Clean Fashion: 3 Reasons To Feel Positive

By Dawn McGregor 14 April, 2016

Fashion is on a clean-up & go circular mission. McGregor shares 3 reasons why she's feeling positive it can achieve it

People believe China can lead the environ charge; father of 'cradle to cradle' says parts of circular econ are missing
Global & Chinese fashion is busy with open-sourcing previously trade-secrets, new tools & more transparency
Innovations to close the loop are being rewarded and getting the needed assistance; these are interesting times

There’s been much chatter about building a ‘Beautiful China’(美丽中国)with blue skies, green land and clear running water. This got me thinking, what does a ‘Beautiful China’ mean for fashion? Well, it means cleaning-up and transitioning to a circular economy.
I recently spoke with the father of the “cradle to cradle” concept, Dr. Walter Stahel at the 2016 Macao International Environmental Co-operation Forum & Exhibition. He talked at length about the economic and environmental benefits of the circular economy – less resource use & waste, more employment & much more.

“We need to learn to deconstruct and re-use parts and materials more.”

Dr. Walter Stahel

However, he also told me that “We need to learn to deconstruct and re-use parts and materials more”, adding that strategies to re-use, re-pair, remanufacture & recycle are all already being employed and honed, but we have yet to start work on technologies and policies to de-polymerize, de-alloy, de-laminate, de-coat materials & more, which are critical to achieving a circular economy. It is good to know this so that we can direct research and funding to this. Hopefully some of this work will be started in China through two industries – new materials & next generation IT – it is pushing for as part of its ‘Made In China 2025’ plan.
Can China lead the environmental charge? Some people believe so; actor Leonardo DiCaprio said during his Oscar acceptance speech, “I really think that China can be the hero of the environmental movement, they can be the hero of the climate change movement.” There is more belief from the other end of the spectrum, with Trucosts’ Huang & Ip saying that China can be a major player in the green bond market. Another good piece of news is the joint announcement from China and the US that they will sign the Paris Climate Agreement (agreed at COP21) on April 22, 2016.
There has also been progress on water risk valuation tools, see here and here. Separately, I looked through tools (not specifically financial) being used in the fashion industry globally and in China. As I did, I got the feeling that fashion can achieve its mission –  clean-up and can make the transition to the circular economy. Below are three reasons why I think this.

1.  Open-sourcing previously trade secrets

Levi Strauss’ open-sourced it’s Water-Saving “Water<Less” Process. These 21 water-saving finishing techniques were of course considered trade secrets and took many years of development but to Levi Strauss this didn’t trump tackling our world’s urgent water issues.

 “We are setting competition aside…
… water is too important to our industry to not share these techniques.”

Michael Kobori, vp of sustainability, Levi Strauss & Co.

“We’ve long been committed to being water stewards, but realize more needs to be done. We’re setting competition aside and encouraging others to utilize these open source tools.”, said Michael Kobori, vice president of sustainability and Levi Strauss & Co.
Kobori added, “We believe that water is too important to our industry to not share these techniques.” Well said. Let’s hope that this incredible action is a catalyst for more.

2.  New sustainability tools & more transparency

Four large apparel brands are not only using a sustainability assessment tool but have made the results publically available. The independent assessment tool, “MODE Tracker”, was developed by Made-by (a UK-based textile sustainability consultancy) and the four brands are: Ted Baker, G-Star, Vivobarefoot and Haikure. After the year-long pilot assessment each brand received a scorecard on their sustainability performance; there are eight ‘cubes’ that span the full product lifecycle and for each ‘cube’ there are three levels and each level gets a percentage score. Good news is that five more brands will be publishing their results on MODE tracker next year.
Another tool is the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs’ (IPE) Blue Map app of which version 3.0 was recently released. Hear from IPE’s Kate Logan on the app’s latest features and value for brands, suppliers and consumers.

3.  Rewarding innovations to close the loop

The H&M Foundation recently announced the 2015 winners of their Global Change Award – an innovation challenge for ideas that can help close the loop on fashion. The five winners included work in making cotton-waste new, digesting polyester, an online market for leftover textiles, using by-products from citrus production and an alternative algae textile. These winners get access to a tailor-made innovation acceleration programme and share a EUR1 million grant. The award will open for applications again in 2016, stay tuned!
H&M Change Award & EcoChic Award
There are more fashion winners from the EcoChic Design Award – the largest global sustainable fashion design competition – with five competition cycles under its belt. I attended the last two grand final fashion shows and the models definitely didn’t look like they were wearing ‘waste’.
Referring the alumni of designers from the last five cycles of the award, Dr. Christina Dean said (CEO of Redress (the NGO that developed & organises the award), “There is now an army of sustainable designers from around Asia and Europe who are closing microscopic loops on the mammoth issue of textile waste.” More positive news.  Submissions for the sixth cycle of the competition will be opening this year.
These are interesting times; the ball is rolling we just need to keep up the momentum.

Further Reading

  • Real-time Monitoring: Cleaning Up Textiles – There’s now nowhere to hide. The latest IPE Blue Map app integrates real-time emissions data with violation records plus there’s an interactive module linking with brands’ CITI Index scores IPE’s Kate Logan on what this means value for brands, suppliers & consumers
  • Quantifying Water Risk: What’s My Number? – Industries are exposed to water risks but financial valuation of such risks remain elusive. China Water Risk’s Thieriot reviews existing quantification tools & methods and highlights gaps that need to be filled to put a number on water risks
  • Be Green and Prosper – With increased fines, penalties and jail sentences, China Water Risk’s McGregor & Liu expand on China’s push towards ‘all things green’. Also hear from top business leaders in China on why it pays to be green to prosper
  • Brands To Buy Over Christmas? – CWR’s McGregor reviews the top and laggard brands for green supply chains in China according to round two of the Corporate Information Transparency Index report. See which brands made which list
  • 2015 GLASA Awards: Key Takeaways – The theme of the Global Leadership Award in Sustainable Apparel (GLASA) this year was water. Pratibha Syntex won though CWR was honoured to be a finalist. CWR’s McGregor & Hu share their takeaways
  • Corporate Strategy & The New Chinese Consumer – Authors of new report say that China’s war on pollution has created a fundamentally new Chinese consumer. Hart, Ma, Ying & Zhu from Renmin University on why firms need to evolve their strategies
Dawn McGregor
Author: Dawn McGregor
Dawn leads CWR’s work to help corporates navigate increasingly disruptive & material risks from water & climate threats, as well as transitional risks in the supply chain arising from new regulations in China. Here, Dawn engages extensively with the global fashion industry delivering on-ground workshops in China to keynotes and strategic input at European HQs. She has written at length on the end of dirty and thirsty fast fashion and her report to overcome gaps between brands and manufacturers for a clean and circular future inspired the industry to create a new wastewater tool. Dawn also works closely with the property and tourism sectors where she not only conducts strategic assessments of their exposure but builds collective action toward resilience via closed door working groups and invite-only events. Having helped build CWR, Dawn is a frequent keynote, panellist & moderator at events, including being twice selected as the lead-rapporteur at World Water Week. Her articles are cited in various industry publications including the UN’s ‘World Without Water’. Dawn previously worked in a global investment bank assessing geo-political risk, crisis management and business resiliency. She was born and bred in Hong Kong and has lived in France, England, Singapore and Beijing.
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