It's undeniable that sustainability in the fashion industry has shifted from being a 'nice to have' to a 'must-have.' Recent legislative updates, such as the approval of the Green Claims Directive last March, alongside the introduction of the standards governing the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, have compounded with the global climate catastrophes we've faced in recent months. These events, such as the recent floods in Bangladesh or Italy, impact key countries in the textile supply chain. Sustainability has become the only viable path to ensure the continuity of the fashion industry. However, while it's clear that resilience goes hand in hand with more sustainable practices, many brands still find themselves at a crossroads, unsure of where to begin to address this transformation.
Knowledge is power, start by addressing your supply chain
Traceability is the foundation of the systemic change the textile sector needs. Historically, supply chains in the fashion industry are among the most offshored and complex globally. A garment can easily undergo over 30 different processes, jumping from one factory to another, involving multiple stakeholders. The lack of visibility along this chain prevents companies from understanding the true social and environmental impact of their products and business practices.
Cristina Rico, Supply Chain Traceability Manager at Ecoalf, highlights that "it is crucial to fully understand the entire supply chain and ensure all these suppliers are aligned and committed to the company's values. Emphasis should be placed on assessing and reducing environmental impact across different stages. In addition to ensuring traceability and complete transparency throughout all supply chain processes". "Encouraging and emphasizing relationships with nearby suppliers, establishing bonds of trust and collaboration, to impact local development and the care of small details that can be improved upon is essential", comments Helena Llaneza, Production Manager at Romualda.
But considering the decentralization of the chain and the lack of transparency, how do we obtain this information from the suppliers? Pauline Goerig, ESG Officer at Scandale eco-lingerie, suggests: "Be as direct as possible with the suppliers. Clear and friendly phrases are the most effective. Don't hesitate to ask or call. Be patient. Ask 2, 3, 5 times, seek help from someone else if it seems difficult. Reformulate, ask for clarifications... Remember: you're not the only one asking for it! Never give up!".
Stop designing and start ecodesigning
Ecodesign emerges as an unavoidable necessity in today's fashion industry. The European Commission estimates that around 80 percent of a garment's environmental impact is determined during the design phase. From optimizing resource management to material selection and garment durability, fashion designers have the ability to enhance these aspects by applying ecodesign principles.
Maria Moreno, Ecodesign Apparel Leader at Decathlon, explains: “Ecodesign should be applied in all phases of the product's life cycle: from the initial concept to what I like to call the 'non-end-of-life.' We should be thinking beyond circularity towards regenerative design. The way we design today should be the transformation for tomorrow”.
The definition of product circularity also plays a fundamental role in the design phase. Aditya Sharma, Sustainable Textile Systems Specialist at Spiber, comments: “It's helpful to consider end-of-use scenarios for products before worrying about upstream impacts. If an item is easy to break down and be remade, that's ideal, but if it doesn't need to break down, even better! Models like resale and reuse can continue generating revenue at much lower operational and manufacturing costs if items are created with the intention of not becoming obsolete and maintaining their functionality at maximum value”.
Anne Guihery, Textile Engineer at Weturn, adds: “Consider the end-of-life of products from the design phase: limit the use of elastane and synthetic materials, and opt for monomaterials and single natural materials. We recommend increasing the proportion of traced recycled materials in collections. Indeed, using existing resources helps limit impact and combat destruction and overproduction. Lastly, designing qualitative products with sober styling increases sustainability”.
Mallika Chaudhuri, Founder and Creative Director at INDOI, emphasizes: “Choose only timeless and durable designs crafted with regenerative natural resources and circular processes to support and nurture both the planet and people”.
Ecodesign thus becomes an essential step towards sustainability, as highlighted by Luis Ribó, Co-Founder and Brand Manager at Circoolar: "The first step towards sustainability is to rethink, unlearn, and reconsider how we should do things, with reflection, attention, awareness, and action”.
Make a good selection of raw materials
If we refer to the basic principles for designing functional, appealing, and sustainable fashion products, ecodesign will always emphasize the relevance of a good selection of materials to achieve a product with the least environmental impact. Therefore, the methodology for choosing the most sustainable raw materials for your garments involves evaluating the environmental footprint of the available options throughout their life cycle.
This is highlighted by Fernando Nuñez, Production Manager at HOFF, emphasizing the need to assess the actual environmental impact of the materials used, especially considering the footprint of the transportation used to access these materials.
According to Geertje van Bavel, Head of Impact at Fabienne Chapot, implementing more responsible raw materials requires clarity in objectives and close collaboration among teams. “Depending on your organization's current situation, it's important to first clarify what is defined as more responsible materials. Next, I would recommend focusing on setting clear and realistic goals regarding the percentage of more sustainable materials per collection, of course, in close collaboration with the teams involved”, she points out.
At Pagès Valentí, their Business Development & Sustainability Manager reflects on individual and corporate responsibility in reducing the use of natural resources and waste generation. “I believe each of us, as individuals or as businesses, should reflect on our responsibility to reduce the abuse we've carried out in exploiting natural resources and cut down on waste generation, both in consumption and production”, expresses Josep Pagès.
At Castañer, with a decades-long artisanal tradition, they emphasize the use of certified materials in their production. “At Castañer, we continue to advocate for an artisanal manufacturing model that has hardly changed in the last 90 years. The vast majority of our designs use environmentally certified materials and a handmade production system that significantly reduces emissions per product”, states Nil Corominas, CSR at the brand.
Focus on what you can measure
It's impossible to improve what is unknown. Therefore, to address the footprint of one of the planet's most polluting industries, it's essential to comprehensively quantify the current and potential impact of textile products throughout their entire life cycle.
"It's essential to measure our environmental impacts using tools like those provided by BCome and simultaneously inform consumers so they can make better purchasing decisions based on real data, distancing themselves from the greenwashing that floods the sector", explains Ana Jiménez, Country Manager at GoTrendier.
The emphasis on educating and raising consumer awareness through impact data is also underscored by Marta Losada, Buying & Sustainability Specialist at Scotta, who states that impact assessment provides valuable information for seeking improvements in production processes and conveying accurate data to customers.
Measurement, as pointed out by Patricia Bori, Product & Sustainable Specialist at SAYE, helps identify areas for improvement both internally and externally: “It allows you to understand areas that need improvement to reduce your negative footprint, whether through seeking better materials or optimizing water and electricity consumption in factories”.
Loreto Ros, Sustainability Manager at Ecoalf, highlights the crucial need to record progress through measurement: “If there are no records, it doesn't exist”. This perspective aligns with Bültel's vision, represented by Jürgen Sabelhaus, Head of CSR Management for the group, who emphasizes that without measurement, there's no real possibility for improvement.
Sustainability, as pointed out by Mireia Valls, Project Manager at Ocean Born, should be considered from the inception of the garment creation and production process. Assessing its impact throughout its life cycle facilitates informed decision-making, considering not only its footprint during production and use but also its impact after its end of life.
Be honest with your consumers
The fashion industry is undergoing a transition towards sustainability, but for this transformation to be effective, transparency and honest communication are crucial. Monitoring the supply chain, developing sustainable products, and assessing their impact are essential steps in this direction. However, as pointed out by Jorge Mataix, General Manager of Belda Llorrens, sustainability often remains in manufacturing and doesn't clearly reach the end consumer, highlighting the relevance of establishing a clear and direct bridge between responsible production and customer perception.
For Claudia Ermini, Sustainability & Innovation Manager at Rifò, the key lies in: “Informing them about every step taken to make the product more sustainable with clear, direct, and transparent communication”, thus strengthening the connection between sustainability and consumer awareness.
In line with this, Nick Owen, Sustainability Communications at Twothirds, emphasizes the importance of internal reflection: “Drive significant changes within your company to ensure that your future claims are based on facts”, highlighting the need to substantiate sustainability claims with real data.
Furthermore, Boozt's Sustainability Supply Chain Coordinator underscores: “Transparency towards the public and your customers is essential. Make sure to stay updated with the best practices regarding environmental claims and find ways to communicate about sustainability that provide clarity and understanding while also offering an excellent shopping experience”. Isatou Bah highlights that this transparent communication is not only essential but also enhances consumer interaction with your product.
Be sustainable in your growth as well
The excessive consumption prevalent in the fashion industry due to the pace set by fast fashion describes a situation where the use of natural resources has surpassed the capacity of the system. According to Global Footprint Network (GFN) data, to sustain our current consumption rate, humanity needs 1.75 planets.
To achieve true sustainability, it's not enough to adopt more eco-friendly materials or implement internal policies. As highlighted by Juliana Penagos, Sustainability Director at Munich Sports: “No matter how many sustainable materials we include in our next collection, how many certifications we have in our supply chain, or how many internal policies we follow... As long as we base our business on the unrealistic and unsustainable premise of unlimited economic growth with infinite resources, we won't be able to create lasting, meaningful, and systemic changes”.
The greatest sustainability efforts are useless if changes in production practices aren't accompanied by a reduction in the volume of items produced. In this sense, decoupling fashion industry profitability from the number of new products sold is an urgent necessity for the sector's transition towards an environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable system.
Sustainability is not a static concept; it's an ever-evolving commitment that requires strong leadership and a clear strategy from the top of the company. As stressed by Maria Moro, Key Account Manager at Zahonero: “For any company's sustainability strategy to be real, it must originate from the leadership with measurable, achievable projects and enough resources. Sustainability within a company is social, economic, and environmental, and each area requires trained leaders to succeed”.
Alberto Gil, Co-Founder of Hockerty, reminds us of the essential role of commercial innovation in this transition towards sustainability: “Our duty to the planet is to offer solutions that are more sustainable than current ones, yet also commercially appealing. Only then will we achieve a society where sustainability is not seen as an alternative but as a real and preferred option”.
Cecilia Guarás, R&D & Sustainability Manager at Bobo Choses, invites us to redefine our foundations: “Designing more sustainable scenarios can be subtle, involving seemingly minor changes. What's important is that they are honest and accompanied by a vision that drives the transformation of methodologies, ways of conceptualizing, producing, and consuming”.
The fashion industry faces a crucial moment; sustainability is no longer a choice but an unavoidable necessity. The valuable lessons shared by these professionals through BCome reflect the urgency to take action. From a better understanding of supply chain practices to honesty in consumer communication, it's evident that sustainability demands a profound transformation in mindset and business practices. It's time to join forces with experts, commit to real change, and collectively build a more responsible and sustainable future in the fashion industry.