Collaboration, Not Competition, Is the Key to Affordable and Sustainable Fashion

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The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol is a knowledge-sharing platform and partnership for the entire cotton supply chain. It offers brands and retailers better access to the cotton data that they need to be more sustainable.

The COVID-19 pandemic
hit as the global fashion industry seemed to be correcting its course towards a
sustainable future.

Adidas,
like many large firms, has invested heavily in sustainability practices across
its supply chains and driven sustainability — and thus has seen a 52 percent
reduction in CO2 emissions in 2019. Newer, smaller brands such as
Reformation drive better
industry practices by placing sustainability at the core of its business —
committing that 75 percent of all materials are natural, renewable or recycled.

But the coronavirus caused major disruptions to sales figures and production
lines. According to the New York
Times
,
apparel sales fell 79 percent in April after the first wave of COVID-19 hit. The
industry has rebounded since, but it is still not operating at full strength;
and in mid-October, COVID-19 cases began a resurgence across the United
States
and Europe.

To better understand the fashion and textile industries’ plans for improving
sustainability standards and how COVID-19 had affected them, the U.S. Cotton
Trust Protocol
and The Economist Intelligence Unit surveyed 150 executives of
global textile and fashion businesses. Brands included H&M, Puma,
Zalando, Adidas and VF Corporation — which owns The North
Face
, Vans and
Timberland, among others.

All respondents were unanimous that their firms would not water down their
sustainability targets in response to the global crisis, even though 63 percent
felt that an economic recession would lessen consumers’ interest in sustainable
goods. In fact, 60 percent of executives named sustainability as the
second-highest strategic priority for fashion organizations — behind improving
customer experience.

“The pandemic has been a wake-up call for a lot of people,” said Tara
Luckman
, Director of Flourish CSR and a
consultant for the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol. “The whole industry has been hit
very hard, but this moment is an opportunity to reassess and bolster
sustainability
commitments

in the face of a rapidly changing world.”

Brands and retailers are one of the leading drivers of sustainability in
fashion. Companies with the most progress implementing their sustainability
agenda all reported a common trait: They have spent time and money understanding
the environmental impact of their supply chain.

Sustainability can be a massive undertaking and investment. There is uncertainty
about consumers’ willingness to pay more for sustainable products, but 70
percent of respondents actually believe affordable and sustainable fast fashion
is
possible
.

The survey showed the two ways that companies intended to build sustainability
into their business plans during a pandemic. One was through investments, and
the other was finding outside sources of data to track their progress. 73
percent agreed that global standards and certifications help measure and
evidence a brand’s level of sustainability for consumers. But a quarter of
respondents also saw a lack of available and easily accessible
data

as a barrier to collaborating on sustainability between brands.

“For sustainability to be meaningful, the textile supply chain must demonstrate
continuous improvement and data collection throughout the entire process.” said
Dr. Gary Adams, President of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol. “The Trust
Protocol provides the transparency necessary to accomplish that.”

The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol fills the farm-level data
gaps

that brands and retailers have struggled to access in their efforts to be more
sustainable. In joining the Trust Protocol, members can prove, measure, and
verify that the cotton fiber element of their supply chain is more sustainably
grown with lower environmental and social risk.

The Trust Protocol brings quantifiable and verifiable goals and measurement to
sustainable cotton production and drives continuous improvement in six key
sustainability metrics: land use, soil carbon, water management,
soil loss, greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency. Brands
and retailers can use these data points to show progress against their committed
pledges and goals. Enrolling in the Trust Protocol can help brands and retailers
receive the data they need to ensure that the cotton fiber element of their
supply chain is sustainable.

The Trust Protocol allows for full supply chain transparency. At the gin, a
unique credit for each kilogram of cotton ginned is issued. When the cotton is
consumed by a brand or retailer, the credits are transferred along with the
cotton to its new owner. Importantly, each credit is tied to the bale’s
permanent identification number, enabling full transparency throughout the
supply chain.

This new system gives evidence to the sustainability credentials that are proven
via Field to Market, measured via the Fieldprint
Calculator
, and verified with Control
Union Certifications
. It is aligned with existing sustainability programs
including the UN Sustainable Development
Goals
and is included on
Textile Exchange’s list of preferred
fibers
.

Understanding the financial situation that we all find ourselves in with
COVID-19, The Trust Protocol is not taking dues until July 2021 — which allows
brands and retailers to use the interregnum as a pilot period.

The Trust Protocol is not only setting a new standard for more sustainably grown
cotton — it’s also a knowledge-sharing platform and partnership for the entire
cotton supply chain. Brands and retailers will have better access to the data
about their cotton that they need to be more sustainable.

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