Fashion industry on the brink of revolution

The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries. Fortunately, more and more specialised companies are launching initiatives to support the textile industry in becoming more sustainable. Steven van Dalen (senior manager Strategy & Transformation) and Mara Janssen (Product Lead at Tex.Tracer) give insights into the solutions and challenges.

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Transparency and sustainability in the fashion supply chain

The fashion industry has come under increasing pressure in recent years to offer more transparency to consumers and stakeholders. People realise that textiles have a much larger footprint than they thought possible. Customers want to know more than before where their clothes come from, what materials are used and how sustainable the production process is. This leads to initiatives that ensure more transparency and sustainability in the fashion supply chain.

transparante en traceerbare toeleveringsketen

Market opportunities
Soon, larger textile companies will also become mandatory to provide such transparency as part of ESG. However, many (medium) smaller parties in the chain do not have this obligation. Yet it may also be in their interest to work on transparency and ensure they can provide the necessary data. After all, if retailers and customers demand transparency, all stakeholders in the chain must cooperate. Otherwise, large customers like H&M and Zara will look elsewhere for their suppliers. By providing all the data, suppliers can increase their market opportunities. This only sounds easier than it is in practice.

Tangled chains

One of the biggest challenges in the fashion supply chain is getting data from all parties involved. Often, this is more out of ignorance than unwillingness. This is a huge task mainly due to the many links in the textile chain and the fact that different clothing items often belong (partly) to another chain. Fortunately, more and more specialised companies are developing initiatives to support the textile industry with this. One example is Amsterdam-based startup Tex.Tracer is building a blockchain platform to make the data of all links in the supply chain transparent and traceable. In doing so, they work with major retailers, ensuring that all parties in the chain provide verifiable and accurate data.

Polluting industry

This platform allows fashion companies to send data and certificates and monitor them centrally. The goal is to create a verified and transparent supply chain in which each party takes responsibility. The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries out there, where abuses are common. Any initiative to improve this is therefore very welcome.

another solution

We also need to put more effort into recycling. It is not the only industry facing this issue. One can learn a lot from construction, a sector with a similar product chain, even though the challenges and complexities of the two industries differ. Construction is also under tremendous pressure to become more sustainable. That is why agriculture is increasingly working with digital product passports.

Recycling is an important goal.

Such a digital product passport indicates precisely which materials are in a product, which raw materials were used and where they come from. It also shows things like CO2 and nitrogen emissions. This information makes it much easier to recycle used products. And that is precisely where the fashion industry needs to go, too. The ultimate goal would be a QR code on the label, allowing you to read digital passwords.

The fashion world gets moving.
It is difficult to introduce such a digital product passport, much less implement it as an industry-wide standard. Fortunately, we see initiatives to get this off the ground, with some major fashion brands also involved. This will happen step by step, synchronous with all efforts to make the textile chain transparent. Although the product information will not be very detailed initially, and social and governance aspects, among others, will be missing, these initiatives must be welcomed.

No time to lose

Let us hope that people embrace these initiatives more and more and that critical consumers make themselves heard the moment they think something is wrong. You can approach such a digital product passport programmatically, after which a solid concept will be in place only after ten years. Or you can start and, by trial and error, achieve something beautiful in a much shorter time, boosting the all-important recycling of textiles. We think the latter method is preferable. With guts and enthusiasm, get it done! Fortunately, we can draw on best practices from the construction world. This shows that it is not a hopeless task and that we can be on the eve of a sustainable textile revolution if we all put our shoulders to the wheel.