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Patagonia, Levi’s Lead New Circular Fashion Ranking

Ahead of Earth Day last week, eBay’s U.K. arm launched a new section that it dubbed “the fashion equivalent to supermarkets’ wonky veg initiative.”

Instead of centering imperfect produce, the online marketplace is pulling together clothes, shoes and accessories with defects like a small scuff or mark, a missing button or a loose thread. Ex-display items are also included on this new Imperfects page. So far this year, Next, Nike, Marks & Spencer, Adidas and Zara rank as the top five brands sold secondhand on eBay UK.

Sustainability-minded initiatives such as eBay’s are a perennial feature of the Earth Day season. This year, however, they come as experts caution that the world is dangerously close to missing the international community’s goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In a report released earlier this month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the much-touted benchmark is “beyond reach” “without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors,” including an overall halving of emissions by 2030.

The United Nations Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action committed its signatories to this goal in November. Previously, companies had committed to cutting emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

Released last week, the second iteration of Kearney’s Circular Fashion Index (CFX) offers some insight into how some of fashion’s largest companies stack up in their efforts to reduce their environmental impact. Once again, Patagonia, Levi’s and The North Face led the way.

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All three companies improved versus 2020, Kearney said, with each scoring above an 8 on its one-to-10 scale. The industry as a whole averaged a 2.97, which, though low, was still an improvement from 2020’s median score of 1.6.

Kearney attributed Patagonia’s improved score to a new equipment rental program it launched with Awayco and “an even higher share” of recycled fabrics. The outdoor retailer received the top rank both this year and in 2020.

Levi’s and The North Face swapped second and third place, with the former pulling ahead this year. Kearney said the denim giant improved its score “largely through new rentals.” It pointed to an upcycled, rental-only capsule collection Levi’s launched with the Danish fashion brand Ganni as an example of this work. Kearney attributed The North Face’s improvement to a greater share of recycled fabrics.

Esprit, OVS, Gucci and Gant also made the top 10, with each of the brands rising in rank compared to two years ago. Coach and Lululemon, both of which were not included in Kearney’s 2020 index, debuted in eight and ninth place. The Swedish fashion chain Lindex fell from fourth place to tenth.

Kearney assessed 150 global brands from 20 countries for its 2022 CFX. The vast majority, 75 percent, came from the United States, France, Germany and Italy. In 2020, it focused on Europe’s 100 largest fashion brands, inclusive of those based elsewhere. The firm only included 59 of those companies in its 2022 report.

French brands proved the most sustainable according to Kearney’s research, with the 22 tracked companies averaging a 3.65. Italy, which had 14 brands on the 2022 CFX, and the United States, which had 60, both averaged a 2.95. The 17 included German companies averaged a 2.63, while the 37 from other countries averaged a 2.75.

Scores varied even more by fashion category. Kearney touted the “extensive” care instructions and repair services offered by luxury and premium/affordable luxury brands, which received an average score of 3.52 and 3.11, respectively. Sports/outdoor companies also performed well, with the 24 brands included in the report averaging a 3.29. Mass market brands, which made of nearly one-third of the sample, came in lower, with a 2.89. Fast fashion and underwear/lingerie companies received the lowest scores “due to the nature of their business model,” which makes it harder to introduce secondhand and rental services, Kearney said.

The firm judged brands on seven dimensions: the share of garments made of recycled fabrics, the importance of circularity in brand communications, the level of detail and accessibility of care instructions, the availability of repair or maintenance service, the breadth and depth of pre-owned garment assortment, the breadth and depth of garment rental or leasing assortment and the availability of worn clothes drop-off for recycling.

According to Kearney’s analysis, just 7 percent of brands are using recycled materials “to any credible extent.” More than half, 54 percent, use recycled materials for “a few selected items or a few product features,” while 39 percent do not use any whatsoever.

The industry did not fare much better on communication or promotion of circularity, two of “the easiest and fastest measures to implement,” Kearney said. Just 10 percent scored an eight or higher—what the firm designates as “extensive” action—on the importance of circularity in communications. Forty-six percent received a “moderate” score of between three and seven and 44 percent were given a one or two. On care instructions, Kearney said 9 percent had taken extensive action, 51 percent moderate action and 40 percent limited action.

Fashion brands performed worse on drop-off availability, with 8 percent offering extensive options. Kearney gave 31 percent a moderate score in this category. It graded 61 percent as limited.

The industry received the lowest scores for actions that Kearney said required “higher commitment,” with 5 percent offering extensive repair services and secondhand sales, and just 2 percent providing extensive rent or lease services. Kearney judged 79 percent as offering limited repair services and 80 percent as providing a limited assortment of pre-owned garments. It said 88 percent provided a limited rental or leasing assortment.