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Athleta Goes Deeper Into Sustainable Fiber and Fabric Sourcing

A year after becoming a certified B Corporation, Athleta is stepping up its efforts in sustainable performance apparel.

The Gap Inc.-owned brand said in a blog post this week that 60 percent of materials used to make its performance apparel are now made with sustainable fibers. The brand said it has worked aggressively to increase the sustainability in its line by sourcing materials like recycled polyester and nylon, cellulosic Tencel and Modal, and organic cotton. It is also using more efficient fabric dyeing and finishing techniques.

According to Athleta, the recycled polyester it has used helped divert the equivalent of more than 38 million plastic bottles from landfills since 2014. Recycled polyester uses post-consumer plastic bottles to make the raw material that is extruded into the fiber.

Sustainable materials have also carried into Athleta Girls, the company said, accounting for 69 percent of the styles in the upcoming Summer collection. Athleta said its Spring-Summer swimwear line features 85 percent styles made from sustainable materials, including the introduction of two new fabrics–H2Eco, which saved 72,264 kilograms of waste from hitting landfills, and AquaRib, which uses Aquafil’s Econyl, a material made from 100 percent regenerated nylon fiber sourced from abandoned fishing nets and other discarded nylon.

When setting its first public sustainability goals in 2017, Athleta cited four key targets focused on reducing its impact on the planet and supporting the women around the world who make its clothes.

Athleta wants to reach 80 percent sustainable fiber in the products it’s making by 2020. So far, 4 percent of its products are made using techniques that save water, with a 2020 goal of 25 percent, and 70 percent of waste from shipping packaging has been diverted from landfills, but the brand wants that number to reach 80 percent by 2020.

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​“We believe that with Athleta’s growth comes even greater responsibility to lead as a force for good and protect our planet for the next generation,” Nancy Green, Athleta CEO and president, said. “At our size, we know we can make a big impact–whether diverting waste by converting our beloved Trekkie hike collection to recycled nylon or reaching millions of women through the stories we tell in our catalog. We can show women they don’t have to compromise on performance or beauty to do right by our planet.”

Athleta has also established partnerships to help make impact at scale.

Earlier this year, the company announced its participation in a program that, beginning in 2020, will, at capacity, fully offset the energy consumption of all its 160 stores and its San Francisco headquarters. While bringing new renewable power to the grid, the power purchase agreement with The Corporate Renewable Energy Aggregation Group created a cost-effective and replicable model that will open up the renewable power market to companies seeking to purchase smaller volume.

Last year, Athleta became a member of Fashion Positive Plus initiative to collaborate with industry leaders to identify, create and certify inputs for circular fashion. As part of Gap Inc., the brand is also a partner of the Make Fashion Circular initiative, led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which recently launched a campaign with other retail brands and the City of New York. Between Earth Day and mid-June, participating Athleta stores in the city will host drop-off points where people can bring used clothing for recycling or repurposing.

“Building a sustainable business is a journey and we’re constantly working to improve,” Green said. “We’ve set some very aggressive goals and have made some incredible progress, but we don’t take success for granted. We still have a long way to go.”

B Corporation certification is issued to for-profit companies by B Lab, a global nonprofit organization. To be granted and maintain certification, companies must receive a minimum score on an online assessment for social and environmental performance, integrate B Lab commitments into company governing documents, and pay an annual fee ranging from $500 to $50,000.