Canopy is campaigning to stop the world’s endangered forests from being logged for clothing

Canopy is campaigning to stop the world’s endangered forests from being logged for clothing

Ahead of an expected explosion in demand for wood pulp-based fibres such as rayon and viscose, environmental groups are calling on apparel and textile firms to ensure they do not come from endangered forests. H&M and Inditex are the latest to update their sourcing commitments.

Forest-based fabrics make up about 5% of total textile industry inputs, but demand is expected to increase by 112% in the next 40 years, said Nicole Rycroft, executive director of Canada-based non-profit organisation, Canopy.

Globally, there is "a very rapid ramp-up in the pulping infrastructure that's looking to produce pulp specifically for clothing production," she added.

Canopy participated at Textile Exchange's 2013 Textile Sustainability Conference last November in Istanbul.

"Forestry as it relates to the global textile industry is an issue we will continue to monitor not only at our conference but in our industry," a Textile Exchange spokesperson told just-style.

In October, Canopy launched a project with the apparel industry to stop sourcing fibres from endangered forests - such as the boreal forest in Canada and Alaska, as well as rain forests in Indonesia - partnering with 14 designers and big brands such as Eileen Fisher, Quiksilver, prAna, Patagonia, and Lululemon Athletica.

They have just been joined by two of the world's largest fashion companies - H&M and Inditex - who have set out new sourcing commitments to ensure the rayon and viscose fabrics used in their clothes is not derived from ancient and endangered forests.

Many companies do not know where their fibre content is coming from, said Kat Guay, brand awareness manager at US-based prAna, which is "following [their] garment down to the thread that it's created with," she said.

Canopy is advising and encouraging companies on identifying their fibre sources and developing purchasing policies to protect endangered forests, using alternatives such as recycled viscose in the long term, said Rycroft.

Increasing pressure
Demand for artificial fibres, specifically rayon, has increased - primarily in China - in recent years as a replacement for cotton, as rayon is the most similar artificial fibre to cotton, said Frank Riccio, president of the US-based Danforth Group, a supplier of specialty fibres and pulps to the paper, textile, nonwovens and composite materials industries.

A global shortage of cotton and accompanying surge in prices about four years ago - following poor weather conditions mainly on the Indian subcontinent and a ban on shipments of the fibre by India, the world's second largest cotton producer and exporter - drove a "dramatically increased demand for rayon and therefore dissolving pulp [used to produce rayon]," he added, which is only now levelling off.

Other factors include booming consumption of apparel and textiles globally; fast fashion driving demand for more fibres; and the forestry industry seeking out alternative markets, said Rycroft.

This increased pressure to produce rayon, however, does not necessarily mean greater environmental concerns, said Riccio, as pulp production capacity initially meant for paper is now shifting to rayon production, rather than total production increasing across all sectors - "so there's a bit of a trade off," he said.

The specific origin of fibres, though, is only one of the many sustainability challenges that companies face, said Bob Kirke, executive director of the Canadian Apparel Federation.

"This is not the top of the list...everyone would like to meet all expectations of all consumers, but at some point you need to address the most immediate concerns;" for instance, improving worker safety in factories such as in Bangladesh, he said.