Created in the 1970s, World Environmental Day acts as a vehicle for the UN to shine a light on a chosen environmental theme for the year. This year, “ecosystem restoration” is the issue at hand. World Environmental Day presents an opportunity to reflect upon the influence th UN, and other global powers have on the environment. In this blog, we will explore the impact that International Policy has on the textile industry on both the macro and micro level.


Macro Level


Beginning in the 1960s, environmental incidents like Three Mile Island and Love Canal (the former being a partial nuclear meltdown and the later a working class neighborhood constructed on a 16-acre hazardous waste landfill) seriously alarmed consumers. In response, the US government, NGOs, and especially brands began to introduce reactionary legal protections for both consumers and the environment. Today, these reactionary measures exist within a complex microcosmos of laws, policies, and economies, making the relationship between macro and micro level sustainability difficult to understand.


Since industrialization, the textile--and by extension--fashion industry has become a complicated network of trade deals, policies, and international exchange. The UN consists of 193 sovereign states and has created the UN Environment Programme, Alliance for Sustainable Fashion to better tackle a broad range of environmental issues. The textile and fashion policies agreed upon by the UN impact how individuals reconcile their relationship to the climate crisis.


Quotas” serve as a good starting point to gain a clearer picture of how international, macro-level decisions trickle down. The Multifiber Agrrangement’s quotas allowed “developed countries” control over the amount of textile and clothing imports allowed into their countries from other “developing countries''. Determining what makes a country “developed” is rather arbitrary, but that’s a different rabbit hole. The Multifibre Agreement was put into effect in 1974 and lasted for 30 years. Its successor, the WTO’s Agreement on Textiles and Clothing (ATC), took over in 1995 and no longer enforces quotas.


So, what does not having quotas mean for textile manufacturing and fashion? The short answer is fast fashion, which results in unethical working conditions and millions of tons of material waste annually. China had been extremely limited by quotas, so once they were lifted, it was more than ready to utilize its giant and cheap labor force. Today, China makes up 39% of global textile production and is ranked 120th on the Environmental Performance Index (EPI). Acting as a perfect case study, China’s current policy and energy constraints are encouraging new sustainable solutions. Among other goals, China is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2060.


The Kyoto Protocol is another example of macro level influence, extending the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change into the present. The protocol aims to reduce 5% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions via “individually agreed upon goals”. The textile industry is reportedly responsible for 2.1 billion metric tons of GHG emissions annually. To meet the Kyoto Protocol’s goals, an estimated 1.1 billion metric tons of CO2 will need to be reduced.


So where will this decarbonizing happen and how does it affect fashion on a smaller scale? GHG can be reduced at many points throughout production. Research shows that manufacturers, brands, and consumers can all take steps towards waste and carbon emission mitigation. On the consumer end of things, conscious fashion consumption has been on the rise, with brands reacting to more sustainable demands.


Micro Level


Various studies conducted in both the US and UK have found that more than half of consumers under the age of 35 require a higher standard of ethicality, transparency, and sustainability in brands. In response, brands have begun to change the way they produce and market their products.


A great example of this is Patagonia’s “Don’t Buy this Jacket” campaign. In response to demand for more sustainably and ethically produced products, Patagonia urged consumers to consider the effect of consumerism on the environment and purchase only what they need. This bold campaign was well received by media and consumers alike, with sales exceeding company expectations. Companies like Patagonia prove that the simple act of choosing to buy a new shirt has ramifications that extend to decades old international climate policies.


Beyond simply reducing the amount of material consumption, changing the methods of production is the next step in international textile manufacturing. “Cradle to cradle” design is the cornerstone of micro level sustainability. Inspired by the natural world, products and processes follow circular design methods to be safe and have a potentially infinite circulation of materials and nutrients in cycles. The textile industry has begun to embrace this system in several ways.


Napapijri, an Italian premium casual-wear brand, released a Cradle to Cradle Gold certified “Circular Series” as a part of their Spring/Summer 2021 jacket collection. Two jackets were featured in the collection, the Napapijri signature rainforest jacket and a classic Windbreaker. The collection is made from ECONYL, a sustainably recycled and regenerated nylon. Napapijri went a step further, encouraging consumers to return their jackets after two years in order to reuse the material and complete the Cradle to Cradle process.


World Environmental Day is a reminder of how complicated the path to sustainability is, but as abstract as sustainability may feel, even individual actions can create big change. If you share the same vision for a sustainable future, join us at www.phoenxt.com to learn more about our mission and collaborate!

- Caitlyn Bull


The UN describes sustainability as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs''. Unfortunately the textile industry as it stands is compromising that ideal. The textile and apparel industry is the second largest industrial polluter, accounting for 10% of global carbon emissions. The industry also accounts for incredible amounts of waste leading to 85% of textiles being sent to landfills each year. To read more about impacts of textile waste visit our past blog the Unseen Harms of Textile Waste.


Further, the rise in fast fashion has led to increased fabric and garment production, intensifying the pressure placed upon textile and garment workers. Many workers are not provided adequate, and safe workplaces leading to disastrous human rights violations such as the Rana Plaza Collapse in 2013 which launched sustainability into the forefront of the fashion industry. Especially during the COVID period, factory workers are seen to be the most vulnerable ones as brands are not paying the factories for the finished goods, leading to factory workers not being paid for their labour. The increased call for sustainability and transparency in the supply chain in response to these violations has exposed many brands for a lack of sustainability and labor rights issues. According to a report by Fashion Revolution only 1 out of 62 brands they studied disclosed their entire global supply chain. Transparency in the supply chain is necessary to ensure sustainability and ethical management as well as letting consumers know they can trust a brand. Creating trust and building brands that align with consumer values is essential since according to a 2018 survey, 52% of millennials and 48% of Gen Xers feel that it is important for their values to align with the brands they like. With the growing trend in sustainable and ethical practices, if a brand is transparent and has an environmentally-friendly supply chain it can have an overall benefit to their business performance.


Good On You breaks down the supply chain into 5 main stages, design, material production, garment production, distribution and retail, and lastly the consumer stage. In the design process, brands must intentionally plan to be more sustainable by considering the rest of the supply chain; where to source their materials, who's going to make it, what does the end of life look like and can it be a closed loop? Applying sustainable design features to the supply chain can play a huge role in reducing the environmental burden of the textile industry. There are a number of innovative ideas that address sustainability at each stage and help to make the transition easier on brands.


Zero waste design for example can cut back on the amount of waste created, and subsequently reduce the environmental harm as well. In the textile industry, zero waste thinking is often implemented to figure out ways to cut fabrics and reduce textile scraps, which is important, however the theory should be applied to the whole supply chain as well. Being zero waste goes hand in hand with the introduction of a circular economy. Designing for a closed loop addresses the end of life of a garment (which is often when environmental determinants occur). Instead of allowing garments to fill up landfills, or textile waste water to run off into water bodies, a circular economy would introduce that waste back into production. At PHOENXT we are committed to achieving a circular economy, and close the loop between textile-textile recycling.


The EPA estimates that by diverting all trashed textiles into a recycling program, it would be the environmental equivalent of taking 7.3 million cars and their CO2 emissions off the road. Finding and partnering with companies like PHOENXT that help to achieve a circular economy and address the end of life of a garment offers brands an easy way to implement sustainability into their supply chain. Overall, executing sustainable practices at every step in the supply chain reduces the environmental impact of the textile industry while simultaneously building a better relationship with the growing number of consumers who place sustainability at the forefront.



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