Circular Economy Academic Research 

PhD thesis: Closing the loop. Driving a Post-Consumer Clothing Circular Economy (2018 - 2021)


Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow. Funded by the Economic Social Research Council (ESRC) in collaboration with the Ethical Consumer Research Association. Administered in Scotland by the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science (SGSSS).


Dr Lynn Wilson has recently completed an in-depth qualitative academic thesis, which addresses post-consumer clothing circularity and the shift from a linear to a circular economy. Lynn conducted her field work in Edinburgh during 2020. Her research addresses the issue of how contamination and misalignment occur in clothing reuse, recycling and fibre to fibre closed loop technologies. The purpose of the PhD is to contribute new knowledge to systems thinking related to clothing circulation, disposal and new models of clothing access.


Lynn was awarded 1st runner up in the 2020 SGSSS Knowledge Exchange Impact Awards. The award included £500 towards to cost of additional knowledge exchange dissemination work. Lynn will host an event in May 2021 about the findings of her research.

You can find out more about the PhD at:


Previous research

Circular Economy Wardrobe. Exploring Circular Economy Textile Models in Japan. October 2015


Lynn was awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (WCMT) Fellowship in 2015. The origin of this website and the title ‘circular economy wardrobe’ is inspired by her trip to Japan. You can find the full report and findings on the WCMT website.

Executive summary

This report covers a one month stay in Japan during October 2015. The content and the recommendations from the report are written from a Scotland specific perspective but have wider implications for UK design, retail and heritage sectors. The timing of the publishing of this report coincides with the Scottish Government’s announcement of a £70 million investment package

for Scotland from the European Regional Development Fund to embed circular economy models and practice across key industry sectors and develop new business models which will contribute towards Scotland achieving a low carbon economy.


Scottish textiles, particularly Harris Tweed woven cloth and cashmere knitwear, are key exports to Japan whilst Scotland has been importing Japanese textile technology from companies such as Shima Seiki for the last 50 years. The purpose of the Fellowship was to understand what textile processing systems, design and heritage solutions the Japanese textile industry and related industries are developing to support a move towards a circular economy in terms of textile apparel design and production and reprocessing. Japan is twice the size of the UK and four times bigger than Scotland

in terms of landmass. It has 125 times more (130 million) people than Scotland and double the population of the UK. A key objective and benefit to visiting Japan was the opportunity to explore the difference in scale from the UK in terms of textile processing and production. Small quantities of waste arising from the textile and consumer sectors in Scotland has meant less obvious opportunities to set up new reprocessing and recycling plants. The goal is for Scotland to be a destination for new businesses setting up circular processing systems that can service the whole of the UK and new manufacturing hubs using traditional industry skills producing products with provenance, heritage, durability and sustainability for the global market. From the consumer perspective, it is about finding solutions to the evidence that the average UK household owns £4000 of clothing and 30% is never worn.


The research focused on four key questions:


  1. What technology has Japan developed to support post-consumer and    post-industrial textile processing and enable ‘closed loop’ systems?

  2. What retail trends are happening in Japan that contribute towards a circular economy?

  3.  80% of a product’s environmental impact can be determined at the design stage.

  4. What can we learn from Japanese traditional design methods?

  5. How can we help consumers make sustainable, circular textile/fashion choices?




  • Technology is available that could be applied in the UK but needs a critical mass of feedstock to work

  • Post-consumer clothing can be reprocessed and made into textiles, but it is not ‘closed loop’

  • Zero waste garment knitting technology is available and can aid circular economy if utilised to produce products supported by a return system

  • Retail trends - fashion leasing, eco villages, vintage/retro fashion boutiques

  • Kimono is truly zero waste design

  • There are several environmental impact assessment tools available and used by the global apparel industry


The full report can be downloaded from the WCMT website:

CEW Winston Churchill report picture.jpg

Case study

The sustainable future of the Scottish textiles sector: challenges and opportunities of introducing a circular economy model, 2015

Case description

Zero Waste Scotland introduced the concept of the circular economy to the Scottish textiles sector at events throughout 2013 to 2014. In April 2014, it commissioned research by independent consultants to examine the academic and industrial textile landscapes in Scotland, including developments in technical textiles and research into innovation in textile design and examples of circular economy models.

The research identified several initiatives, including projects producing an alternative to denim and one developing cavity wall insulation from processed natural fibres. It made recommendations to Zero Waste Scotland about shaping the future landscape of textile innovation in Scotland and offered examples of the circular economy from Scandinavia that might be applicable.

Discussion and evaluation

The implementation of the circular economy into Scotland’s textile sector, underpinned by the aforementioned initiatives, can learn too from its textile and fibre heritage. Zero Waste Scotland is implementing an action plan which will offer support to the textile industry exploring ‘closed loop’ manufacturing, as well as funds for fashion designers to explore concepts such as zero-waste pattern design, luxury apparel from alternative textiles such as recycled polyethylene terephthalate and natural fibres such as nettle. A master class skills programme, delivered by leading UK and international experts, will bring together industry, academia, and higher education professionals to engage in learning and information exchanges about the circular economy. This paper presents Zero Waste Scotland’s role and the research findings.


The paper can be accessed here: