"Consumers are looking for brands and products that reflect their values"

"Consumers are looking for brands and products that reflect their values"

The textile and apparel industry is set to change dramatically over the next ten years as brands and suppliers adopt more sustainable materials and manufacturing processes that deliver unprecedented performance and are free from harmful chemicals.

Increasing consumer awareness, pressure from advocacy groups and the development of MRSLs (Manufacturing Restricted Substance Lists) are providing brands and their suppliers with the motivation and the tools to remove harmful chemicals from products and production processes, according to a report by Safer Made and commissioned by Fashion for Good.

Authors of 'Safer Chemistry Innovation in the Textile and Apparel Industry' believe the industry will emerge as a circular and regenerative sector of the economy over the next decade as brands and retailers continue to invest.

"Consumers enjoy more choices and power than ever before, and they are looking for brands and products that reflect their values," report authors explain. "In response, retailers and brands are spending considerable resources to understand what chemicals and materials are present in their products, or have been used to manufacture them."

Collaboration and capital are key to bringing new safer technologies to market, the report notes, outlining five main 'innovation areas' being adopted by brands and manufacturers: new materials, new safer chemistries, waterless processing, fibre recycling, and supply chain information management tools.

"When searching for innovation to address safer chemistry challenges, we believe in focusing on the function delivered by chemicals of concern and seeking safer ways to deliver that function, rather than trying to find specific substitutes for chemicals of concern," report authors suggest.

"We believe the best way to eliminate hazardous chemicals is to focus on developing new chemistry and materials that provide superior performance without relying on hazardous chemistry."

The report outlines a number of tools and strategies for accelerating the adoption of safer chemistry in the textile apparel sector including:

Adopting MRSLs and managing the supply chain
Many brands and retailers have spent considerable resources on understanding what chemicals and materials are present in their products, or have been used to manufacture them. Those that adopt chemicals policies often also have internal teams dedicated to working with their suppliers on implementing transparency and chemicals policies. Transparency initiatives, adopting MRSLs and working with the supply chain partners to implement them are established chemicals management strategies that contribute to shifting the industry to safer chemistry

Implementing safer chemistry tools at the design phase
Proactive design and preferred chemistry screening approaches intend to promote best-in-class chemistry, instead of focusing on the problem chemistry found in MRSLs. Brands can drive chemical selection and design based on preferred chemistries that complement MRSLs. In turn, this evolution in chemicals management drives the adoption of preferred materials by designers who are focused on creating clothes people want to wear, rather than monitoring MRSLs. Two examples of preferred materials programmes are the Materials Wise programme from Cradle to Cradle, and the Screened Chemistry programme at Levi Strauss.

Participating in the innovation ecosystem
Brands and retailers can partner with innovative companies to jointly develop and scale safer chemistry and materials, engaging with accelerators and incubators, and investing in innovative companies or early stage venture funds. Active partnerships – between brands and retailers on one side and young innovative companies on the other – have the potential to bring new products or technologies to market that have both new performance and the potential for radical changes to the textile apparel sector.

"We encourage brands and supply chain partners to get involved with one or more of the initiatives highlighted in this report, including Fashion for Good and ZDHC group, that seek to help scale safer chemistry in the textile, apparel and footwear sectors through collaboration," the research concludes.