Introducing the Circular Fashion Expo

Why I created the largest fashion event in University of Illinois history to fight the fashion waste crisis.

4 min readAug 20, 2022


Photo by Kingston Tai

In February of 2022 while working on a class research project, I discovered something that would change the way I look at my closet forever:

100 billion new clothing items are produced every year, but 50% of those end up in landfill IN THE SAME YEAR — 1 garbage truck full of clothing is dumped into landfill every second¹.

As one who has always shopped for clothes predominantly secondhand, this baffled me. Surely secondhand fashion is becoming the new norm, right?

Not quite.

The global fashion industry earned a total of $1.7 trillion in 2021². The global secondhand fashion market, however, accounted for only $96 billion³. That’s 5.6% of the broader market.

While the global secondhand market is growing at a record pace 3X faster than the broader global market³, this is not fast enough to meet global climate goals.

Even in our progressive campus town at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), not nearly enough was being done to address these issues. How can the secondhand market be growing so slowly? Don’t people recognize that this is an issue? — these questions are what led me to create the Circular Fashion Expo.

What is circular fashion?

​Circular Fashion is defined as “a regenerative system in which garments are circulated for as long as their maximum value is retained, and then returned safely to the biosphere when they are no longer of use”. Put simply, fashion products should be designed with resource efficiency, non-toxicity, biodegradability, and recyclability in mind⁴.

In a circular model, products are designed and developed with the next use in mind. The ultimate goal of circular fashion is that the lifecycle of products should bring no socio-economic or environmental harm.

From a consumer’s perspective, the 3 main ways to make your wardrobe circular are…

  1. Use, wash, and repair with care
  2. Consider loan, rent, swap, or redesign instead of buying new
  3. Buy quality as opposed to quantity

The best thing we can do is buy less and reuse more. If everyone bought just one used item instead of new this year, we could save an incalculable amount of resources.

What is the Circular Fashion Expo?​

The Expo was designed to bring all of the elements of a circular fashion system into one, epic event so that the campus community can collectively create a thriving local circular economy.

Photo by Rishi Mohan

The event includes:

  • A Clothing Swap where donations are received & tracked. People can donate their preloved things, then buy any number of garments and only pay a small swap fee.
  • Vendors of all sorts. Each is audited for sustainability- many of whom are students simply selling what they pulled from their wardrobes.
  • Student-led Upcycling Workshops that teach visitors the basics of mending like sewing & stitching.
  • A fiery finale Runway Competition with a $3,000 prize pool that features looks designed using recycled materials.
Photo by Joseph Bell

With just 1 month of planning for the first Expo, we had 500+ visitors from all across town swap, shop, & jaw-drop during the event, making this the biggest fashion-focused event in UIUC history. It was a prompt success.

The impact was impressive too:

  • 500+ garments were swapped or recirculated with resale. This translates to 1,600+ kg of CO2e emissions prevented & 1M+ liters of water saved from new clothing production⁵
  • 10 campus and community organizations represented the cause
  • 50+ vendors came to sell sustainably

The resounding support & roaring encore for another Expo made it clear that this needed to happen more often.

Hence, the Expo is here to stay.

The new generation of Fashion Futurists

While the Expo is (currently) only limited to Champaign-Urbana, it’s important to recognize that nobody is too small to make a difference. Simply visiting the Expo is a strong first step into the future.

To be a Fashion Futurist is to enlist yourself in the fight for a more sustainable future for fashion. We must adopt the circular mindset and reduce our fashion footprints and, most importantly, champion the cause by enlisting others.

Thank you for supporting the Expo, and remember to keep it in the loop!

- Joshua Jay James, J³ — Founder, Circular Fashion Expo | Social Entrepreneur | Fashion Futurist


  1. Ellen MacArthur FoundationRedesigning the Future of Fashion
  2. Fashion UnitedGlobal Fashion Industry Statistics
  3. MOTIFMoving Towards a Circular Fashion Economy,are%20no%20longer%20of%20use.
  4. The World Bank -How Much Do Our Wardrobes Cost to the Environment?