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EFF SOURCE Fashion business success without compromise

16 November 2016

Sustainable Sourcing Series Part 1: Introduction to Sustainable & Innovative Fabrics & Fibres

Contributor Ethical Fashion Forum

Fairtrade cotton

Sustainability is no longer niche, but heading towards becoming a new norm. In the first part of SOURCE’s 2016–17 Sustainable Sourcing Series, we explore who is doing what in fabrics and fibres. Image: Fairtrade

Ten years ago when the Ethical Fashion Forum was founded it was difficult to source sustainable fabrics. Fairtrade certified cotton was in its infancy, organic cotton was limited in availability, decent recycled fabrics were a pipe dream and there were few standards for assessing sustainability claims.

The landscape for apparel sourcing now looks a lot different. Sustainability has moved from being an off-field trend to something heading towards to a new norm. More organisations, more initiatives, more standards, more involvement by major companies, more R&D, more availability, more options – all this is helping to clean up the fashion industry and ensure fashion is good for people and the planet.

Perhaps this seems unlikely in a business labelled as the world’s second-most polluting industry, where millions of its workers live in poverty, where man-made synthetics have such a massive market share and where consumer demand for ‘fast fashion’ – with all its cost pressures – surges on.

Change is afoot however – and not just at the margins, as these reports reveal. Take cotton – leading brands have increased their consumption of organic cotton, from 20 per cent in 2014 to 29 per cent in 2015.(1) Major fashion retailers C&A and H&M are the top users of organic cotton in terms of sheer volume.(2) By 2020 both aim to use only sustainable cotton as part of wider-ranging ambitions for circularity across their supply chains.

It’s not just natural fabrics. Innovating companies like Lenzing are pioneering cellulose-based yarns that meet demand for fashion fabrics as well as high-performance activewear while minimising environmental and social impacts. Others like Repreve and Teijin are forging ways of recycling polyester to make sustainable textile fibres.

Signposting the way

There is recognition that all this activity needs to be assessed and certified. In natural fabrics, there are now the Global Organic Cotton Standard (GOTS), the Responsible Wool and Down Standards and plans under way for a cashmere standard. More widely, the Higgs Materials Sustainability Index offers manufacturers and brands a way of measuring materials’ environmental impact through a materials scoring tool. This aims to introduce a common language for scoring sustainability and aid decision-making.

In a similar vein, our Sustainable Sourcing Series helps to signpost this exciting new journey towards greater sustainability for SOURCE members. We give a round-up of current contexts for fabrics, fibres and materials, while spotlighting more sustainable alternatives on the market or in the pipeline – complete with a directory of suppliers.

We pinpoint trends to watch – from high-performance materials to artisanal fabrics with a story behind them. We lift the lid on innovations emerging from bio-tech companies, universities and small-scale entrepreneurs.

More and more actors in the fashion industry now see sustainability as an intrinsic part of their production process and a key way to future-proof their output against the impacts of climate change. Our goal is to ensure that you know where and who to turn to in your next steps towards sustainability.

More on Sustainable Sourcing

Go to the Sustainable Sourcing Series 2016/17 Homepage


(1) Textile Exchange (2016) Organic Cotton Market Report 2016.
(2) Ibid.

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