The skills to drive the circular clothing transition

How the rise of reuse and repair models will change the landscape of the Dutch clothing industry

Countries around the world are rushing to develop plans to curb climate degradation by 2050, with some emphasizing the circular economy as a means to that end. Imagine a scenario thirty years from now where circularity, backed by government regulations, has transformed the clothing industry: reuse and repair have become key strategies to divert textiles from landfills and actively reuse them.

Imagine it is 2050. The Netherlands has achieved what the government challenged 30 years ago: a fully circular economy. Supported by government regulations, companies in the garment industry have prioritized reuse and repair as key strategies to reroute textiles away from landfills and actively reuse them. Up to 80 percent of textiles sold each year are now collected for reuse, and local reuse is steadily increasing. Clothing changes ownership from one consumer to another; some undergo repair and maintenance to be resold. As a result, the second-hand market is exploding and repair, maintenance and cleaning services are increasingly successful. Employment in the garment industry is 25% higher than 30 years ago, with nearly 25,000 new repair and maintenance jobs being created. About 17,000 jobs have shifted from first hand sales to used sales.

Back to 2021. According to the new Putting Circular Textiles to Work report, this scenario may become a reality in the Netherlands – if the industry prioritizes equipping workers with new skills and strengthening those already present in the value chain clothing, such as repair and maintenance. .

Written by Natalia Papú Carrone (Research Analyst) and Lena Bäunker (Communications Manager), Editing by Ana Birliga Sutherland (Communications Manager and Editor) of Circle Economy for FashionUnited

A fully circular economy for fashion may seem inaccessible to people working in the industry today. To this day, the Dutch clothing industry is rooted in complex global value chains that remain largely linear. According to the World Economic Forum, industry accounts for around 5% of global emissions and the equivalent of a truckload of clothing is burned or incinerated every second. At the same time, workers around the world are subjected to unethical working conditions pervasive in the industry. And yet, the thirst for new clothes is growing: in the Netherlands alone, people buy on average one new item of clothing per week (* source: Putting Circular Textiles to Work report).

Skill requirements for circular reuse and repair models

It is clear that the road to a fully circular clothing industry is long. And a move towards circularity in the sector will have a huge impact on the workforce, as the transition involves changing roles along the value chain. The (future) professionals of the Dutch clothing industry are thus faced with difficult questions about the future: what skills do I need to promote the adoption of circular practices? What jobs and education levels will be sought in the clothing industry and how do I integrate?

Stimulating circular models focused on reuse and repair would have the greatest benefits for the labor market, increasing job creation in industry by 25%. But for these job opportunities in the Netherlands to materialize, apparel professionals need to learn new skills or further develop underutilized ones.

Jobs that already contribute to the circular economy today, including jobs in clothing repair, maintenance, collection, sorting and resale, will become crucial. To understand the skills required to work in these fields, 2,289 vacancies from 2019 were analyzed, presented in the table below.

CLOTHING REPAIR AND MAINTENANCE

Manufacturing skills

  • Clothing assembly
  • Manual or mechanical repair activities
  • Use of sewing, ironing and other machines

Logistics and purchasing skills

  • Transport
  • Delivery skills
  • Stock control
  • Procurement management

Managerial skills

  • Business Administration
  • Finance
  • Planning

COLLECTION AND SORTING OF CLOTHING

Waste Management

Industrial cleaning

Ability to handle and transport loads

Managerial skills

  • Management of installations and tasks
  • Human Resource Management

Logistics and purchasing operational skills

  • Freight forwarding
  • Stock control

Machine operation and maintenance skills

CLOTHING RESALE

Logistics and purchasing skills

  • Transport (forklift driving)
  • Stock control
  • Packaging and processing

Manual or mechanical maintenance of resold clothing, including cleaning activities

Sales and service skills

  • Retail business
  • Wholesale
  • Telephone skills
  • Welcome clients

Awareness and knowledge of sustainability

Although some of these skills are already present in the Dutch labor market, many more people will need to acquire them in order for the clothing industry to become fully circular by 2050. And since most skills are practical rather than theoretical, vocational education and training (VET) can act as a key mechanism to ensure a skilled workforce for the transition to the circular economy, as it provides professionals with the required knowledge, skills and competences. by particular professions and the constantly changing labor market.

Gain skills for (new) circular jobs in high demand

In the repair, sorting and resale industries, a range of new and additional circular jobs are expected to be in high demand as the entire industry moves towards circular business models.

1) (Re) fabrication Designers

In an industry focused on reuse, (re) fabrication designers will be key to creating value from a new flow of used, growing and ever-changing textile materials. The main activities of this role include assessing the “reusability” of incoming garments as well as understanding the parts of clothing that could easily be taken apart and used in remanufacturing and refurbishing other parts of clothing. The skills required include creativity, planning and knowledge of the properties and functionality of fabrics. Since the incoming material flow is unpredictable, (re) fabrication designers also need to be able to deal with uncertainty.

And: (re) fabrication designers must be supported by a large number of skilled workers for (dis) assembly, repair and maintenance activities, such as tailoring or sewing. Although some of these skills are already appearing in the Dutch labor market, their presence is limited and will require growth.

2) Resale collection managers

The rise of (online) resale platforms will be critical in giving brands and businesses visibility and a platform from which to leverage their reuse models, while providing consumers with a functioning marketplace to browse through. and buy used items. This can give birth to a new profession: Resale Collection Manager. MOTIF’s 2020 State of Skills Survey found that skills needed in the apparel industry will include merchandising and purchasing data analysis, 3D design, as well as knowledge of automation and technological integration into logistics processes. At the same time, it will be crucial to understand and know about sustainability and circularity, which is most of the time at the heart of resale models. Financial and business development skills will also become increasingly important for this role.

And: Due to the potential of a diverse workforce in the resale labor market, as well as the tendency of customer services to prioritize customer needs, those responsible for resale operations and facilities will also need to have good listening skills and inclusive value.

3) Textile sorters and collectors

Sorters will be essential to develop more nuance, in terms of new parameters and categories, in the sector. They will be responsible for differentiating materials and inventories of specific brands and sorting according to the repairability of the garments. Those seeking this job should have knowledge of the different material compositions, brands and their affiliates, and be able to judge the re-portability of articles of clothing and their repair potential. Additionally, as textile collection systems change, it can be expected that less technical knowledge will be required, while physical strength and fluent communication skills will become more relevant in a more localized system.

When looking at managerial positions within textile sorting facilities, there is a great opportunity to attract people away from the labor market, which necessitates an increase in the number of social work managers. This role would require excellent people management skills, a good variety of social skills and an understanding of the needs of different groups of vulnerable workers.

4) Innovation managers

Interdisciplinary skills that enable collaboration across disciplines, departments and organizations are essential for the transition to a circular garment industry. Roles that serve as pins between various stakeholders, such as innovation leaders, will thus become increasingly important. Some of these jobs are characterized by a need for cross-functional skills – including digital, green and social skills – in addition to more specific knowledge and skills in logistics, sales and administration, design and marketing.

The Putting Circular Textiles to Work project is led by Circle Economy in collaboration with HIVA and supported by the Goldschmeding Foundation. The report (https://www.circle-economy.com/resources/putting-circular-textiles-to-work-2) that inspired this contribution aims to set a current benchmark for jobs and skills related to the clothing in the Netherlands. Additionally, they collaborated with Amsterdam-based social enterprise, Makers Unite, to explore skills gaps for their current and future business models. The organization, which works with skilled newcomers to the Netherlands from refugees to create sustainable and recycled products, hopes to convert to a fully circular business model that promotes social inclusion. In addition to modeling the impacts on employment of the increased reuse and repair scenario discussed in this article, it analyzes the effects of changing consumption patterns and the intensification of recycling and local processing of the fiber.

Images: Photo by Volha Flaxeco on Unsplash & photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash


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