Following a New York Times article published this week — alleging big fashion has buoyed big plastic and maintained biases against natural fibers — Amina Razvi, chief executive officer of Sustainable Apparel Coalition issued a statement on LinkedIn. (The SAC owns and oversees the methodology behind the Higg Index tools while Higg, the tech firm, hosts the data on its tech platform).
“Stating that the Higg [Material Sustainability Index] favors synthetic materials over natural ones is incorrect,” she wrote. “It does not favor synthetic over natural fibers, and it was not designed to compare the two. The purpose of the MSI is to show designers and developers where environmental hot spots are in the production of a material, by breaking down impact categories such as Greenhouse Gas Emissions. The SAC’s communication guidelines for brands specifically prohibit brands from making comparisons across material types.”
Razvi assured that product designers and life cycle assessment, or LCA, experts use the dataset to make “more informed decisions” but not as a “generalized measure” of sustainability. She also addressed the Higg Index’s involvement in incoming policy under the European Union’s Circular Economy Action Plan, among other initiatives, saying the intent to use Higg as a benchmark is “incorrect.”
The organization still plays a supporting role in the work, per the SAC’s website: “In support of future circular policies initiated by the European Commission, the SAC has been engaged by the Commission to facilitate a collaborative, multistakeholder secretariat, whose task is to develop Global Apparel and Footwear (PEFCR) which will serve as a policy standard for apparel and footwear products in the EU.”
PEFCR stands for Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules, and along with Organization Environmental Footprint Sector Rules, the rules are among the methods by which fashion is to transition to greener standards. Assisting the technical secretariat to the Commission, The Policy Hub was launched by the SAC in collaboration with the Federation of the European Sporting Goods Industry and Global Fashion Agenda.
But where natural fibers are pitted against petrochemical-derived synthetics with the available data, the biotech firms driving the next wave of material innovation (many of which, although buzzy for their mushroom, kombucha or pineapple origins, are not free of plastic) are remaining largely cautious to free up their data.
From Bolt Threads to Pangaia, players are still working on definitive LCAs for their latest proprietary materials. And commercial releases, such as Bolt Thread’s Mylo innovation — arriving in Stella McCartney’s “Frayme Mylo” handbag this July, or Everlane’s Bio-Tex handbag line arriving fall 2022 — still have shoppers holding their breaths.
At a press tour of biotech start-up Modern Meadow’s New Jersey testing facility on Wednesday (where an early glimpse at Everlane’s Bio-Tex line was given), David Williamson, chief science and technology officer at Modern Meadow, told WWD how the firm is handling its own LCA data amid the continued tension and relatively threadbare data landscape.
Asked whether the LCA is or would be included in the Higg MSI, Williamson said: “No, it’s broader….So, our LCA actually goes beyond just what you’d see in the Higg Index. We did a cradle-to-gate LCA of our material all the way until the brand uses it. It’s much more extensive than what you’d get out of the Higg Index because it’s tied to the construction and the production processes.”