Walking the Talk
What the Industry Is Saying About How to Achieve a Circular Economy.
The topics of reuse, re-manufactured, repurposed, recycling, renewable and regenerative are dominating textile conversations in webinars and digital trade show presentations as the industry grapples with how to advance toward circularity. Recent Earth Day and Climate Week activities in April heightened attention on sustainable solutions, adding to the staying power of sustainability, and influencing principles giving shape to a circular economy.
New thinking emphasizes that paradigms need to change to make closing the loop a reality. For progress to occur, consumers will need to view sustainability as innovation, with the eco factor considered the reason to buy a product, thereby replacing conventional purchasing decision-making that is swayed by a trendy silhouette or fashion color or low cost.
There is also a growing belief that to drive growth and scale success, everybody needs to get on board with sustainability in a big way, from individuals to industry to government. Cracking down on sustainability claims is already taking place in the EU with the launch of the Green Claim Initiative that will measure eco performance claims. Another avenue of thought endorses government incentivizing sustainability to encourage societal and cultural environmental responsibility.
There is also a growing belief that to drive growth and scale success, everybody needs to get on board with sustainability in a big way, from individuals to industry to government.
There is a lot of activity in the textile community these days looking to change from a linear to circular economy. However, is what’s being done enough? And is it working? Based on recent panel discussions it’s becoming clear that without bold action, sustainability may be a short-term success. A recent Kingpins24 panel and a webinar hosted by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition shed light on today’s situation with informed commentary from high-level execs, who provide different perspectives and ideas on how best to move the needle on circularity. Here’s what they had to say:
Roian Atwood, Kontoor Brands, a division of VF Corporation
“In the hope of creating change, we are talking about recycling. We’re talking about water. We’re talking about an ecosystem of sustainable attributes that all drive toward decoupling our productive growth from our resource intake. Being able to achieve growth, as an economy and as individual businesses, is contingent upon the resources we have. The use of renewable energy and regenerative agriculture replenishes our economy in a way that there is a greater number of people benefitting.”
Jean Hegedus, The Lycra Company
“It’s a fact that by 2050, with population growth projections, we will need three times the amount of resources as we have today to sustain a linear economy. Linear is not an option, a circular economy is imperative for us. To meet this challenge, we focus on three areas: Inputs, in terms of fibers, recycled as well as bio-based; Durability, to extend wear throughout a lifecycle; and Recyclability and end of life.” (See page 14 for info on The Lycra Company’s latest product introductions.)
Jeremy Lardeau, Sustainable Apparel Coalition
“With today’s consumers there is an “intentional behavior gap” that comes into play. If a survey asks ‘would you purchase an eco-friendly product,’ participants say ‘Yes,’ but do they? That’s why offering a capsule collection of pricey eco-friendly garments is not the answer in the long run. To advance the sustainability market beyond a niche business, we need mandates from the top down with regulations and incentives. You can’t make change simply based on consumer behavior. Business needs to decide what is innovative, and the government needs to endorse it. Look what’s happening with electric cars and tax incentives — people are buying e-cars.”
La Rhea Pepper, Textile Exchange
“The big nut to crack for a brand to switch to using a better, more sustainable material is getting past the price / value paradigm. That is often the barrier in business. A designer is keen on a sustainable alternative but can’t get it approved by higher ups because of the cost factor. Breaking from this traditional paradigm to ways to convince the consumer that sustainability is worth paying more for, is the big evolution.”
Faiza Jamil, Artistic Milliners
“The most important thing we have to make clear is that circularity is not just recycling, but a design concept. We need to reduce waste. Drawing on biomimicry, and taking cues from nature is embedded in the principles of our company. Circularity is hard to achieve but exciting to see how it comes to fruition.”
Susan Lawrence, Artistic Fabric Mills
“Currently we’re doing a big internal promotion about zero waste and material recovery. In an effort to control the supply chain AFM has built its own spinning plant, purchased a shredder, established a Global Recycled Standard (GRS) plant and we are now recycling most of our indigo to dye. We recycle 70 percent of our water. In 2020 we opened our first fully automated green denim, sewing and state of the art laundry. We Introduced our UNDONE concept that eliminates the use of dyes, chemicals, water and energy. It’s the first step in creating a zero waste system.”
Brad Boren, Norrona
“Today’s consumers don’t know enough and there is confusion. Pricing is an important issue but we need to provide value beyond telling consumers ‘this does good out there.’ At Norrona we look at sustainability through the lens of durability, and design to use over a long period of time. We think that is something consumers understand.”
Marcel Imalzumi, Vicunha
“In this transition from linear production to circular production, we must have a very holistic vision and invest in all issues linked in this, such as carbon, water, energy and human welfare. It is a very wide concept. Industry needs to develop products in a more vertical manner and create products with a longer lifecycle and more added value — even though this can go against business objectives. For example, we have put time and effort into reinforcing our human beliefs inside the company with a project to end pollution, and stressing integrity and sustainability. At the same time we are transforming from a traditional fabric supplier to a one-stop-shop company from raw to finished goods, and we need to be able to communicate sustainability and circular economy in the value chain. Right now the consumer doesn’t have the right information. In the past we thought if we announce the use of recycled in our fabric people will think it is not of value. We are working to change this perception.”