bundle of sustainable designer clothes, which are later exchanged for larger sizes as the need grows. A bag usually contains between 15 and 20 pieces. The returned clothes are checked for flaws, treated and repackaged. According to their website, VIGGA resends the clothes to at least five families. Chemicals are not used in the manufacturing process and the clothes are washed in eco-label laundries.

This type of business model brings benefits for all the parties involved. The consumer gets access to very sustainable, high-quality clothes at a competitive price point through a convenient and time-saving subscription model. The circulation of clothes provides a cash strong business model, and the circular concept reduces the environmental footprint by up to 80 % compared to traditional consumption. 

These merits are recognised not only on a local level but also internationally. VIGGA has been on the market for almost three years and has made a name for itself and its business model and values. Among the awards and distinctions, there is the 2015 Sustainia Award for best fashion solution at COP21 in Paris, Retail Innovation of the Year by Ebeltoft Group at Retail's Big Show 2016 in NYC and the 2017 Danish Design Awards for Outstanding Service.

This shows just how much sustainable alternatives are needed and wanted on the market, and it recognises the quality products and services that they are offering.

Circular economy: something for startups?
Startups can always fail. Where there is a chance of success there is even a bigger chance of failure. And when planning a business model there are rarely people who wish to take a risky route and do something more unconventional.

The circular economy as a concept appeared as early as the 1960s, and through the 1990s it remained as something of a protest movement oriented to building awareness of the human impact on the environment. In the last five years, however, it has become more mainstream. A circular economy based business model could be more successful now than it might have been ten years ago. It is well known that new business models are a necessity, especially when big brands are doing the bare minimum when it comes to sustainability. 

People talk about how they wish to help the Earth, how they recycle plastic or eat vegan food, but they still buy new clothes every other season. Up to 11000 litres of water are used to make one pair of jeans which then travel thousands of kilometres both by boat and by truck to get to a local retail store. And when people are finished with them, maybe they donate them, or maybe they do not. In such cases, one pair of jeans is reused once, maybe twice. This type of information is unknown to most people though. And even for those who are aware, it is still quite a challenge to find environmentally friendly alternatives on the market, which are also not hard to access and will not burn a hole in the budget.

If more startups in the fashion field would use a circular economy based model, not only would it contribute to the decrease of the carbon footprint on a global scale, but it would also lead to the steady change and reinvention of one of the most polluting industries in the world, namely fashion. It is not a change that can happen in a day or a year, the process will take much longer. But any significant change in the world began because of the desire for it to happen. Where there is will, there is a way.

VIGGA is just an example of how change can happen when there is an initiative from people. A relatively small business in a country of not even six million people managed to achieve water saving of 9,9 million litres and reduce their CO2 emissions by 185 tonnes. If startups which use a circular economy model would be developed not only in Denmark but all over the world, especially in countries with a higher population, the environmental effect could be drastically improved.

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