Shifting gears to align with upcoming sustainability legislations

Shifting gears to align with upcoming sustainability legislations


Shifting gears to align with upcoming sustainability legislations

The upcoming legislations are likely to result in discouragement of use of blends which are difficult and expensive to recycle or products that require special sorting processes and advanced technologies or the use of chemicals that hampers recycling, asserts Varun Vaid and Vibhuti Sharma.

The word ‘sustainability’ has been around in the industry for many years now, however, the urgency that gets associated towards this concept is very nascent. What seemed to be “a concept of future” has turned into a “necessity for survival”!

The textile and apparel industry of today stands strong on the pedestal of “fast-fashion”, which has not only increased the consumption manifold but has simultaneously reduced the utilisation of the products massively. While the garment purchase has shot up, the duration of keeping that product has greatly reduced. The shrinking fashion cycles along with the ‘no-repeat’ clothing trend have developed ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ business model in the fashion industry. Fast-fashion brands now release up to 52 micro-collections per year instead of the usual 2-3 seasons. Consumers are inclined towards purchasing products with lower price tags which enables them to diversify and expand their wardrobes at economical prices and keep up with the ever-changing fashion trends. These products, however, lag behind in quality, durability and recyclability, resulting in an increase in the quantity of textile and apparel goods being discarded. These discarded goods along with majority of the resources used in production; end up in landfills, owing to the linear nature of the industry today. Only approximately 1 per cent of the total textiles produced is recycled. A short-term boom for the fashion industry that tagged along with the concept of fast fashion has turned out to be no less than a disaster.

The shortcomings of the industry are not just limited to overproduction, overconsumption and underutilisation. It extends to the detrimental impact it has on the environment as well as the social construct of nature. The industry hampers the entire ecosystem with the tremendous use of water for production, high chemical consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, release of microfibres and microplastics, as well as high share of the industry in global land, air and water pollution. Social challenges like underage employment, compensation less than living wage, gender inequality in employment, etc. are also characteristic to the working of the global textile and apparel industry.

The global textile and apparel industry is now waking up to the grave consequences of the adopted practices and is looking for ways to shift towards sustainability and circularity across the value chain. Several fashion brands and retailers have declared ambitious targets in order to incorporate sustainable materials and practices. Consumers are also becoming “woke” about the ill effects of the industry and are pushing brands and manufacturers to adopt sustainable practices and reuse products which end up being dumped in the landfills. Consumers are themselves keen on recycling and reusing products which has led to thrifting and second-hand shopping becoming a trend. Adoption of upcycled, repurposed, or reworked products are also on the rise.

The urgency of sustainability has also shaken the policymakers, who are now focussing on adopting ways to switch to sustainable practices across the value chain. EU has come up with “EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles” in March 2022 that outlines the Commission’s Vision for Textiles in 2030. The vision aims to drive fast fashion, out of fashion and adopt greener practices. Other leading buyer nations like the US are also on the track to follow suit and bring in measures that will inevitably require the manufacturers around the world to change gears and move towards sustainable practices.

These anticipated legislations when properly enforced will slow down the garment imports of the leading markets, bidding adieu to fast fashion and overconsumption. The business models will be upgraded and finetuned to stay on track with the sustainable consumption trends. Demand projection models will also follow suit and upgradations will be made to reduce the unsold inventory at their warehouses as well as retail outlets. There will be an increased focus on the recycling and the share of the recycled garments is expected to grow.

The upcoming legislations are likely to result in discouragement of use of blends which are difficult and expensive to recycle or products that require special sorting processes and advanced technologies or the use of chemicals that hampers recycling. Without commercialisation of suitable technology, ‘end of blend’ is likely. The trend of using single fibre (referred to as ‘monomaterialism’) will get a boost in short term because of relative ease of recycling. There will also be an increased focus on research and innovation in the domain of segregation of blends for the purpose of recycling. Various R & D initiatives which will target the separation of blends, so that recycling is commercially viable, will gain traction.

With sustainability becoming the central focus of operations, the business model that the textile and apparel industry currently operates on, will also witness a shift. There will be an accelerated growth in activities related to circularity, leading to the growth of specific business models:

  • Used garment collection business: Acting as a ‘feeder’ to resellers and recyclers by collecting used garments to enter the circular business loop.
  • Circular garment businesses: The businesses of Repair, Resale, Recycle and Rent that increase the life of products in the textile value chain, will gain focus.
  • On-demand manufacturing: To reduce the amount unsold inventory, there will a boost for businesses operating on on-demand manufacturing model.

These models will also support reshoring or near shoring trend as collection, repair and recycling within the region will make more sense rather than shipping garments to other countries and re-importing for local sales.

Sustainability legislations will also require brands to focus on the following initiatives:

  • Design for the Environment (DfE) approach while developing products
  • Material traceability in supply chain
  • Digital labelling of products with added information about recyclability of constituent
  • Closer scrutiny for certifications, certifying agencies, audit agencies, certifying processes and sustainability claims
  • Exclusive working with resource efficient manufacturers

Companies in exporting nations like India, will need to analyse their current state through an As-Is analysis followed by identifying the gaps with respect to the future requirements and then prepare a clear sustainability roadmap based on cost-benefit analysis. A manufacturer that can offer products and services aligned to the new sustainability requirements will be a winner in the leading markets in the coming few years. Some of major focus areas for manufacturers should be:

  • Product development targeted at use of recycled and alternate fibres in their products. Manufacturing techniques & systems to process such fibres and even sourcing network will be the key to cater to brands mandated to buy such products.
  • Digitalisation of the core business processes – sourcing, manufacturing and support systems, to provide business data transparently to the buyers.
  • Defining and implementing benchmark Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) sustainability guidelines.
  • Integration of circularity principles in business model e.g. use of industrial wastage, addition of a new stream focused on recycling textiles, etc.
  • Obtaining buyer and market specific certifications.
  • Adoption of traceability solutions that are being provided by several traceability tech companies in partnership / accreditation with fashion brands
  • Minimizing environmental footprint through better resource efficiency (power, water and fuel), higher productivity and investment in better technology.

About the author:

Varun Vaid is a Business Director at Wazir Advisors. He possesses more than 20 years of experience in textile and apparel sector covering manufacturing, marketing and consulting domains. As a strategy consultant, he has led diversified projects for private companies, government bodies and development agencies in Asia and Africa.
Vibhuti Sharma works as an Associate Consultant at Wazir Advisors. She is a fashion technologist and an MBA with passion for sustainability, textiles, and fashion. She has been instrumental in delivering several strategy assignments for Indian and international clients.