Co-Creating Sustainable Futures in Fashion

As Claire Bergkamp, CEO of Textile Exchange, aptly stated , “When we work collectively, listening, learning, and making connections within the entire industry, we can co-create solutions and effect tangible systems change”.

This is how we want to start this article which presents our takeaways from the Textile Exchange Conference.

Textile Exchange offered a wealth of insights from fashion professionals and sustainability advocates that we are eager to share. So let’s start with a question:

Are Sustainable Raw Materials the Answer to Fashion’s Climate Crisis?

In an era of escalating climate crisis, rapidly evolving political landscapes, and increasing scrutiny from investors and consumers, fashion brands can no longer afford to underinvest in their raw material strategies. Swiftly securing access to sustainable raw materials could boost average net profits by 6%, while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions and ensuring compliance with future regulations. A demand for sustainable raw materials is expected to exceed supply by 133 million tons by 2030.

These were the main points presented during the conference in a round table with Textile Exchange, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and Quantis.

They presented and discussed a recent report with challenges, opportunities, and actions for fashion brands in transitioning to low-climate-impact raw materials. Read the full report.

Beyond Siloed Approaches: Integrating Multi-Stakeholder Solutions

True resolution of industry issues demands listening to those with direct experience. The Textile Exchange conference spotlighted individuals working at the grassroots in global supply chains.

Visiting raw material producers is imperative for brands to understand the nuances of these ecosystems. As Sebastien Kopp, Co-Founder of VEJA, remarked:

How can we understand the reality of the situation if we don’t go and visit the cotton fields, the factories, and the people?”

Investment in supply systems is critical for the industry’s shift to more sustainable materials. Building strong, long-term partnerships with producers is key to this transition.

The session highlighted what is possible when brands foster strong relationships with farmers, building the supply chain with this as a starting point. To make a difference, brands cannot expect to simply source a certain material, but must support agricultural communities on a journey towards positive change.

The Transformative Power of Language in Systemic Change

This point has been interesting: how impactful is it to change the use of certain words to change the system? Language plays a pivotal role in systemic change:

Jon Alexander‘s suggestion to replace ‘consumer’ with ‘citizen’ reframes individual engagement, while terms like ‘buying into’ rather than ‘buying from’ foster deeper brand loyalty. Shifting from ‘supply chain’ to ‘supply system’ alters the dynamic between brands and suppliers, promoting equality.

This concept was also emphasized by Orlando Rivera, CEO of Bergman Rivera, a primary supplier of organic cotton to VEJA:

We don’t look for clients anymore, we look for partners. Because we’re selling a journey, not a product- When brand invest in our projects, they become a part of a journey, seeing changes in the wellbeing of nature, soil, and the people involved along the way.

Traceability: The Keystone of Impact Understanding

You can’t understand your impacts unless you can trace your raw material  Jocelyn Wilkinson Partner & Associate Director Boston Consulting Group.

Traceability will be fundamental to address climate and nature impacts as well as comply with legislation. If there is one thing to prioritize to future proof a company, its goingo to be knowing where things come from. The industry has the tools and frameworks it needs to start driving the transition. 

This will help manage climate and nature impacts and comply with legislation, as well as being the start of relationship-building and supply chain transparency.

Last Considerations

The themes of product and process traceability were prominently featured in this year’s London edition of the conference, underscoring a vital message: the pivotal role of data collection and management in mitigating environmental impact and reliably communicating these efforts to the market.

This particular message resonates deeply with me, primarily due to its significant alignment with the principles of data measurement.

It was inspiring to witness a diverse array of participants from the fashion industry – including farmers, producers, brand representatives, solution providers, recyclers, and policymakers – converging for the week-long Textile Exchange conference.

This gathering further solidified my conviction that the journey towards meaningful change in the industry doesn’t hinge on a singular approach.

Rather, it’s the integration of a multitude of solutions that holds the key. The most effective strategies will likely emerge from a collaborative effort between brands and their supply chains. This is precisely the kind of synergy and partnership that events like the Textile Exchange Conference aim to cultivate.

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