• Frontrunners on efforts to clean up their viscose supply chains are: Levi Strauss & Co, Asos, H&M, Tesco, Marks & Spencer (M&S), Esprit, C&A, Next, New Look, Morrison's, Sainsbury's, George at Asda, and Reformation.
  • Luxury Brands Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and Versace lag in the 'Red Zone' at the bottom of the ranking, together with sports giant Nike and low-cost retailers Costco, Forever 21, TJ Maxx and Walmart.
The technology to produce cleaner viscose already exists...but many brands are dragging their heels on cleaning up their acts

The technology to produce cleaner viscose already exists...but many brands are dragging their heels on cleaning up their acts

Despite efforts by the world's leading viscose manufacturers to move towards more responsible production, most fashion brands have made few or no commitments to clean up their viscose supply chains, according to new research.

Other discrepancies show European brands are leading change on this issue compared to their US counterparts. And luxury brands are criticised for only paying lip service to the challenge, with a complete lack of engagement and commitment.

The findings are outlined in a new investigative report released by the Changing Markets Foundation, Fashion Revolution, the Clean Clothes Campaign, Ethical Consumer and WeMove.EU.

Its report 'Dirty Fashion: Crunch Time' evaluates the global textile and fashion industry on its transition towards responsible viscose and modal fibre manufacturing. And it ranks 100 well-known fashion brands including Nike, Costco, Walmart, TJ Maxx, Asos, Levi's and luxury retailers Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and Versace on their responsible viscose production plans and progress on transparency.  

Specifically, the report finds that: 

  • Fourteen major brands and retailers have made a public commitment to clean up their viscose supply chains by joining the Changing Markets' Roadmap, sending a strong signal to viscose manufacturers that they expect the industry to move to responsible viscose production by 2023-25.  
  • Viscose manufacturers producing over 50% of global market share have also committed to better manufacturing and have started investing in closed-loop production processes in line with the Changing Markets' Roadmap.
  • However the bulk of the fashion brands are still dragging their feet: three-quarters of companies (75 out of 100) have made few or no commitments to stamp out dirty viscose. 

"With viscose manufacturers representing over half of the global production committing to clean up their act, there is no more excuse for fashion brands to be dragging their feet," says Urska Trunk, campaign manager at the Changing Markets Foundation. "After years of engagement we are especially surprised by a complete lack of progress by some luxury brands that claim to sell higher quality and more exclusive clothing, while completely ignoring such a key sustainability issue. 

"There is also a very clear divide running across the Atlantic ocean with European brands being much more progressive and committed to lead the change on this issue, while a vast majority of US brands are lingering in the red zone.

"The technology to produce cleaner viscose already exists," Trunk continues. "Brands like Prada, Versace, Nike, Forever 21, and so many more must clean up their act and use their purchasing power to make manufacturers move to closed-loop production. No more excuses."

The report categorises companies into four groups – Frontrunners, Could Do Better, Trailing Behind and the Red Zone – based on their responses to a questionnaire and their publicly available viscose policies. 

The 28 worst-performing brands assigned to the Red Zone category are those with no viscose specific policy and transparency of any kind. Over two-thirds of these brands are US-based, and include Aeropostale, Forever 21 and Michael Kors. 

The report also highlights the limitations of a voluntary approach in driving a sector-wide transformation and is calling for ambitious legislation, to level the playing field across the industry. 

"It is time for EU leaders to step up and make the necessary regulatory reforms, as industry initiatives have clearly failed and the current health economic crises have taken devastating tolls on workers throughout the supply-chain," said Muriel Treibich of Clean Clothes Campaign. "In an industry known for power imbalances, it will take leadership on EU level to ensure that the textile sector supports workers' rights instead of actively undermining them." 

Some key takeaways include: 

  • Among the lowest-ranked companies are luxury brands Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and Versace showing that this problem is not confined to the cheaper end of the market. 
  • Some luxury brands have made significant public statements about sustainability, but "their complete lack of engagement, commitments and even transparency clearly shows they are only paying lip service to this issue."
  • There is a clear divide between US and European brands. Only two US companies – Reformation and Levi Strauss & Co – are considered Frontrunners, while the large majority (90%) landed in the bottom two categories, showing a lack of engagement and action to stamp out dirty viscose. 
  • Several brands have shown marked improvement when it comes to transparency. Among the most transparent are Asos, C&A, Esprit, M&S, Reformation and Tesco, which have published extensive lists of their viscose manufacturers on their corporate websites, including the names and, in some cases, full addresses of factories. 

Click here to see the full brand ranking.

Viscose production
Viscose is a 'cellulose' or wood-pulp-based fibre, derived from trees such as eucalyptus, beech and pine, as well as plants such as bamboo. Along with other man-made cellulosic fibres (MMCFs), such as lyocell and modal, viscose is the third most used fibre – after polyester and cotton. In 2019, viscose had a market share of about 5% of total fibre production volume. 

The Changing Markets' Roadmap provides guidance for brands, retailers and producers willing to move towards closed-loop viscose manufacturing. It defines 'closed-loop production' as a process whereby chemical inputs are captured and reused, instead of being released into the environment. More specifically, closed-loop production ensures that emission controls and chemical recovery rates are in line with EU Best Available Techniques (BAT).