Report: Fashion brands continuing to rely on unsustainable materials

That is according to a new report from Textile Exchange, which was supported by Boston Consulting Group and Quantis on this project.

The report notes that fashion firms are increasingly taking note of the carbon footprint of their materials as the uptake of science-based targets becomes more common. Around 400 fashion brands have either had such targets verified or are aiming to do so in the next two years.

Brands are also setting more detailed visions in terms of land impacts, water stewardship, animal welfare and worker wellbeing – whether voluntarily or because they are compelled by legislation and regulation. All of these trends, compounded by consumer demand, are prompting a heightened drive for more sustainable materials.

The report therefore calls materials such as organic cotton and recycled textiles ‘preferred materials’. These materials accounted for around 19% of global fashion production in 2021, or 23 million tonnes.

By 2030, the demand for these materials is set to swell to 163 million tonnes, the report concludes. But it forecasts that only 30 million tonnes will be available on the market at this point. As such, the materials are likely to continue accounting for just 19% of global fashion production, which is set to increase in tonnage terms.

Changing course

The report attributes the impending supply and demand gap partly to “the lack of a united front within the industry to achieve scaled financial investment and clear demand”.

Also noted is the fact that climate change impacts are already hitting major fashion production hubs like India and Pakistan, hindering the availability of materials production – whether ‘preferred’ or less sustainable.

The report presents six principles for brands looking to create a robust strategy for ensuring the secure supply of all materials as climate risks intensify. This ‘materials manifesto’ also covers the need to scale preferred material supply chains.

The principles are:

  1. Investing in and embedding full traceability to de-risk supply chains and fully understand materials’ impacts.
  2. Using a science-backed approach to decision-making
  3. Diversifying the materials portfolio to mitigate future risks
  4. Building a materials business case that tracks not only monetary benefits to the business but also supplier benefits and benefits for nature
  5. Strengthening supplier relationships
  6. Embedding sustainable materials knowledge throughout the company

Principles apply to any one business. Also highlighted is the importance of collaboration on a pre-competitive basis, as noted above.

The report forecasts that brands that make their material supply chains stronger and move first to secure preferred materials can, on average, capture a net profit increase of 6% over the five-year period through to 2030.

Textile Exchange’s director of climate and impact Beth Jensen said: “In the face of the climate crisis, the policy landscape, and investor and consumer scrutiny, fashion and apparel brands cannot afford to underinvest in their raw materials strategies any longer.

“Brands must act boldly now to invest in the supply chain relationships that will enable achievement of their climate goals by 2030—a key milestone year that is rapidly approaching.”

The report skirts around discussions of scaling back production. It estimates that 163 million tonnes of fashion will be produced globally in 2030, up from 125 million tonnes in 2021. It assumes that the demand for less sustainable materials will grow alongside the demand for preferred materials to meet this growth.

The British Fashion Council has stated that there are currently enough garments, shoes and accessories in existence to dress the next six generations due to the accelerating pace and growing scale of production in recent decades.

Related article: Polyester production doubled between 2000 and 2020, with huge climate implications

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