The race is on; what is your rank?
The Green New Deal has taken a course to be an imperative guideline for the fashion industry and if the legislative offices can collaborate with the supply chain on the field, we might finally have a globally defined sets of guidelines in the industry`s transformation to become circular.
The textile industry should all acknowledge that the growth is maintained through the extraction and exploitation of resources, from raw materials to labor and the inherent link to climate crisis demands an urgent address beyond the voluntary self-regulation. EU is on a new track to address the legal framework around its import, use and disposal of textiles and clothing with a life cycle analysis at the core of production and end of life cycle. The current 92 million tons of global annual textile waste, the news on textile microplastics found in the 96 of the 97 samples taken in the Arctic Ocean demands an urgency in resource use reduction as well as a system redesign. The raw materials we use in abundance are polluting distant, pristine lands. The chemicals used in abundance present threat to soil health, biodiversity, human health and are mostly disregarded as their impact is extended over a longer time period. The future legislation will make sure that there is no market for products and services without transparent due diligence on environmental and human rights.
The latest report launched by Kearney states that among the largest 100 fashion brands operating in EU only 3; Patagonia, The North Face and Levi`s have achieved acceptable results on circularity. The brands were ranked on 8 criteria measuring the lifespan expansion of garments and the potential impact of the circular strategies on the environment. The brands that are seeing the sustainability as a business opportunity as well as an environmental requirement and moving away from a linear thinking are achieving better results.
Europeans have spent 225,9 billion USD on clothes in 2019 where a majority of the sales were on fast fashion items. One third of the clothes get discarded not because they are old or damaged but more so because they are unwanted due to being out of fashion. Each time I spell out these facts, I feel like citing great business opportunities – seasonless fashion, alterations, the great Levis Redone kind of collections and many more. Currently only %15 of the fashion brands are using recycled materials to a credible extent, 45% of the brands are not fully engaging in communication of circularity efforts. Again citing more business redesign possibilities.
The brands who have committed to becoming circular have to be accountable and transparent about their progress and The Green New Deal might just well giving birth to a globally recognized criteria benchmark. The current supply chain activities are centered around:
Implementing design for recyclability
Increasing the volume of used garments collected
Increasing the volume of used garments resold
Increase the share of garments from recycled materials
Engage in educating users
The market will expand 1- as more supply chain partners recognize circularity as a means to better value and profits 2- as more successful and inspirational exampled line up 3- as legislations will follow and this is happening.
Bestseller is leading the way to build an online marketplace in Bangladesh for the industrial upcycling of the textile leftovers and the market is presented with a new business definition where a brand expands is responsibility in a region where it manufactures as well.
The H&M Foundation`s partnership with the HKRITA for a 5 year project called Planet First is another example of long-term, global scale commitment. The Green Machine; a hydrothermal textile recycling solution sounds like a marvel as it can recycle even blended fabrics which is a hurdle in recycling. Current practice of recycling is mechanical and chemical recycling will also be scaled in the coming years. HKRITA CEO Edwin Keh says that The Green Machine operates on pressure and heat. The machine can recycle polyesters which perform as virgin polyester in the second or the later on life cycles. The cellulosic content of the recycled textiles and clothes coming from cotton as well as viscose like manmade fibers is coming in the form of powder. What came as a surprise was that the discovery that this powder that initially seemed as useless is found to be a super absorbent polymer which can be used in agriculture as it can hold 20 to 40 times of its weight in moisture. A possible use for irrigation free cotton production. The Looop has been launched by also H&M; as an in store recycling machine which recycles old consumers` old clothes into new garments. The Looop does not only chemically recycle old garments and then 3D knits them into new garments but the fact that it is in the store makes all the process a reality for the consumers.
Researchers and the industry leaders are working on ways to improve the supply chain and scale the innovation, and this is defining a new path for business. BCI ( Better Cotton Initiative) is taking a step forward to explore going beyond the mass balance and have declared that they will become fully traceable by 2022. Launching and piloting innovation is essential and the key to making these much needed fringe, disruptive innovations work is true partnership as well as widespread credibility ( especially from the consumers) given to the innovations. Circularity is not a preference, but it is a necessity and once the legislations around raw materials extraction, manufacturing, use and disposal of textiles and clothing become standards rather than voluntary practices companies will take on the race to be the most sustainable, socially and environmentally forerunners.
The EU Green Deal, the Circular Economy Action Plan have identified textiles and fashion as priorities for accelerating a carbon neutral economy – so this race to make fashion circular is already on. The industry needs experienced, willing, passionate leaders who understand the inherent complex structure, are willing to take risks, have field experience, can understand the urgency and the link to the global climate crisis. Short term financial focus, traditional linear sales and marketing strategies will not meet the vital needs this new race demands. There is one difference on the competition, as this will be a race to win together.