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Bryant Jefferson headshot

C&A Launches Groundbreaking Sustainable Denim

European fashion retailer C&A launched the world’s first denim fabric to achieve the highest level of Cradle to Cradle product sustainability certification—and it plans to open-source the methods it used.

European fashion retailer C&A launched the world’s first Cradle to Cradle certified platinum denim fabric last week, developed in partnership with Rajby Textiles Limited and Eco Intelligent Growth.

Dubbed Beluga denim (shown above), the material is fully renewable, produced within a process that wastes no water, and is completely carbon-neutral in the manufacturing stage. This signifies another leap forward in the pursuit of a circular economy using the Cradle to Cradle standard and another step in C&A's sustainable product journey. 

A refresher on Cradle to Cradle certification

Cradle to Cradle Certification signifies the quality of the material from a more holistic point of view, taking into account the impact its production has on people and the environment by grading products on several key metrics. To achieve a high score, a product must be design with chemicals that are safe for the environment and people, it must have a high percentage of reusable materials, be manufactured using renewable energy and use water efficiently. Brands must also be cognizant of the communities and resources that are a part of the manufacturing process.

Developed by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, these product standards are now in their third iteration, with the fourth close to implementation. Public comments on the latest version of the standards closed in October. The standards as they currently exist grade each product via the previously mentioned standards, with those products receiving a score of basic, bronze, silver, gold or platinum. The resulting level of certification is based on the lowest of those aforementioned scores.

The standards are also dynamic, as a renewal process every two years encourages continuous innovation, thus incentivizing constant improvement for all stakeholders. A myriad of products can be scored, and Cradle to Cradle has become notable for consumers in grading the quality of a product in a more sustainable fashion.

The sustainable fashion movement is growing

This isn't the first effort by C&A to produce products at the high end of Cradle to Cradle's standards. The company released gold-level certified T-shirts in 2017 and gold-level certified jeans a year later. This new partnership raises the bar in a way that the company's competitors could become inclined to follow.

C&A's efforts go beyond this particular breakthrough as well. The company helped to found the Organic Cotton Accelerator in 2016, a year after it joined the Better Cotton Initiative. As of February 2018, 70 percent of the cotton C&A sourced was organic, with the goal to reach 100 percent sustainable cotton this year.

With C&A’s decision to make this innovation in denim manufacturing open-source, the oft-criticized fast fashion industry has taken a step forward in showing that it can become more sustainable and responsible. But the criticism won’t go away anytime soon — technology reporter Terry Nguyen, writing for Vox, noted: “The blindingly fast pace at which clothes are now manufactured, worn, and discarded means that they’ve become more disposable, more commodities than keepsakes, and that shoppers are essentially conditioned to expect a constant stream of new items.”

There are signs, however, that the younger generation of consumers want to see a change for the better in this industry. To that end, C&A’s competitors — which include Zara, Uniqlo and H&M — now face more pressure to show that their supply chains, as well as the clothing sold at their stores, can be made ethically with less impact on the planet.

Beluga denim is just the start.

Image credits: Eco Intelligence Growth

Bryant Jefferson headshot

Bryant Jefferson is a senior studying social entrepreneurship at Roosevelt University. He makes content about social entrepreneurship, public policy, and CSR. Bryant is from Hampton, Illinois.

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