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Fashion Companies Are Having Trouble Meeting Circular-Economy Goals

The signatories of the 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment have made just 21 percent progress toward goals meant to accelerate the fashion industry’s transition to a circular economy, the Global Fashion Agenda, the sustainability think tank that organizes the annual Copenhagen Fashion Summit, reported Tuesday.

A “Year Two” progress report showed that the 90 participating brands and retailers, which collectively represent 12.5 percent of the global fashion market, achieved 45 of 213 targets set in 2017, a reality that underscores the “ambitious nature of many of the targets.”

“Brands must urgently accelerate their efforts and seek further collaboration if they are to achieve their remaining targets by June 2020,” the organization noted in a statement.

The biggest obstacle for signatories lay in action point four: “Increasing the share of garments and/or footwear made from recycled post-consumer textile fibers.”

Most signatories are still in the early phases of integrating post-consumer textile fibers in their production processes, according to the report. Moving forward beyond research and develop requires a close relationship between suppliers and partners as a “prerequisite for success,” something that is time-consuming and resource-intensive. The dearth of solutions that facilitate higher-quality fiber-to-fiber recycling is one roadblock; the challenges of quality control are another.

“We’ve found most recycled fibers to be less consistent; there’s no way around testing each material and product for long-term durability to ensure that the end product meets our customers’ high expectations,” Brad Boren, director of innovation and sustainability at Norrøna Sport, said in the report.

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Signatories cited the difficulty of monitoring pre- and post-consumer textile fibers separately. They also had trouble keeping track of the chemical compositions of input and output materials to ensure product safety. For small and medium enterprises, finding materials that met both their quality standards and suppliers’ minimum requirements proved a headache. With larger companies, the barriers revolved largely around scalability and a lack of specialized suppliers and common standards.

In order to bridge the gap between intent and reality, signatories emphasized the necessity of industry-wide standards, best practices, legislation and supportive regulatory frameworks.

“It’s promising to see that the 2020 Commitment has triggered many brands to take action on circularity,” Eva Kruse, CEO and president of the Global Fashion Agenda, said in a statement. However, we need to move faster; if we don’t work together to establish a strong ecosystem of collaboration, we will not achieve all of the 2020 Commitment targets and the impact of the fashion industry on the planet will continue to grow.”

In May, the organization observed that the fashion industry’s efforts to improve its social and environmental profile have slowed by about a third.