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The Next Economy
#BusinessCase, Innovations Grow for Sustainable Fashion; Waste Ban Looms

The business case for sustainability in the fashion industry has strengthened, but the pace of change still isn’t going fast or far enough, according to the newly released second edition of the Pulse of the Fashion Industry report.

The business case for sustainability in the fashion industry has strengthened, but the pace of change still isn’t going fast or far enough, according to the newly released second edition of the Pulse of the Fashion Industry report.

The report’s authors, from the Global Fashion Agenda (GFA) and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), estimate that around one-third of the fashion industry has yet to take any action on environmental and social performance. They say that most of the progress that has been made can be attributed to the ‘mid-price segment,’ which accounts for about half of the industry, while large fashion companies essentially made no progress due to reaching a “technological and infrastructural ceiling.”

In the past year, the ‘Pulse Score’ of the fashion industry improved from 32 to 38 (out of 100), confirming that sustainability is rising on the corporate agenda, although it remains weak. Of the executives polled for the Pulse survey, 52 percent reported that environmental and social targets acted as a guiding principle for nearly every strategic decision they made – an increase of 18 percentage points from last year. While encouraging, these results also speak to the need for still more movement toward increasingly responsible practices.

Companies may have good reason to do so: GFA and BCG’s new data and calculations show that investments in resource efficiency, secure work environments and sustainable materials could boost profitability by up to 1-2 percentage points in EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) margin by 2030.

To help put fashion on a path to long-term prosperity financially, socially and environmentally, the 2018 Pulse report aims to give guidance to companies looking to start or find further advances toward more responsible ways of doing business. A new addition to the report, the ‘Pulse Curve’ enables companies to measure their performance against other industry players, while the ‘Roadmap to Scale’ offers concrete actions for businesses to immediately embark on their sustainability journey, built on proven best practices from other industry players.

The report stresses the urgency of collective effort to go beyond what is available and possible today, arguing that lasting impact at scale will require systemic change through leadership, innovation and collaboration. It notes that a number of promising, disruptive innovations are emerging to move the industry – but fashion companies must join forces with suppliers, investors, regulators, NGOs, academia and consumers to create an ecosystem that supports transformational innovation and disruptive business models.

Some such innovations are being developed through the Fashion for Good program, which welcomed three new participants to its Scaling Programme this week: Ambercycle, BEXT360 and Tyton Biosciences focus on chemical recycling and traceability solutions. Through the program, the companies will be supported for a period of 18 months, with clear and jointly defined milestones on each company’s roadmap to scale. They will further be provided with unique opportunities to connect to manufacturers, brands and investors capable of helping them fast-track the implementation and adoption of their solutions.

“The textile industry is on the brink of an incredible transformation,” said Ambercycle co-founder Akshay Sethi. “The Scaling Programme of Fashion for Good builds the invaluable setting necessary to translate scientific breakthroughs into technologies that usher in this transformation.”

Ambercycle focuses on turning post-consumer textile waste into new fibres. Ambercycyle fibres are used as a direct replacement for traditional polyester. This technology enables the designers and manufacturers of clothing to truly embrace circular production models without sacrificing quality or cost.

BEXT360 is the first traceability company to join the Fashion for Good Scaling Programme. The startup provides a solution that enables companies to trace assets across the entire value chain using a unique combination of blockchain, IoT, machine vision and artificial intelligence.

“Our vision is to improve the global fashion industry through digital solutions that validate claims about product provenance, product authenticity and the conditions under which products are being made,” said Daniel Jones, CEO of BEXT360.

Tyton BioSciences recycles discarded clothing to produce the building blocks of petroleum- and plant-based fabrics. Tyton’s virgin-equivalent dissolving pulp and petroleum monomers can be sold at competitive cost to fibre manufacturers. Whether cotton, poly-cotton, polyester, nylon or other fibres, Tyton aims to cost-effectively recycle these materials using water as a solvent. This makes their tech a clean and economical alternative in the recycling industry.

Solutions such as these will be critical if other countries follow in France’s footsteps. The French Government plans to ban fashion companies from throwing away unsold clothes as the country extends its hardline approach to food waste to the textiles industry.

In 2016, France became the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food, forcing large grocers to donate edible goods to charities or face hefty fines. The government intends to apply the main principles from its fight against food waste to textiles by 2019 to ensure that unsold clothes are neither destroyed nor sent to landfill. According to figures from WRAP, around 215,000 tons of clothes are thrown away in France every year.

Instead, companies will have to donate unsold items to recycling organizations or charities for reuse. The intended ban forms part of the government’s “circular economy roadmap,” a nationwide scheme to eliminate the country’s “consume and discard” model in favour of a more sustainable circular economy whereby resources are kept in use for as long as possible.