The 2021 Textile Exchange Material Change Insights Report, maps out progress towards more sustainable sourcing at the raw material level of the fashion and textile supply chain, using data from Textile Exchange’s Corporate Fibers and Materials Benchmark (CFMB). 

This year, the peer-to-peer comparison initiative, saw 292 brands come together to collectively track their efforts, resulting in an overview of the industry’s direction of travel, as well as alignment with global efforts like the Sustainable Development Goals and the Global Biodiversity Framework. 

Liesl Truscott, corporate benchmarking director, Textile Exchange comments, “The last few years have taught us that right at the core of everything we do lies the need for humanity and a “just transition” that promotes cultural and intergenerational equity as we transition to a decarbonised, regenerative, and circular economy. Our hope is that the benchmark can capture the learnings and amplify the opportunities to move faster and at scale towards a better world.  

“We’ve not seen the last of global unrest and supply chain disruption. How we “build back better” and find the innovation, imagination, and resilience to enable us to keeping building forward better will be what counts. This we know we can only do if we transition fairly,” notes Truscott, “Turning the corner from exploitative to regenerative and circular models of doing things will take all the effort and collaboration we can gather […] With this urgency in mind, we are restructuring our benchmark, ratcheting up expectations in ambition and rewarding action that results in real and meaningful change aligned with our Climate+ strategy. As always, this process is informed by the companies doing the work and we will be looking to our participants for guidance on how best to support and track progress.” 

Key insights

Participating brands are now using 50% more sustainable materials in their portfolio. For the first time, the Index showed 50% preferred materials use (up from 44% the previous year). Preferred cotton now represents 65% of overall cotton used by participating brands, and recycled polyester moved up to 32% of polyester use, compared to 21% the year before. Covid impacted participants’ sourcing patterns, so overall consumption of materials was only marginally higher this year (1.3%) despite increased participation, yet preferred materials increased by 15%.  

Growth in recycled materials dominated by nontextile inputs. The report shows progress has been made in the uptake of recycled inputs, which now represent 29% of synthetic fibres, and 12% of materials overall, although this growth in recycled is predominantly dominated by plastic packaging waste. The data shows that there was only a slight increase in the textile-to-textile share. Post-consumer textile waste is now at 1.49% of recycled inputs, and 0.18% of textile use overall, as reported by participating brands. 

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A decrease in greenhouse gas emissions reflects slower growth, as well as an increase in preferred materials. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions fell by 5% last year, reflecting a saving of 1.9 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions. This decline is influenced by the “low-growth” 1.3% scenario during the pandemic (compared to a “business as usual” scenario of 3%), as well as from the conversion to preferred materials. 

More land is under improved practices, but metrics must link to country of origin. The report now shows over five million hectares of cropland and forestry under improved practices, such as sustainability programmes and certification. This is over one million more hectares than last year, but still only 17% of the total land area from which land-based materials were sourced by Index participants in 2020.  

Transparency of sourcing regions must improve. Building on the above, line of sight to sourcing origins is an increasing priority for companies, and tools that help are advancing rapidly. Index results suggest that knowledge of country-of-origin hovers around 48% of materials sourced. Textile raw materials are being traced back to 49 companies, dominated by India, China, Turkey, the US, and Pakistan. As the sourcing of recycled materials increases, origins and circumstances of “waste origins” (secondary inputs) will become more important for integrity and monitoring impact. 

There are signs of brands decoupling value creation from resource extraction. The number of companies reporting data on re-commerce grew from six to 13 (out of 114), and there were 0.6 million more items in re-sale in 2020 over 2019. The transition to a circular system has the potential to unlock huge economic opportunities for brands willing to invest in new ways of doing business. 

Looking forward 

The report also highlights what it sees as the greatest challenges (risks) and opportunities for sourcing preferred materials, and what is needed most to unlock these opportunities. 

Innovation and tech must be scaled to support traceability and fibre-to-fibre recycling, taking technology and infrastructure to the next level of implementation, the report notes. There also needs to be a greater commitment to the transitional period. For example, transitioning in-conversion cotton to organic, and looking at the co-benefits associated with landscapes that deliver regenerative and restorative value. 

Finally, the report states the industry requires multi-stakeholder collaboration and much wider communication, to increase engagement and empowerment. Legislation will be fundamental, it concludes. 

The full report can be downloaded from the Textile Exchange website, here

Last year, the Textile Exchange’s ‘2021 Organic Cotton Market Report’ saw organic cotton production reach new highs, with the largest ever volume of organic fibre harvested globally.