Leading Fashion Sustainability Initiatives Band Together to Accelerate Impact

Sustainable voices in the fashion industry are banding together as part of a hastened paradigm for change.

On Thursday, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, ZDHC Foundation, Textile Exchange and the Apparel Impact Institute unveiled new partnerships intent on “accelerating impact and driving new efficiencies for the industry,” according to a statement.

The announcement came on the third day of the annual SAC global member meeting, which brings together brands, retailers, manufacturers and academia. But earlier conversations with Textile Exchange’s managing director LaRhea Pepper and an accompanying statement indicate that the idea of an alliance was already being mooted.

“COVID-19 has been a very negative backdrop to so much industry news, and it’s true that it has accelerated our views on the potential for transformational partnerships, but together we’ve been contemplating deeper integrations for years. The timing finally seems right,” explained Amina Razvi, SAC’s executive director.

Each organization declared its roles and commitments in letters of intent over four areas like program and tools, impact management and funding, global implementation and administration and infrastructure.

Regarding the first area, the organizations will specifically aim to connect complementary frameworks, like the Higg Facility Environmental Module and ZDHC’s Roadmap to Zero program and the Higg Brand and Retailer Module and TE’s Corporate Fiber and Materials Benchmark.

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Although it is vague what exactly co-funding and resource sharing will look like, they are expected to be defined more concretely by year-end. As nonprofit search engine Guidestar showed, the SAC alone reported $3.7 million in net assets, a year prior to the Higg Co. technology business spin-off in 2019. Retailers like C&A are major contributors.

“Our ultimate objective is to increase efficiency near term to accelerate our collective impact,” said Frank Michel, executive director of ZDHC.

“There are some very exciting points of complementarity possible, and I think we have the right initial organizations at the table to do that,” added Lewis Perkins, president of AII.

With 4 to 6 percent of the European Union’s environmental footprint caused by the consumption of textiles, according to a 2017 report from Global Fashion Agenda and Boston Consulting Group, greater alignment across the textile value chain is a necessity especially as the EU, for example, shapes its Green Deal with policies specific to the sector.

On top of the environmental pressure, a new social impact narrative urges reform at the factory and farm levels.

Pepper commented, “For so long, the mainstream conversation has underemphasized the role of fiber production and textile manufacturing, not to mention what happens at the farm-level itself. We’re excited about what these new partnerships can mean for the industry driving holistic and scalable solutions.”

While in coming weeks the coalition aims to offer up engagement opportunities for the stakeholders across the value chain, it will have to work hard to dispel critics.

Over the past few weeks, experts and independent researchers have expressed frustration about duplication of industry efforts and hampered progress over the years, given the pace of change needed.

This latest alliance is one of many that aims to ward off naysayers. In August, all four organizations were revealed as part of “Fashion Conveners,” which is described as a global coalition “working individually and collectively to accelerate action through high-level partnerships, developing strategies and initiatives across the various sub-sectors of industry.”

The Conveners also count the Responsible Business Coalition at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business, nonprofit Fashion for Good and the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, which was originally convened by U.N. Climate but is actually an industry-led coalition.

Asked for comment about the recent alliance, Elisa Niemtzow, vice president, consumer sectors and membership at sustainability-focused nonprofit Business for Social Responsibility said, “They’re not trying to create a supergroup, but to [instead] bring together the right synergies.”

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