Sourcing sustainable raw materials, it seems, is the new black in apparel.
In the last year, companies have introduced more preferred fibers—those with more sustainable properties than their traditional counterparts—into their supply chains, and the uptick is expected to be ongoing.
“Data available now is proving that some of the biggest sustainability impacts and ‘hotspots’ of textile production occur in the growing and extracting of raw materials,” Textile Exchange said in its latest Preferred Fiber & Materials Benchmark released this week at the Textile Exchange Textile Sustainability Conference in Milan. The benchmark has for the last three years been providing apparel brands and retailers a scale with which to measure their sustainability performance against their peers in the industry.
And, according to Textile Exchange, the barometer shows apparel brands are stepping up.
This year, brands in the benchmark will use 940,533 megatons of preferred cotton, a 51 percent increase over last year.
Among the 111 apparel companies that participated, C&A emerged as the leader in organic cotton use by volume, followed by H&M, Tchibo, Inditex and Nike, rounding out the top five.
“From my perspective there are two ways that leadership can focus on more impact in the preferred fibers arena,” Jeff Hogue, C&A global chief sustainability officer, said in the report. “The first way is to focus more and to raise the bar on our integrity systems and traceability through the supply chain. And the second way is to focus on scale where all the brands are coming together collaboratively to work on programs that will create a better preferred fiber supply chain.”
H&M is making major headway in sourcing preferred raw materials. The fast fashion purveyor ranked as the top user of preferred cotton, preferred down, preferred man-made cellulosics and Lyocell.
For recycled polyester, Nike emerged as the leader in uptake volume, with Ikea, Target, Decathlon and Aldi making up the top five. Meanwhile, REI has seen the greatest growth in adoption of the raw material.
Brands are expected to use 98 megatons of recycled, or preferred polyester, this year, which will be a 95 percent jump over where the industry was last year.
In preferred manmade cellulosics, Inditex, Gap, C&A and Marks and Spencer followed H&M in terms of the volume of the material used in their supply chains. The North Face came in as the leader in volume growth. This year, brands will use 37,764 megatons of preferred manmade cellulosics in their supply chains—34 percent growth over last year.
H&M, The North Face, Levi Strauss & Co., Columbia Sportswear and Target are leading when it comes to sourcing preferred down and the fiber uptake is expected to increase nearly 60 percent to 2,732 megatons in 2018.
“The 2018 benchmark leaders show a deep commitment to scaling their global value chains of preferred fibers and to benchmarking their progress against the industry,” said Liesl Truscott, director of Europe and materials strategy for Textile Exchange. “These companies have also made significant investments in developing the supply chain needed to achieve the necessary measures of scale in preferred fiber production.”