The global demand for more sustainably made textiles and fashion apparel is expected to see continued momentum this year, as brands and retailers onboard new programs and practices aimed at reducing the negative environmental impact of various production processes.
Underpinning these changes is a consumer who is increasingly seeking out low environmental-impact products that are also produced in socially responsible ways. This is driving brands and retailers to reconsider current practices across the entire supply chain.
And it is also encouraging designers to explore new methods and technologies, which includes incorporating fabrics made using waterless dyes, reducing the amount of plastic in products and turning to sustainable materials such as wool.
Some of the efforts involve end-to-end changes and require strict adherence to sustainability standards.
Earlier this year, for example, Eileen Fisher Inc. said it partnered with Columbus Consulting International on an end-to-end merchandising and sourcing plan to reach its goal of 100 percent sustainability by the year 2020. The partnership is part of the designer’s “Vision 2020” five-year plan that was announced in 2015.
Columbus Consulting International, which specializes in merchandise planning, is working with the Eileen Fisher to create and implement a unified business plan and roadmap to achieve the designer’s commitment of using organic and sustainable fibers and un-dyed and natural dyes as well as certified dyeing processes in its products while also upholding human rights and fair trade practices across the supply chain.
And this past December online retailer Ramblers Way was awarded a Global Organic Textile Standard certification for its responsible supply chain. And this past month, the wool apparel retailer said it was rolling out a “cradle to cradle” certified organic wool apparel line.
The company, based in Maine, primarily uses Merino wool and Pima cotton for its men’s and women’s wear and the products are sewn at its facility. The founder is Tom Chappell, the founder of Tom’s of Maine. The company’s ethos is to offer responsibly sourced and handcrafted products.
It’s important to note that the GOTS certification is complicated and stringent for cotton and wool, and includes environmental and social criteria.
The ecological rules have over a dozen specific requirements, which provides for separation of conventional fibers from organic ones while also adhering to biodegradability and “eliminability” standards. Other criteria noted the prohibited use of heavy metals, formaldehyde, aromatic solvents and functional “nanoparticles,” among other requirements.
Consumers are taking notice of these certifications and often choosing products based on how the item was sourced, industry experts have said, which is why many of these standards and certifications appear on labels and product descriptions as well as being woven into a brand’s marketing narrative.
Retailers and brands are also finding support in implementing sustainable practices from solution and service providers such as Salesforce and HSBC. The latter is deploying a strategic plan to get 100 percent of its energy sourced from renewables while simultaneously working with clients on improving sustainable efforts — because the bank sees it as a financially sound business practice for its customers.
But the fashion industry has much work to do. Environmentalists continue to criticize the industry for not moving fast enough to implement needed changes. Glasgow Caledonian New York College’s Fair Fashion Center noted that 85 percent of textiles are sent to landfills, while fashion contributes 20 percent of industrial water waste. And the industry continues to contribute 10 percent to global carbon emissions.