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Ellen R. Delisio headshot

Fiber Toolkit Helps Fashion Industry Meet Sustainability Goals

With so many moving parts, the fashion industry struggles to manage sustainability standards across the production process, but this new tool could help.
Fashion Industry

With so many moving parts and players, the fashion industry continues to struggle to assess and manage sustainability standards throughout the entire production process.

The release of a new tool, though, could help companies more efficiently evaluate raw materials to meet sustainability requirements.

Gap Inc. is partnering with the Textile Exchange to release Gap’s Preferred Fiber Toolkit (PFT) by the end of this year. Textile Exchange, a developer of the toolkit and one of the independent reviewers along with the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, will be taking ownership of the toolkit for its broader distribution across the fashion industry. 

"The development of the PFT has been crucial to Gap Inc.’s ability to set goals and develop internal awareness on how to design better products and set fiber strategies," said Diana Rosenberg, product sustainability manager for Gap Inc. in a prepared statement. "A rigorous and data-driven approach allows for greater confidence in our sustainable materials sourcing decisions, while creating an incentive to select more planet-friendly raw materials." 

One of the functions of the web-based toolkit is to assess the environmental impact of some of the raw materials used in the fashion industry. 

Without more specific guidance, companies sometimes turned to a brand-by-brand decision-making process to measure and explain sourcing choices, according to a statement from the Textile Exchange. The results were often subjective and opaque. At a time when customers, employees and other stakeholders expect more transparency than ever, the pressure is on for fashion brands to source and market more responsible and sustainable fibers.

Other environmental factors that are part of the toolkit’s evaluation protocol include biodiversity, land-use change and waste disposal. Human rights, labor concerns and animal welfare within raw material sourcing also are part of the assessment, added Liesl Truscott, director of Europe and materials strategy for the Textile Exchange.

The evaluation of raw material choices uses quantitative data inputs from the Sustainable Apparel Coalition's (SAC) Higg Materials Sustainability Index, Truscott continued. The PFT is designed to work along with SAC’s Product Tools, while the Higg Index allows many of the players in the fashion industry to evaluate and rank a company or product’s sustainability effectiveness. 

“By aligning the PFT with Higg MSI data, users of both tools can seamlessly track the impacts of their decisions from fiber to full materials and products," said Joël Mertens, senior manager of Higg Product Tools for the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, in a statement.

Gap always had intended to release the toolkit for wider use in the industry, according to Rosenberg. “Gap developed the toolkit in partnership with Textile Exchange, MADE-BY/Anthesis with input from the SAC in 2018,” she said. “We used 2019 to work it into our organization and refine the methodology and add more materials. Due to the COVID-19 (pandemic), some of our timeline was delayed. This timing works well as we’d both like to see the toolkit expanded and improved upon from the broader industry. Textile Exchange has convened a Preferred Fibers and Materials Working Group, which includes Gap, to provide guidance to all.” 

Textile Exchange says it plans to update the toolkit with new data and a broader set of fibers and materials so companies within the fashion industry can purchase materials with high sustainability scores. The group also anticipates working to identify areas where the industry could further reduce its impact on the environment to help the fashion world meet science-based targets. Currently, the updated toolkit and the proposed review process will be available to stakeholders for input later this year, noted the Textile Exchange.

The fashion industry is in desperate need of another tool to help improve its environmental standing. It continues to be one of the world's heaviest polluters. By many accounts, the sector is the second largest consumer of water after agriculture and generates between 8 to 10 percent of global carbon emissions, exceeding the amount produced by a combination of all international flights and maritime shipping, according to the United Nations Environmental Programme. Not to mention, the sector's use of harsh chemicals, non-biodegradable packaging and extensive shipping of products worldwide together contribute to its environmental footprint.

“As an industry, apparel and retail have struggled to cohesively measure and explain sourcing material choices,” according to Truscott. “The goal of the toolkit is to provide clear guidance and alignment for companies to use as guidance when making material sourcing decisions.”

Image credit: Waldemar Brandt/Unsplash

Ellen R. Delisio headshot

Ellen R. Delisio is a freelance writer and paraeducator who lives in Middletown, CT.  Over the past 30 years, her writing has focused on life science, sustainability and education issues. Ellen is an avid reader and beach-goer.

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