Sustainable Apparel Coalition

Fashion for Good Brings the Good to Fashion.

Posted on Updated on

Fashion for Good is making an industry-wide call for collaboration to transform the apparel industry at a gathering of innovators, fashion and sustainability thought leaders in Amsterdam.

As a holistic and inclusive open-source initiative, Fashion for Good invites the global fashion industry to reimagine how fashion is designed, made, worn and reused.

Fashion for Good aims to promote the five “Goods” of a new, transformed fashion industry: Good Materials, Good Economy, Good Energy, Good Water, and Good Lives. In pursuit of this goal, Fashion for Good enables the fashion industry to embrace innovation, change its business models and adopt a totally new mindset.

“The Five Goods represent an aspirational framework we can all use to work towards a world in which we do not take, make, dispose, but rather take, make, remake,” said William McDonough of McDonough Innovation. “Fashion for Good is about transforming the industry from serving one generation to serving many generations.”

Leslie Johnston of C&A Foundation said: “Open and inclusive, Fashion for Good will share all knowledge and lessons learned from its activities.  In doing so, we want to inspire all stakeholders in the fashion industry to work toward a future in which everyone – farmers, workers, customers, and communities – can flourish.”

Fashion for Good is changing the apparel industry through innovation and new business models. Its innovation platform scouts for, nurtures and funds early-stage ideas and it scales proven technologies and business models for wider adoption by the industry. Its Apparel Acceleration Fund aims to catalyse access to finance and its open-source Good Fashion Guide shares knowledge to help the apparel industry transform. As a convenor for change, Fashion for Good enables conversation and collaboration, bringing together co-locators at its first hub in Amsterdam, as well as visitors to the Fashion for Good Experience to learn more about Good Fashion.

With an initial grant from founding partner C&A Foundation, Fashion for Good inspires brands, producers, retailers, suppliers, non-profit organisations, innovators and funders all working towards a Good Fashion industry and invites industry to join and collaborate.

Fashion for Good has six complementary programmes:

  1. Early-stage Innovation Accelerator: Fashion for Good works with Plug and Play, a leading Silicon Valley accelerator, to give promising start-up innovators the funding and expertise they need to grow.
  2. Late-stage Innovation Programme: Fashion for Good finds innovations that have proof of concept and helps them scale by offering bespoke support and access to expertise, customers and capital.
  3. Apparel Acceleration Fund: IDH, The Sustainable Trade Initiative, is scoping a fund that aims to catalyse access to finance where this is required to shift at scale to more sustainable production methods.
  4. Good Fashion Guide: This open-source guide proves that Good Fashion is feasible today and shows brands how to embrace it. The online guide provides practical tips, a self-diagnostic tool and a step-by-step guide to production, based on lessons learned while creating the world’s first Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM GOLD cotton t-shirt produced in Asia, at scale, at a value retailer price point.
  5. launchpad exhibition of the Fashion for Good Experience:Fashion for Good has opened three floors to the public in its historic building in a first step to build a community around the ambition to make all fashion Good. With vibrant displays, thought-provoking messaging, and a call to action, the launchpad will inform and inspire its visitors to be part of this larger movement of Only Good Fashion. In 2018, the launchpad exhibition will evolve into a permanent Experience Centre.
  6. Circular Apparel Community: Fashion for Good has rented an historic building in the heart of Amsterdam (our first hub) in order to bring likeminded organisations and partners together, including the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) and Made-By. This community will embrace collaboration to create change and build a vibrant eco-system of entrepreneurs and innovators in the name of circular fashion.

About Fashion for Good

Fashion for Good is the global initiative that is here to make all fashion good.

Fashion for Good sparks and scales innovation by offering practical action in the form of support and funding, shares best practice and lessons learned in open-source roadmaps, and fosters sector-wide collaboration for the entire apparel industry to change.

Fashion for Good invites brands, producers, retailers, suppliers, non-profit organisations, innovators and funders to jointly transform the industry.

Guests are invited to learn more about the industry at a newly opened Launchpad exhibition in Amsterdam. Fashion for Good was created with an initial grant from founding partner C&A Foundation, and other partners have joined to help build the foundation of Fashion for Good: C&A, the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, IDH the Sustainable Trade Initiative, Impact Hub Amsterdam, Kering, McDonough Innovation, Plug and Play, and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC).

 

*For more information, visit Fashion for Good

To Create Meaningful Change, Apparel Brands Need to Pursue Sustainability at the Industry Level

Posted on Updated on

Investment in industry-level research and development can give consumers a meaningful metric of sustainability, says former corporate sustainability analyst Mary Hable.

20170207_clothes_news_featured
The goal of sustainable clothes manufacturing is one size too big for individual apparel companies to handle; the solution must come from the industry as a whole. Image: putri macan, CC BY 2.0

In 2010, fresh out of college with a degree in economics, I began a new job as a corporate sustainability professional at a major apparel retailer. I was hopeful. The apparel industry was full of environmental problems and opportunities for major progress.

At the time, Greenpeace had launched a Detox campaign directly linking textile manufacturing and water pollution, a claim confirmed by the industry’s most influential brands through their organisation of Zero Discharge of Hazardous ChemicalsThe Natural Resources Defense Council was building its Clean by Design initiative to collaborate with brands that wanted cost-effective ways to clean up factories in their supply chains. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition was gearing up to foster collaboration among companies, non-governmental organisations, government and academia with the mission of improving the social and environmental performance across the industry. And corporate sustainability departments were being built across the industry.

The problems and opportunities were obvious, but one big thing was missing: Consumers were not clearly rewarding brands for sustainability. Without such an economic payback, brands lacked incentives to develop and deploy systemic sustainability initiatives and so limited themselves to less expensive short-term changes.

As a result, after five years in the field, I’m no longer looking for sustainability solutions to be created within companies. Rather, my view is that the more effective role for brands is to invest in external industry-wide sustainability research and technology aimed at developing those systemic solutions.

To drive investment, industry should track contributions from each company and share the information with consumers. Consumers could then use this information to judge — and reward — brands’ commitment to sustainability. After all, money, unlike environmental impact, is something we already know how to measure well, making sustainability investment a simple metric that can be used to activate consumer choices now.

The bottom line is: Individual apparel industry brands won’t deploy systemic solutions on their own because such solutions are not developed enough to provide either a direct economic payback or an indirect payback through consumer reward for more sustainable choices.

Wanted: Systemic Solutions

On the surface, the sustainability teams I was part of made progress. We found ways to achieve grassroots improvements despite minimal top-down support. At one company, we persuaded executives from design and sourcing to come together to educate each other about sustainability issues and to study what competitors were doing. At another large retailer, management was motivated to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy, saving money that was used to fund other sustainability projects, such as corporate reporting and more internal education.

These successes, unfortunately, were far outweighed by missed opportunities. For years, we cycled through conversations on using recycled, natural and organic fibers without seeing change. We researched and piloted take-back and donation programmes that didn’t gain traction. We developed strict supply chain monitoring programmes, but couldn’t get key decision-makers to sign off on the next step of including sustainability expectations in business agreements. Ultimately, I watched both sustainability teams that I was a part of be downsized.

This wasn’t surprising. An apparel brand’s fundamental purpose is to sell product, not to promote organic agriculture or develop non-toxic fibers and finishes. To be sure, a handful of values-driven apparel companies have experimented with technologies such as greener chemistry, waterless dyeing, and natural and organic fibers. But those companies are the minority, because such changes are either too costly or risk reducing product performance in the eyes of the consumer. Material choices create the products that are the lifeblood of a brand. Any changes need to be made out of confidence, rooted in strong evidence. Currently, brands lack the data needed to make evidence-based changes.

On material recycling, it was also clear that apparel brands acting on their own couldn’t effectively “close the loop” on clothes and shoes at the end of their useful life. A robust take-back and recycling programme turns a store into a hub of reverse logistics, collecting and sending materials back to a facility that sorts, resells or down-cycles material. All of this takes the store’s focus away from the goal of selling product and creates projects that provide little or no economic payback.

 

The bottom line is: Individual apparel industry brands won’t deploy systemic solutions on their own because such solutions are not developed enough to provide either a direct economic payback or an indirect payback through consumer reward for more sustainable choices.

Investment as a Metric

Brands will make voluntary investments in sustainability only if consumers clearly reward them for doing so. The problem is, even caring consumers do not have the information they need to know what to reward.

Providing consumers with that information is one of the fundamental pursuits of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC). Since 2009, the SAC has been developing the Higg Index, essentially a sustainability version of a nutrition label. Over the past three months, the SAC has released two important pieces of the Higg Index: The Design and Development Module and the Materials Sustainability Index. The goal of these tools is to provide consumers and brand designers with information they can use to easily compare varying degrees of environmental impact between products.

To measure and ultimately reduce environmental impact, the Higg Index depends on a vast amount of quantitative data grounded in science. For example, it needs to be able to provide a simple recommendation as to whether a 90 per cent recycled polyester blend or a 50 per cent organic cotton blend is the more sustainable choice. Currently, the Higg Index is not complete enough to make such a recommendation.

For a tool like the Higg Index to reduce environmental impact, the industry needs more sustainable technologies and better ways to measure the benefits they provide. What the industry needs now more than anything is a consistent source of funds to develop those data and technologies, such as research and development leading to new fiber and manufacturing technology. Brands can have a more impactful role in advancing sustainability by contributing to an industry fund that supports these initiatives.

Providing simple information on individual brands’ contributions to the fund as a per cent of revenue can drive consumer choices and, consequently, competition between brands on investments.

Reprioritising expectations

The downsizing of corporate sustainability positions that I experienced could be a sign that brands are moving away from investing in internal sustainability initiatives. Given the complexity of the issues, that makes sense. Brands don’t need more people working on sustainability. What is needed is financial investment in systemic solutions related to fiber, chemical, and manufacturing research and technology.

Brands can’t create these systemic solutions on their own, but they can help pay for them on an industry level. Providing information to consumers about brands’ investment in industry-wide sustainability would give consumers a powerful tool for making purchases based on sustainability, which would motivate the apparel industry to take action toward reducing its environmental impact.

Mary Hable is a freelance writer and former corporate sustainability analyst in the apparel and footwear industry. She produced this feature as a participant in the Ensia Mentor Program. Her mentor for the project was Marc Gunther

*This story first appeared on Ensia.

New Higg Index Module Empowers Apparel, Footwear and Textile Product Developers and Designers to Design Impacts Out of Products

Posted on Updated on

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), a global industry coalition that is standardizing social and environmental sustainability performance measurement, launched the Higg Index Design and Development Module (DDM). The Higg DDM empowers product designers and developers to make sustainable choices at the earliest stage of apparel, footwear and textile prototype design.

“Product designers and developers’ choices can influence over 80% of the environmental impact created by a product,” said Jason Kibbey, CEO at the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. “Empowering them with credible information to make better choices in the early stages of product creation can benefit the people and communities where the products are made, consumers, and our environment as a whole.”

Designers have the most freedom to minimize eventual environmental impacts of the finished product at the earliest stage of the design process. The data collected through the Higg DDM, which replaces Higg’s Beta Rapid Design Module, helps steer them toward selecting lower impact materials, using more efficient construction techniques, and considering the complete life cycle of the product.

After completing a simple product assessment, the Higg DDM provides members with a single design score, making it easy to compare design concepts and make quick decisions before production. The Higg DDM provides useful benchmarking and analytics that allow users to compare products or defined groups of products to each other, to company averages, and to industry averages. Using the Higg DDM encourages continuous improvement by teaching designers and developers where they have the most control over the impact, and by giving rapid feedback on how to improve their score.

“At Brooks, we are always looking at ways to improve our impact on the environment and communities where we run. The Higg DDM makes it possible for us to connect our product sustainability focus areas into a single tangible score so we can engage our product design team more directly with our sustainability goals,” said David Kemp, Sustainability Manager, Brooks Running Company. “With the scientifically driven MSI at the foundation of the tool , the DDM helps steer our product design teams towards more sustainable design choices that reduce our impact on the earth.”

The Higg Product Tools include the Material Sustainability Index (MSI) Contributor, the Higg MSI, and now the Higg DDM. Each tool help measure product environmental performance at different stages within the product-development cycle , from initial prototype to sourcing raw materials to final design. SAC members have access to all Higg Index tools as part of their membership dues. Non-members can explore the Higg MSI at product.higg.org. Companies or organizations that are not currently members of the SAC and are interested in accessing the Higg DDM, may inquire at apparelcoalition.org/join-us/.

 *This story first appeared on Sustainable Apparel Coalition

Does Recycling Your Clothes Actually Make a Difference?

Posted on Updated on

pile-of-clothes-web-131148758435782541
DigitalVision | Ryan McVay

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.

#recyclingclothes #recyclingevent #recykleordie #recyklacenaplno #sustainablefashionevent

A post shared by Dana Halušková (@dfashion.cz) on

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

Sustainable Apparel Coalition Releases New Version of the Materials Sustainability Index

Posted on Updated on

Updated Materials Sustainability Index Empowers Apparel, Footwear and Home Textile Industries with Environmental Data on Thousands of Material Types

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), a global industry coalition that is standardizing social and environmental sustainability performance measurement, today launched a new and improved version of its Higg Materials Sustainability Index (Higg MSI). The Higg MSI is a ground-breaking cradle-to-gate material scoring tool that measures and communicates the environmental performance of thousands of materials used in creating apparel, footwear and home textile products.

The publicly available tool allows design teams and global supply chain participants to select more sustainable materials during product design and development.

“The new materials database/MSI represents a leap forward in standardizing the way apparel companies profile materials, sustainable or otherwise,” said Barruch Ben-Zekry, VF Corporation’s Director of Sustainable Products and Materials. “This provides the type of certainty in interpretation that will help guide our industry toward better materials choices. At VF, we’ve already begun to integrate the MSI into our internal systems of product impact measurement and we will continue to advocate that others do the same.”

The benefits of the updated Higg MSI include:

  • Contributing to the world’s knowledge about materials and their impacts through a centralized database accessible to the public
  • Creating a common baseline for material performance against which textile manufacturers can work to improve their performance and differentiate their capabilities with their customers
  • Providing information in a user-centric way that empowers product designers and developers to iterate on designs while considering sustainability during the product creation process
  • Reducing data requests of manufacturers, thus saving time and money
  • Growing the spectrum of known environmental impacts against which material impacts are evaluated including climate change, eutrophication, abiotic resource depletion (fossil fuels), water scarcity and usage, and chemistry

“The updated Higg MSI paves the way for deeper material transparency and awareness of environmental impacts,” said Jason Kibbey, CEO of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.  “It is a vital addition to the Higg Index allowing us to do brand, facility, and product level assessment.”

How It Works

The original version of the Higg MSI was developed by Nike and later adopted by the SAC in 2012 and incorporated into the SAC’s Higg Index. Since then, SAC has updated the methodology, technology, and datasets to create an unparalleled tool for evaluating the environmental impacts produced by materials from extraction through manufacturing.

Participating material and textile manufacturers to submit commonly used production data via the Higg MSI Contributor to be scored and publicly recognized in the Higg MSI. Once data is submitted, it is reviewed and verified by Thomas Gloria, Ph.D., Managing Director of Industrial Ecology Consultants, a leading material expert. Once data is approved it is scored and entered into the Higg MSI according to a specific and robust scoring methodology. Dr. Gloria was also part of a team of LCA experts and industry leaders that determined the scoring methodology, and believes that “the Higg MSI is an unprecedented industry-wide collaborative effort to apply leading science-based approaches to support sustainable design decisions.” To learn more about how impacts are calculated and the process and costs for submitting data, please visithttp://msicontributor.higg.org.

*This story first appeared on Apparel Coalition

 

SAC and Lenzing Join The World Apparel & Footwear Lifecycle Assessment Database Initiative to Build a More Sustainable Fashion Industry

Posted on Updated on

Two key players in the apparel industry become partners of the database project to improve the environmental impact measurements in the apparel and footwear industry

 

WALDB.pngZürich, Switzerland, October 3, 2016 – The environmental sustainability consulting group Quantis is pleased to announce that the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) and Austrian fiber company Lenzing have officially joined the World Apparel and Footwear Lifecycle Database (WALDB) as partners. WALDB, a pre-competitive global initiative founded by Quantis, is a to provide a robust and credible database for environmental impact assessment and footprinting in the fashion industry.

SAC and Lenzing join HUGO BOSS, Legero/Think! Shoes, the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) and BSD Consulting, a group of industry leaders that have come together to collaboratively measure the environmental impacts created by materials used in the apparel and footwear supply chains.

The addition of these two new key players in the apparel industry and leaders in sustainability illustrates the need for more robust and credible data from the industry’s value chains. Data on the environmental impacts in supply chains is sparse, yet it is essential for organizations to drive metrics-based sustainability programs. WALDB will solve this data challenge.

The aim of WALDB is to bring together partners in the industry, in an open and precompetitive dialogue, to address the needs and challenges of environmental data collection and availability. In this initiative, the partners will work together to expand the database with reliable data on the processes along the apparel and footwear value chains.

WALDB enables apparel and footwear companies to identify environmental hotspots along their value chain as well as to quantify the benefits of improvement and reduction measures and to benchmark individual footprints compared with industry averages. Moreover, credible communications and marketing efforts can be built on sound metric-based footprint data, which can be used for sustainability reporting in full compliance with relevant ISO Standards and with the European Commission’s Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) initiative.

The interest in calculating LCA in the apparel and footwear industry is rapidly increasing. Companies are looking for reliable data to make informed decisions and to prioritize their sustainability efforts. Furthermore, the development of new public policies like the Green Economy and the EU’s Single Market for Green Products are adding to the demand for credible data.

“I have witnessed a clear shift from the apparel industry – one that is characterized by a sharp increase in interest in developing a more holistic and quantitative approach to environmental sustainability,” Rainer Zah, Quantis Zurich Managing Director and WALDB project lead confirms. “Solid metrics serve as a guide to organizations’ sustainability strategies allowing them to make good decisions, based on hotspots across their operations, to make the most impact. The WALDB database will allow companies to assess their impacts, make strategic decisions, and engage their supply chains based on facts.”

Environmental impacts can range from water consumption for cotton cultivation, to impacts from dyeing and tanning, to greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing and transportation.

The WALDB partners work together to collect comprehensive datasets based on primary data from the partners and on existing data from scientific studies. The datasets are released annually, the first release took place in July 2016 and consists of 60 datasets which cover wool, cotton, and leather supply chains for shirts, pullover, trousers and shoes. The datasets will continuously be expanded during the next two years according to the needs of the partners.

About Quantis

logo

Quantis is a global leader in sustainability and  (LCA) expertise, services, consulting and tools. Quantis is specialized in supporting companies as they measure, understand and manage the environmental impacts of their products, services and operations.

*This story first appeared on Quantis International

Fast Fashion Attempts an Environmental Makeover

Posted on Updated on

Retailers tackle the eco footprint of fashion, from the source of the fabric to the day you throw it away

zara-join-life
Spanish retailer Zara has launched a line of eco-friendly clothing called Join Life made of recycled and organic fabrics. (Zara)

At H&M’s flagship Canadian store in Toronto’s Eaton Centre, a rack of spiffy navy-blue jackets is rolled from the back room to the display floor.

“This one is made of wool with recycled fibres, and this one has recycled cotton,” H&M spokesperson Emily Scarlett says with a smile, showing off items from the chain’s eco-friendly line, dubbed the Conscious collection.

Scarlett points out proudly that H&M is also the world’s second-largest user of organic cotton.

The Swedish chain is eager to spruce up its environmental image. So is Zara, the massive fast fashion retailer from Spain, which just launched its first sustainable fashion line called Join Life, which uses organic and recycled materials.

Both retailers, which have dozens of locations in Canada, have come under attack in recent years — along with other fast fashion chains such as Forever 21, Joe Fresh and Topshop — for encouraging consumers to buy more clothing than ever, creating waste that eventually goes to landfill.

Fast fashion gets its name from its ability to take the latest style trends from the runway to the store floor in record time. But the industry can’t move fast enough when it comes to its impact on the environment.

Critics aren’t buying the stylish environmentalism.

Misinformation in the marketing

“I am very skeptical of both the Conscious Collection and the new initiative that Zara is launching,” said Nikolay Anguelov, author of The Dirty Side of the Garment Industry, a book about fast fashion’s negative impact on the environment.

“There’s misinformation in the marketing message. The eco label is not deserved. The eco is a minor improvement, but unfortunately, it’s communicated to the consumer as if it’s problem solved.”

A professor of public policy at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Anguelov says his research shows that fabric accounts for only about 13 per cent of the cost of any piece of clothing, so a switch to natural textiles doesn’t make much of a difference. The fashion industry’s carbon footprint is huge, including energy used for transportation and toxic chemicals, such as bleach and dyes, used in manufacturing.

Then there’s the problem of massive waste. Anguelov says Millennials are consuming five times the number of apparel products as the generation before them and then discarding much of it.

That trend is driven by low prices, he says.

Mountains of textiles tossed in the trash

“We sometimes buy things we don’t need at places like Zara and H&M,” shopper Rafaella Silva admitted to CBC News, showing off the three sweaters she had just purchased at Zara for a total of $70.

“It’s mainly because of the price. If I had a choice to go somewhere that I could purchase something that would last longer and the price wasn’t that much, of course I would, for sure.”

rafaella-silva-clothes
Shopper Rafaella Silva spent $70 for two sweaters and a top. The low prices make fast fashion seductive, she said. (CBC)

Municipalities in Nova Scotia, Ontario and British Columbia are looking at ways to limit the amount of textiles being dumped in local landfills. A study done by the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART) showed that North Americans throw away almost 37 kilograms of textiles every year.

“You want a jacket, you want a sweater, you want a hoodie,” says Colin White, a student at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax who had just bought a winter coat at Zara. “It’s just cheaper here.”

The fashion industry has responded, forming its own group to address the waste problem. Based in San Francisco, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition is a collaboration between two very odd bedfellows: super-retailer Walmart and Patagonia, the high-end maker of outdoor clothing that describes itself as an “activist company” when it comes to the environment.

It’s an industry-wide problem

Coalition CEO Jason Kibbey says the group’s 185 members include most fast fashion retailers, including H&M and Inditex, Zara’s parent company.

“This is not just a fast fashion problem,” he points out. “This is a problem across all segments. It’s a systemic challenge across all supply chains.”

 

garabage-pile
Pieces of clothing are seen in trash at a City of Toronto waste transfer station. (CBC)

Kibbey says a huge amount of industry investment is going into new, “closed loop” technology, where items of clothing can be broken down and recycled to make new items. It’s also known as a circular system, or a “cradle to cradle” approach.

“There’s a lot of investment and activity in that area right now,” he said. “It doesn’t mean there isn’t a long way to go. But given the amount of activity I see, this will be our future. It’s just a question of how long will it take us to get there.”

Trying to spur recycling innovation

H&M is in its second year of a “Global Change” innovation challenge in which five winners split a grant worth €1 million ($1.5 million Cdn). The award is meant to be a catalyst to accelerate the shift from “a linear to a circular fashion industry,” says the company. “The aim is to protect the planet and our living conditions.”

Even some anti-consumer advocates praise the chains that are taking action.

‘They are never going to advocate for the one solution that is going to have the biggest environmental impact, which is to simply reduce the amount we consume altogether.– Madeleine Somerville, author of All You Need Is Less

“I’m impressed,” said Madeleine Somerville, the Calgary-based author of All You Need Is Less, a book about how to adopt a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

“I think any time a retailer takes steps to develop manufacturing processes to actually address the waste and the pollution that comes from creating these clothes, that needs to be recognized and celebrated.”

But she notes that for all retailers, the overarching goal is to sell more clothing.

“They are never going to advocate for the one solution that is going to have the biggest environmental impact, which is to simply reduce the amount we consume altogether.”

Consumers are challenged to make a choice between the health of the planet and their desire to wear the very latest, most inexpensive, fashion trends.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said fabric accounts for six per cent of the cost of a piece of clothing. In fact, it accounts for about 13 per cent.
    Oct 04, 2016 1:21 PM ET

*This story first appeared on CBC