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Guess is Cleaning Up its Viscose Supply Chain with Help from Canopy, Lenzing

Guess has a plan to remove ancient and endangered forests from its supply chain—and it’s on track to do so by the end of 2020.

The apparel brand first crafted a responsible sourcing policy for manmade cellulosics in 2017. Two years later, it joined Canopy Style, an initiative by Canadian forestry not-for-profit Canopy, to keep deforestation out of viscose textiles.

More than 150 million trees are logged and pulped every year to create cellulosic fibers such as viscose and modal for apparel, according to Canopy. Many of them hail from the world’s ancient and endangered forests, fewer than 20 percent of which remain intact. But the industry can hone a strategy with some key buy-ins: The top 10 largest viscose or manmade cellulosic fiber producers control 80 percent of the global market share. Brands like Guess, too, have significant leverage.

Manmade cellulosics are Guess’s third most-used fiber, accounting for roughly 15 percent of its materials mix, said Jaclyn Allen, the company’s director of corporate sustainability. Speaking at a webinar hosted by Lenzing and the U.S. Fashion Industry Association on Monday, Allen praised Canopy’s annual “Hot Button” report, which ranks the performance the world’s leading viscose producers, for defining benchmarks it could measure suppliers against.

“We reach out to our mills to find out where they are getting their viscose, and then we ask for evidence that they are indeed getting their viscose from those partners,” she said of Guess’s process. “And then we map out that response with the results of the ‘Hot Button’ reports.”

More than 60 percent of Guess’s mills are currently using top-scoring “green shirt” viscose providers, which Allen is “really excited about.” The remaining 40 percent, however, employ mills that are either unlisted or have yellow, orange or red shirts that indicate a higher risk of sourcing what Canopy calls “controversial fibers.”

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Guess had previously dispatched “tailored communications” to its viscose providers, either thanking them for their efforts if they had a green shirt or encouraging them to improve if they didn’t. With the December release of the 2019 “Hot Button” report, Allen says the brand will be following up with yellow, orange and red shirts to find out “where they are on their pathway” and if they are in communication with Canopy Style.

“If they are not, we are prepared to let our mills know that they’ll have to direct their business for Guess somewhere else to a green shirt like Lenzing, ” Allen said. (Lenzing and Aditya Birla in December both received dark green shirts for the first time—a testament, Canopy said, to their investments in tree-free alternatives such as recycled cotton.)

The world is at a “critical point” where it needs forests for not just providing the oxygen we breathe but also stabilizing the climate, driving precipitation and housing diverse species, said Nicole Rycroft, Canopy’s founder and executive director.

“The UN has identified that conserving forest presents about 30 percent of the climate solution and that we need more of them if we are to sustain life as we know it,” she said in the webinar.

The solution, as Canopy recently outlined in a pair of action plans, lies in “next-generation” fibers derived from textile waste, agricultural residues and microbial cellulose grown on food waste. Its vision for the apparel industry would require just 17 new next-generation mills and $3.4 billion in investments over the next decade, or less than 1 percent of annual fashion sales worldwide.

“This is kind of the scale of the shift that’s needed for forest conservation if we’re going to support a stable climate and humanity’s continued health,” she added.

Rycroft stressed that Canopy doesn’t want to “trade in one environmental disaster for another.” As such, the organization has been involved in several life-cycle analyses in collaboration with companies such as Stella McCartney and Kimberly-Clark to “ensure that these fibers are indeed environmentally preferable.”

“All of these studies have consistently shown that these fibers clearly outperform virgin wood fiber and carry significantly lighter footprint,” Rycroft said.

Guess, for its part, will be incorporating more of Lenzing’s Tencel with Refibra technology—which comprises 30 percent recycled cotton scraps and has a solvent recovery rate of 99 percent—into its product line.

“It reduces the reliance on virgin materials, on trees for the product, which is really so important to really get to a more circular and sustainable model,” Allen said.