A call for "greater collaboration for a fair and sustainable apparel industry" has been issued by the C&A Foundation - a private body affiliated with the global clothing retailer C&A - as it embarks on a new global strategy.

"Let's work together to find innovative solutions to the deeply-rooted problems of the apparel industry," Leslie Johnston, the Foundation's executive director, urged participants at the Textile Exchange Conference in Portland, Oregon this week.

She added: "The apparel sector touches over 150m people every day in some of the poorest countries in the world. It provides men and women with formal employment and has tremendous potential to be a force for good. Yet the industry has developed in a way that is no longer sustainable and the challenges are great. Together, we can change the way the industry works, but it won't happen overnight."

Bringing together its efforts under one global strategy, the C&A Foundation is focusing its initial efforts on sustainable cotton and improved working conditions.

These two areas are underpinned by three pillars: Product (helping smallholder farmers transition to more sustainable fibre); Supply (supporting factory owners to improve the environmental impact of their operations); and Lives (working to improve livelihoods across the apparel supply chain).

"We are working to empower other stakeholders to better address challenges so that, collectively, we can have more meaningful results," explains Johnston.

Among its work so far, C&A is a co-founder of CottonConnect, which works to help smallholder farmers transition to more sustainable cotton farming, using fewer chemicals and less water. Since its creation, CottonConnect has expanded to support more than 20 retailers sourcing cotton from over 130,000 farmers across India, China and Pakistan. C&A Foundation supports CottonConnect in helping conventional farmers improve their incomes and livelihoods by transitioning to certified organic cotton.

And its Sustainable Supplier Programme (SSP), aimed at improving productivity in garment factories, deepening worker dialogue and ultimately channelling some of the ensuing value back to workers, is currently sharing results with other stakeholders.