Apparel Manufacturers Are Opting For Sustainable Materials

21 Jan, 2020

The growing awareness of the adverse effects of the textile industry on the environment is encouraging customers to opt for sustainable materials. Unlike natural materials, synthetic fibers take a long time to decompose as they are made from petroleum products. Biological materials like spider silk are light and have tensile strength that are used in making garments. Some companies also started creating a decomposable synthetic version of spider silk. For example, Spiber Inc., a Japanese biomaterials specialist, was the first to produce artificial spider silk. The company uses genetically modified E. coli to produce the silk proteins which are used to produce silk fibers. As consumers globally grow increasingly concerned regarding the environmental impact of their apparel purchases, a growing section of the market providing sustainable materials is likely to appeal. Consumers are also often more willing to pay a premium for products they deem to be environmentally friendly, thereby providing opportunities for higher profit margins at the point of sale and across the supply chain.

The global clothing and apparel market is expected to grow from $844 billion in 2019 to nearly $1,183 billion in 2022 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.75%.

The apparel manufacturing industry is a major contributor to climate change. The industry generates approximately 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per year, which is more than international flights and maritime shipping combined. With the increasing adoption of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impact of apparel manufacturing. For instance, in 2018, the hashtag #WhoMadeMyClothes trended on Twitter for trying to raise the standards in the back-end process of manufacturing. A large number of brands are now moving towards green manufacturing (or eco-friendly manufacturing), by making sustainability a major focus of manufacturing processes. For instance, Gucci, through its latest initiative, Gucci Equilibrium, aims to put environmental and social impact at the heart of the brand. Similarly, H&M and Burberry use the ‘Higg Index’, a set of self-assessments that allow the brands to measure the environmental impacts of their operations.

Many national and state governments have stringent environmental laws associated with apparel manufacturing. For instance, under China’s national Environmental Protection Law, any enterprise that refuses or fails to correct their pollution levels and safety regulations will face a fine which accumulates daily, instead of incurring a low, one-off financial penalty. Fines are calculated based on a combination of factors, including the perceived benefit of noncompliance with the relevant law, and the type and amount of pollutant discharged. The law also requires a compulsory public disclosure for apparel manufacturers, i.e. multinational clothing suppliers, to choose their textile supply chain partners with greater care and transparency.