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Sustainability is a Work in Progress, But Top Brands Are Pushing the Envelope

The fashion industry’s sustainability initiatives are earnest, yet it’s clear there is still a long way to go before it can truly give itself a thumbs up. With greenwashing still running rampant among apparel brands and synthetic fibers comprising 69 percent of all materials used in textiles today, the onus is on brands and their supply chain partners to take responsibility and initiate action. But there is hope.

Sourcing Journal’s Sustainability Report 2021 highlights the actors currently leading the way to transform their manufacturing facilities, deliver new fiber solutions and discover how to retool the standard processes for a safer environment.

Prana, which has been a leader in sustainable practices in recent years, attained its goal of using 100 percent plastic-free consumer packaging with the launch of its fall/winter collection. By 2025, the basics and activewear seller plans for all paper packaging to contain 100 percent recycled content.

Denim manufacturers remain conscious of their reputation as water wasters, with Artistic Milliners executive director Murtaza Ahmed telling Sourcing Journal “around 1,800 gallons of water is needed just to grow enough cotton for one pair of jeans.”

To help, the company’s vertically integrated mills and laundries recycle 85 percent of water used for a total of 1 million gallons recirculated daily. A recently implemented dyeing recipe called Crystal Clear, which aids the manufacturer reduce its water impact in the dyeing process by 70 percent, has helped Artistic Milliners and a U.S. brand partner receive Cradle to Cradle’s gold-level certification on a jean set to hit shelves last month.

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And Saitex employs a proprietary, multi-million-dollar H2Zero filtration system at its Vietnam-based factory as well as its new L.A. operation. The company has invested heavily in technology in its operations across the globe, like operating two unique laser cutting and dry process machines that burn fading and whiskering directly into the surface of a pair of pants and cut them from the fabric in just a few quick—and water free—swipes.

“Where we don’t use new water, we just use ‘grey’ water,” Saitex founder Sanjeev Bahl told Sourcing Journal. “The theory of change at the mill is that waste can be an input for manufacturing.”

Burberry, LVMH show luxury and sustainability can coexist

While the term “net zero” has been thrown around a lot as more companies strive to balance the emissions they produce with the emissions taken out of the atmosphere, Burberry goes beyond that ambition with a lofty goal to become “climate positive” across its entire operation by 2040. The British luxury house has committed to reducing supply chain emissions by 46 percent by 2030, well ahead of its initial target of 30 percent.

The Burberry Regeneration Fund’s inaugural project is partnering with France’s PUR Projet to establish a regenerative agricultural program with wool producers in Australia. The project will work at a farm level to improve carbon capture in soils, strengthen watershed and soil health and support biodiverse habitats.

Another luxury giant, LVMH, has set stringent goals of its own through its LIFE 360 environmental program. By 2023, the company will build out new sophisticated repair services, as well as upcycle or reuse materials such as leather and fur, among other alternative materials. Several LVMH brands are partnering with Weturn, which supports them in recycling their textiles and helping them reuse these materials in future products–packaging, accessories, fabrics for workshops or even team uniforms.

European governments step up to the plate

Even governmental bodies are realizing what’s at stake in the fashion. The U.K.’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion compiled a report to tackle the problem, recommending a single contact across government for communication purposes and even suggesting taxation policy incentives for brands demonstrating sustainability. The report also focused on overall ESG initiatives, saying the U.K. government should explore binding legislation and other mechanisms that can encourage brands to pay those within their supply chains a living wage.

In July, France’s parliament approved an expansive climate bill that will introduce mandatory “carbon labels” for goods and services including clothing and textiles. And last year, France banned brands from destroying leftover stock under an “anti-waste” law, in which clothing and shoes must be redistributed, reused or recycled.

With these examples in mind, whether at the brand, supply chain or governmental level, at the very least there appears to be hope on the horizon.

Sustainability Now 2021: What's working, what's not and what lies ahead

Learn more by reading Sourcing Journal’s Sustainability Report 2021.