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Impact of International Policy on Textile Manufacturing

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 to learn more about our mission and collaborate!

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