Fashion is on track to miss climate targets as textile production grows

Brands face an increasingly complex web of global stressors that are likely to limit investment opportunities and slow progress, says Marguerite Le Rolland, industry manager for apparel and footwear at market research organization Euromonitor International. Covid-19 continues to cause supply chain disruptions; while the war in Ukraine has affected energy and commodity prices. In response, fashion is diversifying its suppliers and production pools, she says. Reshoring remains financially inaccessible for most brands, but there has been a nearshoring shift away from China towards Turkey, Portugal, Romania and Tunisia.

The climate crisis also complicates the choice of preferred materials: if brands want to switch from synthetic to natural fibers like cotton – which is incredibly water intensive – they risk contributing to water scarcity, which is number one after a year of heat waves and droughts.

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Less than 1 percent of the global fiber market came from recycled pre- and post-consumer textiles in 2021. There is room for improvement. Swedish alternative materials company Renewcell – whose signature product Circulose is made from recycled cotton clothing – is ready to scale up after piloting projects with Ganni, Levi’s and H&M. And Finnish sustainable materials company Spinnova is expected to open its first commercial-scale fiber production facility by the end of 2022, a €22 million project.

There is also some regression. The market share of “preferred” cotton, as defined by third parties such as Fairtrade, Better Cotton and Regenerative Organic Certified, has fallen from 27 percent in 2020 to 24 percent in 2021. According to Textile Exchange, brands can increase the availability of cotton favored by cotton by working more closely with farmers who are adopting these practices, supporting others in the transition and forming longer-term partnerships based on understanding farmers’ needs. As a step in this direction, the California Cotton & Climate Coalition was formed in September to bring brands, farmers and researchers together to increase the production, availability and use of cotton grown using climate-friendly methods.

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New sustainable production laws could help accelerate progress, Le Rolland says. In the European Union, draft proposals for the Green Deal include plans to make recycling more mandatory, or adjust taxes based on the amount of waste brands generate, and address pre- and post-consumer waste, which is better channeled into textile recycling operations could. Laws like these will be key to achieving the level of change Textile Exchange says is needed. “So far, all sustainability efforts have been guided by good intentions,” explains Le Rolland, “but we need regulation and public money to force change.”

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