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2.1.2 Textiles

Current status

The legitimacy of companies have been challenged in recent years due to globalization which makes it difficult for companies to control every step in the value chain.  This is particular a factor in the textile industry as the production process is spread across the globe and across desciplines. There is a need to bridge academic research and industrial development, western consumption and eastern production, first-world demand and third-world supply. Because of the geographical disconnect, Europeans generally find it difficult to recognise the full impact of their purchases.

Fashion textiles

The fashion industry is represented by fast consumer goods, but still the fashion industry is also a way for indivuals to brand their personal believe and an active position in life. Today, the pressure from consumers is a driving demand for more environmentally sustainable production processes. Use of textiles has important ressource implications. Processing raw materials into finished products results in one-third of the waste and over three quaters of the carbon and water footprint produced by the sector.

This demand has led to the fact that companies have increasingly taken over the political responsibility to lead the proces of ensuring that products do not contain toxins and that the textile industry waste is handled properly. Furthermore, resources are becoming more scarce as the world is running out of land for growing food. Agricultural land cannot be used for fibres when it is needed for food. Keeping textiles and fibres endless circulating makes good business sense. There is some possibilities for more circularity within the fashion industry, such as:

Increasing the lifetime of clothes through design and innovation technologies

  1. Increasing the usage of clothes through renting or leasing
  2. Increasig the re-use, repair and recycling of clothes

1) Lifetime extension through design and innovation technologies

Increasing the lifetime of clothes through enhanced design, innovative materials (e.g. nano coating) and consumer behavioural change reduces consumption of virgin resources.

2) Renting and leasing of clothes as service business models

Increased use of clothes during their lifetime, including renting and leasing of clothes, customised mass production and customer awarenes can deliver massive global savings.

3) Re-use, repair and recycling via incentivised return schemes

Improvements in clothing re-use, repair and recycling through take-back schemes and seperate collection of unwanted garments can lead to substantial global savings.

Furniture textiles

Textiles for furnitures are in a different category as these textiles need to last longer as in the fashion industry. Furthermore, the textiles often need to fulfill a long list of qualities such as being non-flamable, not fading in the sun, etc. These qualities need to be included in the environmentally friendly material. There is not yet a mature technology that can ensure the exact same quality of an environmentally friendly textile than a traditional material.  

Producing an environmentally friendly furniture textile leads to a much more expensive product that most customers are not willing to pay for. Branding may be a solution to lead the way and pull the development in this direction as the manufacturers puts money in producing the environmentally friendly products at this moment.

Companies as well as academic research is still looking for the solution where price and quality equals traditional textile production. However, at this moment, demand has not yet come to furniture textiles in this regard. Furthermore, there is a huge pressure from China who during the past years have started to produce good quality at a much cheaper price. This does not encourage further investments in environmentally friendly production methods in which there is no demand. In return, the industry has started to use the residues and waste products in isolation as well as for second use in third-world countries.

Policy tecommendations

It is possible to improve the sustainability of clothing and textiles across its lifecycle by looking at:

1) Procurement and specification of lower impact fibres

Textile production has been moving steadily towards blended fibres in order to produce new functionalities, which has been a serious barrier to recycling levels.

2) Access to funding for supply chain partners to increase efficiency

SMEs has an advantage by being more flexible. While SMEs do not benefit from the funds of large companies, they are also not subject to their ’old ways’, which might be particular hard to change. Small business have the opportunity to build a brand from scratch without compromising on their values. In short it is much easier to create a green SME than to make an already existing company greener. Therefore, there is a need for policy makers to ease the proces for SMEs to access funding for product development in order to enter the circular economy.