Look around and sustainability is everywhere. From your neighborhood coffee shop to mainstream fast-fashion retailers. From trendy cosmetic brands offering customer “refills” on used beauty containers to traditional grocery chains presenting long aisles stacked with “Nature’s Best” food and beverages, eco abounds. A recent issue of the New York Times urged readers that “it’s time to take responsibility for our mess” with feature articles on how “recycling is hot right now.” The kicker: the special section was written for kids
Soon you will be able to buy all these sustainable products using an eco-correct credit card: American Express has partnered with Parley to create a credit card made from upcycled marine plastic debris collected from oceans to raise awareness of the marine plastic problem. The first American Express ocean plastic card is slated for availability within the year.
And what about this headline: “Sustainability is the New Bottom Line for the Marijuana Industry.” It seems California water regulators are cracking down on irresponsible cannabis growers who are having a negative impact on water sources. With the potential of getting shut down and the need to remain profitable, It is more important than ever that growers adhere to environmentally responsible growing practices, according to a press release distributed by GrowLife, provider of indoor cultivation products that offer a vertical grow room technology with a 76 percent energy reduction.
No matter what the product category, global concern for preserving the planet is driving business growth and consumer awareness. According to the 2017 Global Environmental Survey by Cotton Council International and Cotton Incorporated, 86 percent of consumers across the world are concerned about sustainability, and this concern has only grown in the past year; 93 percent of consumers in emerging markets express concern for sustainability.
The report revealed universal concern as well as regional differences. By percentage, Mexico (94%); U.S. (75%); UK (75%); Germany (81%); Italy (91%); India (91%) and China (94%) survey results showed concerns about environmental change are very real and require change in our behavior.
The study also looked at “Top Fiber Production Concerns around the World.” The results by region highlighted distinct areas of interest: Microfiber waste in the oceans for synthetic fibers (UK/Germany); Amount of chemicals to product man-made fibers in the (U.S./Italy/India); Greenhouse gas emissions as a result of producing man-made fibers in (Mexico); and in China, the amount of pesticides to produce cotton.
Of course this didn’t just happen overnight; eco awareness has taken root in the performance textile/active outdoor area during the past couple of decades and now defines the future landscape.
Members of OIA’s Sustainability Working Group (SWG) have been collectively tackling supply chain issues important to the industry for over 10 years, including chemicals management, animal welfare, social responsibility and fair labor practices in factories, microfiber shedding in oceans and waterways and carbon reduction strategies.
Beth Jensen, senior director of sustainable business innovation at OIA, explained,
“The outdoor industry has done a fantastic job flexing the muscles of the $887 billion outdoor recreation economy to protect our public lands; now it’s time to showcase how we have led on another core effort that directly connects to environmental conservation: product and supply chain responsibility.”
At Summer Market in Denver, the OIA did just that, unveiling its “State of Sustainability in the Outdoor Industry” report. The goal of this first-ever comprehensive industry report is to measure progress, identify areas for improvement and illustrate the importance of sustainable practices as a business imperative, according to Jensen.
Overall, the study indicates that the Higg Index is delivering tangible benefits to outdoor industry companies and underscores that sustainability is a core value to the outdoor industry regardless of company size, product type or location. (The report surveyed 120 individual small, midsize and large companies in the outdoor industry.)
For example: 75 percent of participating companies have at least one employee who is responsible for sustainability efforts in their organization; 87 percent used the Higg Index to guide internal sustainability conversations or benchmarking efforts; and 63 percent of the companies surveyed invest in renewable energy.
The report indicates that companies of all sizes prioritize materials and design as well as product use and end-of-life strategies. Depending on the size of the company, other priorities shift. For small companies, packaging was prioritized, likely because this is a highly visible area in which relatively quick wins and cost savings can be seen. Midsize companies identified manufacturing as a key priority, which indicates that they are recognizing the increased impacts of manufacturing practices. And for large companies, chemicals management – a more complex, advanced area often managed by dedicated staff members – was highly ranked.
“This report provides a wonderful opportunity to recognize the outdoor industry’s progress toward a standard practice of responsible, sustainable business,” said Danielle Cresswell, enior sustainability manager for Klean Kanteen.
The area of regenerative agriculture is gaining ground. The North Face and Patagonia are both keen on this approach, forming partnerships and educating suppliers to inspire product innovation. The new Climate Beneficial wool beanie by The North Face, for example, was made using Fibershed, a regional group of fiber producers in California that advocates “soil to soil” product development. Patagonia’s sister company, Patagonia Provisions is a strong believer in regenerative agriculture, which serves as the basis for its food and beverage line.
Fibershed’s holistic model has a direct line to textiles. By giving back more than taking away, Fibershed’s restorative agriculture practices promotes healthier soil and a dynamic underground ecosystem that impacts the quality of fiber. Fibershed’s communications director Jess Daniels explains, “Healthier soil, promotes grass growth, providing more forage for sheep that results in healthier animals producing higher quality wool.” Bioregion geography now becomes a stronger consideration when sourcing materials with textile suppliers and is the conduit to a direct relationship between product and soil.
The North Face was the first mainstream outdoor brand to meet Fibershed’s Climate Beneficial Wool standard; Coyuchi, the innovative home goods brand, is next up launching a line of bedding products with Climate Beneficial Wool label. Domestic hemp cultivation, flax production and creation of hemp/wool blends are all on the Fibershed radar, according to Daniels, who oversees Fibershed’s affiliated network of 50 groups around the world.
Brands looking to connect their values with environmental-responsibility see regenerative agriculture as the next step in supply chain integration. Says Daniels, “There is so much potential.”
Further evidence of the traction agriculture is having in sourcing materials comes via the Regenerative Organic Alliance, a new nonprofit organization that holds the Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) encompassing three pillars: soil health, animal welfare and social fairness. For more information visit www.fibershed.com and www.regenorganic.org.
Earlier this year cosmetics company Lush launched its first ‘naked’ shop in Milan, selling only products free from packaging – taking its commitment to sustainability a step further. Currently over 40 percent of the Lush product range is completely packaging-free. The active/outdoor arena is on a similar path reducing packaging waste. In Pearl Izumi’s recently announced Social Purpose statement packaging was included in ambitious sustainability goals. The Colorado-based firm will introduce the industry’s first-ever effort to essentially “eliminate” hangtags. Effective January 2019 the brand will only attach one card, at the smallest size that can still be recycled, to capture critical codes/pricing information. “We feel that with all of the digital resources available, relying on a large hangtag to communicate product details is outdated, and they generate a surprising amount of our total packaging waste,” Pearl Izumi president Chris Sword said. The new hangtags use 19,400 lbs less paper, saving 165 trees, 68,082 gallons of water and 4,503 gallons of oil annually. In addition, all new polybag packaging will shift to 100 percent recycled plastic, which can be recycled again, further reducing petroleum use.
According to LimeLoop, 32 percent of Americans want sustainable packaging. The sustainable shipping company, has introduced reusable product mailers made from upcycled vinyl billboards that can be reused up to 2,000 times. Mailers are designed with a zipper so packaging stays in tact when opened, and closed, and the mailer includes an internal return label. Users flip the label and the package is ready to be mailed again. Toad&Co has signed on as LimeLoop’s first partner.
Following the initial pilot program, the LimeLoop shippers will contain GPS trackers for real-time tracking and to help with environmental impact monitoring. Customers will be able to download an app with which they will be able to track their package and learn more about the footprint of their shipment.
LimeLoop’s initial pilot program will be run in conjunction with Toad&CO and its Chicago-based distribution center Planet Access Company.
Hemp and linen are front and center in new collections for Spring ’19 and even synthetic spider silk and other biotech materials are showing up in active/outdoor styles. These sustainable options look to have company in the near future as a new class of natural fiber ditches its “fringe” identity and emerges as a legit contender in the field of eco alternative textiles. With brands striving to differentiate in a crowded market, and sustainability themed story telling proving popular among consumers, eco-derived fibers are taking root in apparel and footwear. Marine-based products in particular seem high on developers’ lists. Two to watch, for example, are Seaqual and product made from algae. Other notables fall more into the field of hemp and linen, with nettle fabric and Lenpur, made from pine pulp, as examples. And last but not least, mushrooms are also viewed as a next gen source for eco textiles.
Seaqual fibers are made from 100 percent post-consumer plastic bottles and plastic waste reclaimed from the Mediterranean Sea, creating yarns that contain about 93 to 95 percent recycled PET and three to seven percent ocean plastics. Seaqual is featured in Burlington’s new Restora collection of renewable fabrics aimed at the eco-conscious outdoor enthusiast. Says Nelson Bebo, VP technical sales development for Burlington, “Going forward every new development in our Enthusiast Collection of performance fabrics will have at least 30 percent recycled content.”
For the past two years, the Spanish firm Seaqual 4U, supplier of Seaqual, has been retrieving waste from the ocean floor in partnership with 400 fishing boats. The waste is upcycled into fiber and continuous and discontinuous yarn that requires up to 20 percent less water, 40 percent less energy and 50 percent fewer CO2 emissions than virgin polyester. Seaqual yarn can be woven or knit, and blended with other natural fibers.
AlgiKnit is another up-and-coming firm getting a lot of attention – about half a dozen articles on the company have appeared recently touting the “seaweed to fiber” corporate concept. The New York biomaterials firm is focused on replacing everyday synthetics with material derived from kelp. According to the company, kelp is an ideal material for the future of sustainable manufacturing. It is rapidly renewable and farmed worldwide. The company is currently analyzing whether the fiber is fit enough in terms of durability and flexibility to be knit on industrial machinery.
Consumers are getting educated about sustainability in all walks of life and increasingly zeroing in on textile transparency. “Who Made Your Clothes,” for example, is becoming a rallying cry among small batch makers as well as large firms invested in fair trade policies and is effectively resonating with shoppers as a contemporary sustainability slogan. An intensifying desire to “look beyond the label” is reflected in a flurry of research recently reported by different sources. Think of it as a textile version of consumer fascination with Ancestry.com and other genealogy resources and a cultural movement to authenticate and trace origin. Firms are responding with fiber forensic technology allowing for new and improved methods to bring greater transparency throughout the supply chain.
Millennials are a force behind enhanced transparency efforts. According to the Oeko-Tex report, which surveyed 11,200 consumers ages 18+ from 10 different countries, Millennials pay closer attention to the buzz about the textile industry, particularly facts related to chemical and pesticide use and general environmental impact and are generally more concerned about harmful substances in a range of product than those in older generations.
A recent survey on behalf of Applied DNA Sciences takes those consumer insights up a notch showing how consumers will take strong action, boycotting companies, writing negative reviews and reporting to regulatory bodies when it comes to product authenticity.
According to the new Harris Poll, roughly four in five Americans (79%) are concerned that products they purchase which they expect to be high quality could be made using low quality materials; more than 7 in 10 Americans (71%) are concerned that products they purchase have made false claims; and, nearly two thirds (65%) are concerned that products they purchase at full price could be knock-offs. Respondents consisted of over 2,000 U.S. adults age 18 and up, conducted online during June 2018.
“This survey confirms that selling inauthentic products can be extremely detrimental to companies and their brands,” said James A. Hayward, Ph.D., chairman, president and CEO of Applied DNA Sciences. “In fact, nearly all Americans (94%) say that, if they found out a product they bought at full price was inauthentic, they would take action.”
More reason for concern about the prevalence of inauthentic products comes from the 2018 Global Brand Counterfeiting Report. It states that counterfeiting globally reached $1.2 trillion in 2017 and is expected to reach $1.82 trillion by 2020.
The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) published statistics for the fiscal year in 2016 that showed 31,560 seizures of intellectual property rights (IPRs), and estimated that the total retail price of the seized goods would have equaled approximately $1.4 billion.
With sustainability on the fast track in all facets of textile development and industry growth, we asked a handful of execs to think long term about the impact of eco-innovation and put forth this question: “It’s 2030, how have eco textiles evolved and what have you read and/or heard lately that’s influencing your thoughts about the state of sustainability in the future?” Here’s what they had to say:
Chris Parkes, Partner, VP sales, Concept III:
“Good question, I have been thinking about this and here are some initial thoughts:
• More solution dyed yarns/fabrics (water savings)
• Plastic problem will not be solved• Advancements in recycling will increase the amount of yarn available
• Shorter life cycle for synthetic fibers to they can biodegrade faster in landfills AND the oceans.”
Bernhard Kiehl, Sustainability Leader for Gore’s fabrics division:
“The U.S. Outdoor Industry Association has published its first State of Sustainability report just a few weeks ago. It highlights that investing in sustainability has become the new normal in this industry and that a vast majority of companies - like Gore - use industry shared tools like the Higg Index to measure and share their sustainability performance. I believe this illustrates that we have started a race to the top in terms of environmental and social performance of our products.”
Charles Ross, lecturer in performance sports design:
“In the future only companies that make sustainability a goal will achieve competitive advantage. This means rethinking business models as well as products, technologies and processes. In the long term the environment and the economy are the same thing. If it is un-environmental, it is un-economic. That is the rule of nature.”
Jyl Davis, VP Marketing & Product Management, Downlite:
“With an ongoing desire to ensure social improvement and environmental awareness, up-cycled fashion will continue to be a driving force with innovative designs and minimalistic styles. Green will no longer be defined as green, it will be the standard.”
Dr. Rudiger Fox, CEO, Sympatex Technologies:
“Eighty billion pieces of clothes are bought every year, twice as much as 15 years ago; 23 billion pairs of shoes are produced annually. The textile industry already generates more harmful CO2 than the entire air and ship traffic as a whole and approaches a 20 percent share. Our new campaign, ‘Make a conscious choice with your purchase and change the future of the world’ aims at informing, awaking and increasing the awareness of industry and brand partners, customers as well as consumers to take radical reforms. “We all have got a little president on our shoulders trying to talk us into believing that we don’t have to act and already do it right – it’s the others who are responsible. If we take this step together, then we will have the right balance again; just like nature has always shown us – since nature doesn’t know waste.”
Colleen Nipkow, Marketing Director NA, HEIQ:
“At HeiQ, we try to develop greener technologies that do not lead to higher add-on costs to the mills or the brand. This gives economic motivation for the mills and brand to use more sustainable alternatives, because we know a greener, but more expensive solution is not an option.”
Renee Henzee, marketing director, DuPont Sorona:
“My hope is that the textile industry continues on its sustainability journey; evolving to be fully transparent and successfully demonstrating the principles of a circular economy. I am inspired to see the work that The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has done to lead the way in uniting stakeholders in the industry, pushing for commitment and collaboration between organizations that can result in unparalleled innovation towards a more sustainable system. Continued technological advances like wearable technology and high-performance textiles are certain in the future, but the key will be creating them from the beginning with a circular economy in mind. This means creating garments built to last with renewable and safe materials, and making sure that at the end of their life cycle, these items can be repaired, repurposed, and/or recycled to be made into the next generation of fashion-forward clothing.”