Patagonia is expanding its Worn Wear program to raise awareness about how to repair and donate previously owned garments.
Patagonia announced that it will launch a standalone Worn Wear site that will provide detailed information about its program (which backs a “Repair is Radical” mantra) and incentivize consumers to donate old garments with discounts on new purchases. The company, which has long been hailed for its commitment to sustainable practices, started Worn Wear in 2013 in an effort to increase longevity of its products by offering repair services at select stores. It also has a repair center in Reno, Nevada that conducts an average 30,000 repairs a year, and a traveling truck that tours around the country conducting free fixes of broken zippers, rips and lost buttons.
The site is slated to launch in mid to late April, in partnership with Yerdle — a “recommerce” organization — which will allow Patagonia to sell pre-used goods online.
This year, Patagonia went on its first college tour, visiting 21 universities to offer repair services and giving speeches at select schools about the process. Among them was the Fashion Institute of Technology, which the truck visited last week.
“Students are very aware of these issues, so they’re bringing in their awareness as they become future designers,” said Suzanne Sullivan McGillicuddy, assistant dean of students and co-chair of the FIT sustainability council. “We have a minor in ethics and sustainability, and last year, in its second year, it quadrupled in number of students joining the major.”
Natalie Grillon, founder of Project Just, an informational platform focused on sustainable fashion and beauty, said Patagonia continues to be an example among brands of launching successful sustainability efforts.
“If anybody’s going to do it, Patagonia will be successful at it because they have such a loyal brand following of people,” she said. “It aligns with their long-term strategy of trying to make ethical and sustainable options, from source to end of life.”
*This story first appeared on Glossy
In December 2015, President Obama signed the Microbeads Free Waters Act, banning the use of plastic microbeads used as exfoliants in personal care products. As a previous director of the organization that first helped uncover this issue, I continue to be astonished by the massive amounts of plastic pollution that originate from a seemingly innocent act: washing our collective faces.
Winning on microbeads took a huge, national coalition of NGOs with a united strategic plan. The next iteration of that work has a new target: microfibers that come from washing synthetic clothing in washing machines.
Oceanic gyres tend to eviscerate big plastics into smaller bits, and washing machines do the same — and even more efficiently. When you wash clothing made from synthetic materials such as polyester, tiny particles of plastic called microfibers are washed down the drain with the washing machine effluent. Microfiber pollution is one of the biggest sources of primary microplastic pollution. In a recent International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report, washing clothing was found to be responsible for 33 percent of primary microplastic releases into the environment. Compare that to the effect of microbeads, which were banned for their paltry 2 percent contribution to watershed microplastic pollution.
For clothing brands, microfiber pollution represents an existential threat to their bottom line, and for outdoor companies, their pro-environment reputations.
Why? Because fossil-fuel-derived, plastic textiles are becoming the go-to fabric of choice for sports and active lifestyle brands due to their performance attributes. Already, 60 percent of all clothing on earth is made of polyester, with even higher occurrences in activewear brands. But whether it’s yoga pants, fleece jackets or underwear, plastic clothes are the new normal — and are shedding massive amounts of persistent plastic pollutants into our shared waters and soil. Unfortunately, with increasing demand for synthetic fabrics, the problem is at risk of getting even worse.
To give an idea of scale, it’s estimated more than 1.4 million trillion fibers are awash in the ocean, a number derived by George Leonard, chief scientist for the Ocean Conservancy, based on an extrapolation from existing data. Now, consider that government data shows more than 103 million washing machines are in the United States doing an average of eight to 10 loads of laundry per week. According to the scientific literature, each load can release between 1,900 fibers per load, to as many as 250,000 per fleece jacket, per wash.
Microfibers are a huge source of pollution, but are they dangerous?
It’s seriously doubtful we’re going to see a scientific study that demonstrates that animals eating plastic is a good thing. As such, many scientists agree there is cause for alarm and that a solution must be found.
What we do know is that plankton, mussels and clams eat fibers and can cause gut impaction and other serious digestive tract problems. We know one in four fish procured from a fish market in California has evidence of microfiber ingestion. We also know microfibers will attract and concentrate (up to a million times greater toxicity) other chemical pollutants present in water, and that after ingestion these toxins can leach from the plastic into an organism’s tissues. Some clothing is also treated with dangerous chemicals that will desorb into water over time as well.
So, although we don’t know the ultimate human health connection implications yet from eating sea life, we know that larger organisms eat smaller ones, and that pollutants thus magnify up the food chain.
So what are clothing brands doing about it?
Forward-thinking brands have acknowledged microfiber pollution is real, and apparel company Patagonia has commissioned a study to look at their products’ contributions to the problem. But few brands have made any significant progress on mitigating their products’ impact on the environment.
In the six years since the first seminal study demonstrating microfiber pollution was published, no clothing company has abandoned synthetic fibers for use in their products. Instead, we’ve seen an increased use of synthetic textiles, especially polyester. Brands love polyester and other synthetics for their performance attributes: they repel water, wick sweat, and the fabric stretches without getting stretched out. Although cheap to produce, polyester is twice as carbon-intensive than the next most carbon-intensive material, cotton.
Some brands, recognizing a way to solve the carbon problem, thought making clothing out of recycled plastic water and soda bottles would be a good idea. This became an overall trend for “green activewear” brands to tell a sustainability story. Although these efforts are well-intentioned, the effect on water and soil remains the same with regard to microfiber pollution.
As is often the case with so many environmental problems, the first solutions are ones that encourage individual actions and technical quick fixes over more complicated, systemic interventions. Although we at The Story of Stuff Project absolutely appreciate innovation and individuals’ desire to “do good” in the world, we’ve been in the environmental advocacy sphere long enough to be skeptical of “sexy” tech fixes that attempt to frame an issue as being solved “if we all just do our part.”
Does anyone really think retrofitting 103 million washing machines in the United States alone is practical? Here are my thoughts on some solutions proposed so far:
- Wash your synthetic clothes less. We have to clean clothes eventually, which seems to indicate that clothing brands are still OK with some amount of fibers going into the environment. This strategy doesn’t address the systemic problem and places the burden on the consumer.
- Put a filter in a washing machine. Again, this is the clothing industry looking for another industry to solve its problem. Technically, it’s difficult to put a filter inside a washing machine because the fibers it catches are so fine they end up stopping the machine from draining properly. This observation comes directly from the mouths of product developers at General Electric, with whom I’ve spoken at length.
- Put a filter outside of the washing machine. This could work, but how on earth would you ever enforce it? This task seems just as hard as campaigning against all textile manufacturers, and again, it puts the burden on the public, not the producer.
- Use a filter bag inside the machine. Recently, there has been a lot in the press around the Guppy Friend, a bag designed to stop microfiber solution by washing synthetic fabrics within the bag. This is a pretty cool stop-gap measure that allows citizens to “do something.” I’d like this better if industry was subsidizing the cost of the bag and giving it away at point of purchase, rather than “hoping” people will buy them.
- Put a fiber collector or innovative detergent in the machine. This may have some promise, but again, how could anyone enforce this? Maybe a detergent could be invented that works as a coagulating agent that grabs all the fibers and leaves a ball of fibers at the end of a cycle. I’m spitballing, but if such a thing could be invented, you’d have to legislate that all detergent sold does this — and we’d need clothing companies to pay for the R&D that creates the product and support the legislative battle to pass the policy. Judging by how hard plastic-microbeads-loving companies fought common sense legislation, this would be very difficult to achieve.
- Stop using synthetic fabrics. There are fabrics from natural sources that could be used more widely — bamboo, for example, can be spun into fabric in a closed loop system (where chemicals used to break down the cellulosic fiber into a usable form are captured, re-used and never enter the environment). Bamboo has a lot of pluses, and also has many of the performance attributes that polyester does.
- Update all developed country sewage treatment to tertiary filtration with the final effluent treated by cloth filters before it’s discharged. Yes, this ultimately could stop fibers from getting into watersheds but it would require billions of dollars of infrastructure spending, and it raises other issues, such as what to do about biosolids. The only way to make this work equitably would be to pass laws that require clothing manufacturers to pay a portion of their revenue, based on size, to a fund the updates the treatment process and offset the loss of revenue derived from selling fertilizers. There are several jurisdictional barriers to work through, but what concerns me most is that eventually, a litigation-oriented nonprofit likely will sue wastewater agencies for discharging plastic fibers in violation of the Clean Water Act or some other nuanced legal theory.
- Coat textiles with a treatment that prevents shedding. This is an interesting idea some clothing brands are assessing. Many questions remain, namely: How long would a coating last? Is the coating environmentally benign? However difficult, this is the solution I like the most so far, because it puts the burden of solving the pollution problem on the front end and on the industry responsible for creating the problem in the first place.
It’s clear that many concerned companies examining the microplastics problem associated with clothes are still in the “head scratching” phase. No clothing brand intended for their synthetic products to be discharged into the environment. Now that they know, they must step up and tackle the problem. As advocates and concerned citizens, we must work hard to listen to the brands but also to guide their proposed solutions and push for systemic fixes.
*This story first appeared on GreenBiz
Sustainability for retailers is a particularly slippery slope. While some are lauded for campaigns that make a significant impact, others are cited for hyperbole or greenwashing.
Regardless, having an environmentally friendly ethos is important to consumers — a Nielsen study found that 75 percent of millennials are willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings — and brands have taken note. It’s not enough to just sell run-of-the-mill goods, brands need to have a defined social and societal impact.
We took a look at some of the recent efforts by eight major retail brands and assigned them letter grades based on genuine transparency ventures, reception by consumers and industry leaders, and commentary from outside experts.
Patagonia has long been the frontrunner when it comes to sustainability in retail. In November, it pulled an unprecedented move and donated 100 percent of its global Black Friday sales to grassroots environmental organizations. Patagonia also has a robust repair program that helps consumers maintain longevity of their products, in addition to selling used branded clothingfrom its Portland retail store. (And no one has forgotten its watershed “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign in 2011, which asked consumers to think twice before making a purchase in an effort to prevent waste.)
“Patagonia has done a tremendous amount of innovation for people and the planet. It’s been in their DNA from the beginning,” said Rebecca Mallard, founder of Maven Women, a sustainable women’s wear company.
Levi Strauss and Co. recognized it had to do something to cut its abundant water usage, so in 2011, it implemented its Water<Less program, which streamlines its production process to reduce water used to make denim. However, what really sets Levi’s apart is its focus on inter-industry collaboration when it comes to environmental efforts. It hosts an annual “collaboratory” that convenes retailers from around the world to glean insight and tips about more sustainable operations. It also expanded its worker well-being program last year to benefit more countries.
“They’re taking their role seriously in supporting innovation,” Ballard said. “It’s open source and about creating a cohesive network, rather than having a clutched fist attitude. Partnership is an essential element of ethics and sustainability.”
Gap, Inc.: B
Earlier this week, Athleta, part of the Gap, Inc., announced that it is launching its first line of athletic wear fully certified by Fair Trade USA, which is focused on supporting global factory workers. For every garment sold in the collection, factory workers are given an additional financial premium to use to benefit their community in areas like childcare, transportation and education. With its Fair Trade line, Athleta primarily aims to support female factory workers — the new styles are made by a factory in Sri Lanka where more than 80 percent of employees are female.
The move by Athleta follows Gap, Inc.’s announcement last year that it has begun disclosing global factor lists in a push for transparency, taking a cue from companies like UK-based Marks & Spencer and Belgium-based C&A. While it’s an important move, it only serves as the initial step before making tangible improvements to working conditions and Gap has yet to launch a program like Levi’s worker well-being efforts.
“It’s a really great first step in transparency and accountability, saying ‘these are our factories and we’re going to own up,’” said Natalie Grillon, co-founder of Project Just, a informational platform focused on sustainable fashion and beauty.
Kering Group: C+
Kering came under fire in December when it received low marks in the Apparel & Footwear Benchmark Findings Report, developed by watchdog organization KnowTheChain. Kering was positioned fourth-to-last on the report, which ranked mass retailers in several categories, including risk assessment, recruitment, monitoring and governance.
Kering claims the score was a result of issues around its information disclosure practices and that information highlighting its most recent sustainability efforts was not considered. Among these ventures is Kering’s environmental profits and loss app, which launched in October as an educational tool to track the environmental cost of fashion design. In response, Kering launched a “next generation” sustainability strategy at the end of January, a comprehensive plans to curb emissions and increase working conditions.
Though H&M launched its Conscious Collection in 2012 and has since worked with organizations to help improve transparency standards, the actual level of transparency from H&M is minimal, with sporadic posts on social media alluding to improved working conditions. Additionally, the company has been caught in several troubling incidents, like the revelation that it had used refugee workers in Europe.
“The issue with H&M is they brand themselves as better than they actually are,” Ballard said. “When you find Syrian refugee children working in factories in Turkey, which happened, and a recycling campaign that has a greenwashing component, it makes me pause.”
Like H&M, Zara has been plagued with similar challenges falling upon fast-fashion retailers. However, it took four years longer than H&M to launch its first eco-friendly line. As part of its new effort, launched late last year, the Spanish company began offering recycled packaging and boxes and also started a clothing donation program (modeled largely off of H&M’s existing program).
“As any retailer is planning for the next generation of customers, and its business in general, sustainability and social impact have to be a top consideration, and it’s positive to see Zara take a step to improve its supply chain,” Brooke Blashill, svp and director at Boutique@Ogilvy, told Glossy in a previous interview.
Despite operating on a mantra of “radical transparency,” Everlane has shown this notion is particularly elusive. Even with its push to share “Transparency Tuesday” Q&As on social media and its efforts to take customers on tours of factories, it is prohibited from disclosing its factory list and has unspecified compliance guidelines for locating new factories. However, the company audits every facility each quarter and avoids at-risk countries so there is no compliance risk, according to CEO Michael Preysman.
Preysman told Glossy in a previous article that the lack of information about its factories is an attempt to protect other brands that operate out of the same spaces. “Everlane makes products in the same factories as luxury brands,” he said. “We make the same quality product as these other brands, pay the same cost, but charge a much lower markup. We may jeopardize their business.”
In September 2016, an investigative report by BuzzFeed found that Asos workers were subjected to particularly brutal conditions, including being discouraged from taking bathroom and water breaks and getting fired for taking sick time. Despite numerous reports, the brand denied that it was complicit in the allegations. “There have been a number of allegations about the working conditions at our warehouse in Barnsley that are inaccurate, misleading or based on out-of-date information,” it said in a statement.
*This story first appeared on Glossy
Sustainability in textile development and manufacturing is an ongoing conversation, much of it revolving around processes that conserve energy, water and natural resources. But beyond manufacturing processes, sustainability issues are driving true technical innovation, resulting in new products offering a host of advantages.
Replacing PFCs in DWRs
The search for alternatives to perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) such as PFOA and PFOS (used to render textiles durably water and stain repellent have been front and center, primarily in the apparel , carpet and upholstery, and outdoor sectors. Loudly condemned by NGO and sustainability campaigner Greenpeace, and subsequently by various government organizations, PFCs persist in the environment and bio-accumulate in animals and humans, creating a number of health issues.
The European Union has banned the use of PFOS, and is considering a restriction on PFOA. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) negotiated with the chemical companies who produced them to phase out PFOA by 2015. As a result, textile and chemical companies have been forced to innovate sustainable, water or bio-based DWR finishes such as Chemours™ Teflon Eco-Elite™, Sciessent CURB™, Huntsman PHOBOTEX®, Schoeller® Technologies ecorepel®, HeiQ Eco Dry, and Bolger & O’Hearn’s Altopel F3®.
Based in Fall River, Massachusetts, Bolger & O’Hearn developed Altopel F3 some time ago, but felt that testing with the Hohenstein institute would add legitimacy to the product, which is now being launched via textile marketing group Concept III. “Sustainability is inspiring us to take a closer look at our raw materials and supply chain,” says Shawn Honeycutt, Bolger & O’Hearn sales manager. “We think we have the best performing product in the market.”
The PFC-free alternatives generally impart a softer hand to textile products, and repel water-based stains; but unlike PFC-based finishes, they do not have the ability to repel oil-based dirt and stains. As a result, some manufacturers of high-performance outdoor gear, such as Patagonia and W.L. Gore & Associates, are funding additional research. Patagonia has invested in a Swiss company, Beyond Surface Technologies, which is working to develop better chemistries for outdoor apparel; the Gore Enterprise is putting $15 million into researching non-PFC materials. The first non-PFC Gore-Tex products should be available in 2018.
At Chemours, “The story is moving towards stain management,” says Gerald Brown, the company’s principal investigator for textiles R&D. “Our customer is asking for it, and we feel we are making strides towards that end.”
Improving on nature
While many proponents of sustainable textiles maintain that you can’t beat Mother Nature, the truth is that innovative synthetic materials are being engineered with better green credentials. Nonwoven wipes are an example. The market for single-use, personal care wipes (generally made from polyester) reached $8.2 billion in 2013, according to Euromonitor International, and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 3 percent through 2018.
While most wipes are not flushable, ending up in landfills, consumers are demanding the convenience of a flushable wipe. A large proportion of wipes are flushed anyway, much to the dismay of municipalities who must deal with the problem of blocked sewers.
The industry is developing new requirements for flushable wipes, and some manufacturers have turned to cellulosic fibers, which can be more easily biodegraded. But according to Bynum Poole, president of the Greenville, South Carolina-based Poole Co., a leading distributor of polyester fibers for the nonwovens industry, cellulosic nonwovens are more expensive and more difficult to process than polyester.
Like many polyester suppliers, the company offers post-consumer recycled fibers, via their EcoSure® brand. Last year the company took the process a step further with the development of EcoSure® BioBlast™, a biodegradable fiber made from 100 percent recycled PET bottles, shown to biodegrade 12 times faster over a year in landfill conditions than traditional polyester fibers.
While biodegradable is not the same as flushable, it is perhaps a step in the right direction. According to Poole, the product could be tweaked to biodegrade faster to meet the needs of a brand partner. “The nonwovens ship turns around slowly,” he confessed. “But we have a lot of interest and ongoing trials.”
EcoSure BioBlast fibers are also seeing interest from outdoor apparel and sock brands, as well as the automotive industry, Poole says.
The textile industry is also taking a closer look at the sustainability story being told by bio-based fibers such as DuPont™ Sorona®, which has been around for more than a decade. Given the generic “triexta,” Sorona is a type of polytrimethyl terephthalate (PTT) containing 37% Bio-PDO™ (bio-based 1,3 propanediol), made by fermenting glucose from corn.
“We’ve never really told our story,” says John Sagrati, global segment leader for Sorona carpet. “Sorona is more like a natural fiber; it comes from fermentation. Think of us as a natural fiber, with the same softness as cashmere or silk; and great natural springiness. The magic is in designing from nature forward, instead of being ‘just like’ other synthetics in the market.”
Bio-PDO™ (bio-based 1,3 propanediol) contains three carbons, and nature is filled with three-carbon and six-carbon forms. “People are beginning to understand the concept of ‘biomimicry’,” says Renee Henze, global marketing manager for Sorona.
Because those carbons are impervious to stains and odor, Sorona has seen its greatest success in carpeting. Sagrati pointed out that soft, resilient Sorona carpet fibers don’t require coating with silicone softeners or stain-resistant finishes (read: no PFCs). “It doesn’t look or feel synthetic; there’s no extra stuff on it,” he said. “And moths won’t eat Sorona.”
The Sorona technical team is also working closely with carpet mills to develop new blends that take advantage of the fiber’s softness, and to engineer latex-free backings, further reducing the product’s environmental footprint.
The latest use for sustainable Sorona fibers is in makeup brushes, where it replaces natural animal hair. Sorona’s softness and stain-resistant qualities are also attracting the high-end automobile industry, where “glowing” light-colored interiors are trending, according to Sagrati.
Creatively applying recycling
The proliferation of closed-loop textile systems that keep textile waste out of the landfill is creating a host of recycled yarns and materials that can be used to make new textiles, primarily for apparel and industrial end uses such as insulation, batting and bedding. But recycled and sustainable materials are also being used to engineer highly technical products.
Leaders in this area are Leigh Delaware Holdings, the parent company of South Carolina-based Leigh Fibers, a processor and trader of recycled fibers, and ICE Recycling, which reprocesses polymers, cardboard and metal. Leigh recently announced the formation of a third sister company, SmartVista™, to focus on the development of new products and technologies from these materials for a variety of industries.
SmartVista’s first product, called SPILLARMOR™ – RDS100, is a lightweight, self-contained emergency response unit designed to rapidly absorb hydrocarbon spills.
“SmartVista will continue developing customer focused technologies for a wide array of industries where sustainable solutions may not currently be available,” says Mariel McAllister, director of public relations for the three companies. Through sustainable engineering, Leigh Fibers has diverted morethan 14 billion pounds of textile waste and byproducts from landfills.
There are dozens of sustainability-driven innovations currently in development in the world of textiles, from synthetic spider silk and fibers spun from oceanic plastic waste, to eco-alternatives to spandex, dyes and printing inks, goose down, building materials, or geo-synthetics. Indeed, one could argue that sustainable imperatives are perhaps the greatest driver of textile innovation today, giving product developers the opportunity to not only make textiles more sustainable—but to create something new and different in the process.
*This story first appeared on Advanced Textile Source
Fast fashion is now the global norm. Producers make more and cheaper clothes and people buy more clothes more often.
It’s a pattern we’ve all become familiar with — department stores with endless variety, clothes that seem to wear out more quickly — but the sheer scale of the situation has reached unsustainable levels. The only way many brands are able to turn a profit is through enormous, ever-increasing volume.
To get a sense of the industry’s size, here are a few startling facts:
- Eighty billion pieces of new clothing are consumed each year around the world, a 400% increase from two decades ago.
- In the US, 14 million tons of textile waste, mostly clothes, are thrown out annually. That’s approximately 80 pounds per person.
- Eighty-four percent of this clothing ends up in landfills or incinerators, where it breaks down, emits greenhouse gases, and releases chemicals into the ground and atmosphere.
Recycling has often been pitched as a solution to the industry’s problems, specifically the problem of ever-increasing demand for natural resources such as cotton, rubber, oil, and leather.
But it turns out that recycling has a long way to go before it can make a meaningful difference in retail, which has been called the second dirtiest industry in the world after big oil for its agricultural impact, the pollution it causes, and the energy it consumes.
The goal, ultimately, is for the fashion industry to become “circular” through improved recycling methods, minimizing its environmental impact in the process.
“Circular for apparel means that when clothing reaches the end of its useful life we will return it and make new clothing out of our used garments,” Jason Kibbey, CEO of Sustainable Apparel Coalition, told Global Citizen in an interview.
“Getting to circular will require many steps including technological innovation and retraining consumers to take back their clothing instead of sending it to the landfill,” he said.
True circularity is still a far ways off. As Alden Wicker of Newsweek recently wrote, “Only 0.1 percent of all clothing collected by charities and take-back programs is recycled into new textile fiber, according to H&M’s development sustainability manager.”
H&M is one of the pioneers of fast fashion and has invested heavily in a recycling program as a way to boost sustainability.
“We have set the vision of becoming 100% circular. In close dialogue with experts and stakeholders we will set time-bound milestones that take us closer to our goal,” said Anna Gedda, Head of Sustainability at H&M in a press release. “To lead the change towards fully circular and sustainable fashion.”
Kibbey thinks that, while the model is currently insufficient, the investments are paving the way toward a good model.
“H&M’s current practices around recycling are a step toward retraining the consumers which, when combined with emerging recycling technologies, could create this circular model everyone strives for,” he said.
Why Isn’t Recycling Effective?
Currently, the vast majority of recycled clothes cannot be repurposed into quality fabric; a recycled shirt is more likely to become a windshield rag or floor mat then another shirt.
This happens for a few reasons. Modern clothing generally consists of hybrid fibers — polyester and cotton blends, for example — that are hard to separate and process. Fast fashion brands, in particular, use cheaper and often synthetic blends of materials that are hard to disentangle.
Recycling is further complicated by the chemical processes that were used to shape clothing and the chemical dyes that remain in garments. These chemicals can be difficult to remove and can degrade the quality of materials. Then there’s the erosion that occurs when wearing a piece of clothing over time.
So most clothes that are recycled don’t exist in a “closed loop.” Instead, they follow a downward trajectory, eventually ending up in landfills.
“When it ends up in the landfill, it’s a wasted material,” said Annie Gullingsrud of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute. “There’s been an expense to the planet. There’s been an expense to the company [and] sometimes to the people creating the materials. And it creates a need to use virgin materials.”
How Can This Be Changed?
As Kibbey noted, a lot of technological advances have to be made before existing clothing materials can be effectively recycled.
Machines have to be developed that can reliably sort through and separate different fabrics and then restore integrity to the fibers so that they can be reused for new clothes — something that Wicker notes is at least five to 10 years out.
There are stories of successful recycling systems being implemented and scaled by large corporations that suggest circular systems are attainable.
For example, Levi is working on jeans made from 100 percent post-consumer cotton.
And then there are big companies like Patagonia that break the pattern by controlling more aspects of production and ensuring that materials can be readily reused, while also promoting the long-term value of the products they sell.
There also seems to be a gradual awakening throughout the industry that future profits hinge on the ability to effectively recycle and for resources to remain viable.
The ideal solution would be for manufacturers to standardize materials production methods. If this happened, then recycling would become exponentially easier.
“Fashion and clothing are indeed a very high impact industry, but the industry is making considerable progress,” Kibbey said. “Nearly 40% of the industry is supporting the Higg Index to measure and improve the impacts of apparel and footwear products.
“Some companies have just released ambitious goals such as Nike’s goal to double its growth and halve its impact,” he said. In Kibbey’s view, Inditex (Zara) and H&M have made bold statements toward circularity.
“There is still a long way to go but I’m optimistic the industry that brought us into the industrial revolution will lead us into the sustainability revolution.”
What can you do in the meantime?
The best thing you can do is buy less and higher quality clothes. This approach has a few benefits. First, it allows you to hold onto clothes for longer, generating less waste and reducing your environmental impact. Second, it signals to companies that they should be developing more sustainable models. If all consumers adopted this approach, then fast fashion would rapidly change.
If you’re interested in taking a more active role, here’s some advice from Kibbey:
“Ask questions of all of the companies you buy from about their efforts to improve the social and environmental impacts of their products,” he said.
“If you aren’t satisfied with the answer you get from a sales associate or a person answering questions on their website, they probably aren’t part of the solution.
“Tell them you won’t shop with them any longer until they do better. Buy products with certifications such as Fair Trade, Blue Sign, or GOTS. They are a great start towards finding and supporting sustainable products. “
When it comes to deciding whether or not to recycle your clothing?
“At the end of the useful life of a garment people should recycle because it will mean the clothing will have the best chance of an afterlife and will likely avoid the landfill even if it doesn’t end up on another person,” Kibbey said.
“They should not recycle solely to free up their closet to buy more items–today that is totally unsustainable,” he said. “When we get to a circular future, that will be normal and sustainable.”
*This story first appeared on Global Citizen
Investors should account for raw materials sourcing and resource constraints in their investment decision-making.
Black Friday has become almost as popular as Thanksgiving Day itself. Each year, retailers open their doors earlier. This year, Macy’s announced it would push up its opening hours to 5 p.m. Thanksgiving Day — perhaps before some have even sat down to eat their turkey dinners.
Investors in apparel and retail companies are surely excited about this day and the approaching holiday season. However, there is one consideration they may not be bearing in mind, but which could have financial ramifications for the companies they are investing in.
Is fast fashion always profitable?
The problem with fast fashion, and the hype for huge savings on days such as Black Friday, is that sustainability issues around raw materials sourcing — oftentimes overlooked — could create supply disruptions and result in higher raw material costs over time.
Concerns related to climate change, water scarcity, land use, resource scarcity and conflict in the supply chain increasingly are shaping the industry’s ability to source materials, including cotton, leather, wool, rubber and precious metals. The ability of companies to manage potential materials shortages, supply disruptions, price volatility and reputational risks is made more difficult by the fact that they source materials from geographically diverse regions, usually through complex supply chains that often lack transparency. Further, the type of risk faced for different materials can require different solutions.
Take cotton. According to the World Resources Institute, 57 percent of cotton is grown in areas with high to extremely high levels of water stress. Moreover, given that it takes roughly 20,000 liters of water to produce a kilogram of cotton, the crop is susceptible to shifting weather patterns and droughts, while also contributing to increased water scarcity.
Further, innovation to find sustainable alternatives for these materials is lacking. There is currently no commercially viable textile recycling techniques for the major fibers used in apparel, which presents a major challenge to a closed-loop system.
Apparel companies understand this risk, and some are taking steps to ameliorate it. In its FY2013 Form 10-K, Hanesbrands discussed its exposure to shifting cotton prices through a sensitivity analysis. The company concluded that an increase of $0.01 per pound in cotton prices would influence the cost of sales by $3 million at 2013 production levels.
In September, the H&M Foundation invested $6.5 million in a four-year partnership fund to research and develop new textile recycling technologies, with the aim of recycling blended textiles into new fabrics and yarns. Patagonia will be the first to use Tencel fiber in its products beginning in early 2017. Tencel is made from post-industrial cotton waste, and producing it uses 95 percent less water than traditional cotton production.
We know there are risks in each apparel company’s supply chain based on what raw materials they use to make their products. What we don’t know is how much of each raw material the major apparel companies use, and what the risks associated with each material are.
Protect your profits
It’s up to investors to engage with companies and ask them questions such as: What risks are associated with the materials the company is most reliant on, and how is the company innovating to mitigate these risks? To make better investment decisions, investors should consider environmental, social and governance factors (such as resource constraints and where companies are sourcing their materials from) in addition to traditional sales numbers and valuation metrics.
This Black Friday, I encourage you to consider these questions and engage with the companies you invest in by asking how they are ensuring the environmental and financial sustainability of their business.
Source: SASB analysis performed between May and August 2016 using the latest annual SEC Filings (i.e. Form 10-Ks and 20-Fs) for the top companies, by revenue, per SICS industry (maximum of 10 companies).
*This story first appeared on SASB.