Fashionable sustainability is all about sustainable supply chains

Collaboration is key to meeting sustainable development goals
VP, CSR & Sustainability

The NRF Supply Chain 360 conference and expo was held in Cleveland June 20-21, 2022. It explored the modes and methods needed to build a stronger, more sustainable supply chain and ensure resiliency in challenging times. Learn more about the conference, here

Sustainable fashion is now very fashionable, especially among younger consumers and wealthier ones: 50 percent of U.S. consumers claim they are willing to pay a premium for sustainability. “Green” has become the new black and it is sustainable supply chains that make sustainable fashion possible.

Sourcing Journal, a media company focused on the fashion and textiles sector, recently published “The Road to 2030.” The more than 100-page report compiles recent articles and new insights about how the retail fashion industry is making itself more sustainable. It examines industry progress through the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development framework that was released in 2015.

Sourcing Journal

Sourcing Journal is a media partner for NRF’s recent Supply Chain 360 conference that focuses on supply chains and sustainability.

The UN framework is best known for identifying 17 sustainable development goals and 169 targets for the world to meet by 2030. All 17 goals are interconnected with each other and connected to all industries, including fashion and retail. The SDGs address things like decent work and economic growth (goal No. 8), industry innovation and infrastructure (No. 9), responsible consumption and production (No. 12), and climate action (No. 13).

The key themes of “The Road to 2030” focus around climate commitments, innovative materials and solutions, transparency and traceability, circular solutions, and collaboration.  The report explores the themes with examples from dozens of companies like Everlane, Neiman Marcus, Nike, Ralph Lauren, Reformation, Rothy’s, Tapestry and Target.

Climate commitments

Fashion brands and retailers are embracing climate goals. Companies like Adidas, H&M and Kering (owner of multiple brands including Gucci and Bottega Veneta) have signed the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, committing to cut their climate emissions in half within 10 years and to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Inditex (owner of Zara and other brands) is also a signatory and committed to meet the net-zero goal by 2040.

Nike has specific plans and metrics in place to reduce its emissions. It is making significant investments in renewable energy with 78 percent of its electricity use at owned or operated facilities now coming from renewable sources. It also plans to reach net-zero by 2050.

Innovative materials and solutions

Intense consumer and regulatory focus on the fashion sector’s sustainability opportunities have made it one of the most innovative industries. New materials and processes with significant sustainability benefits are regularly introduced. Thermolite EcoMade is a fiber made from 100 percent textile waste. Refibra is made by upcycling cotton scraps from garment production. Tencel is a carbon-zero, plant-based rayon fiber.

2022 Event recap

Did you miss NRF Supply Chain 360 this year? Catch up on show highlights at the 2022 event recap.

Companies are also working with mushroom-based leather substitutes from companies like Bolt Threads and other plant-based or recycled materials designed to be durable, recyclable and compostable from Natural Fiber Welding, Infinited Fiber, Spinnova and others. Pangaia has even explored sweatshirts made with banana and pineapple leaf fibers.

Fashion retailers are also focusing on ways to reduce specific chemicals such as PFAS from their manufacturing process. Polartec switched from metal-based odor-fighting additives to peppermint oil. Levi’s has used plant-based dyes from Stony Creek Colors in place of petroleum-based dyes. Wrangler and Walmart invested in an alternative dying process that uses 90 percent less water when compared with more traditional dying approaches and almost completely eliminates chemicals of concern.

Transparency and traceability

Many sustainability goals require fashion retailers to trace their supply chains beyond the suppliers that make the finished products to the origins of the raw materials. While this can be slightly easier for a company like Rothy’s that owns much of its supply chain, it can be extremely challenging for larger companies that rely on incredibly diverse networks of globally distributed suppliers.

Despite the challenges, transparency is necessary to validate environmental benefit claims. Kontoor Brands, owner of Wrangler, Lee and Rock & Republic, is experimenting with hemp-based materials that require little water, pesticides or herbicides and can have a lower contribution to climate change. Documenting those benefits requires tracing the product down to the individual farm.

To facilitate transparency, the European Union is considering requirements for “product passports” or a “product environmental footprint” label that traces the manufacturers and origins of all materials used to make products. Other initiatives rely on blockchain technologies to trace materials and finished goods throughout supply chains, including environmental, worker safety and labor rights concerns.

Circular solutions

One of the fastest-growing parts of the retail industry is the circular resale model. Retailers are encouraging consumers to return products so they can be resold to other consumers. Investors, including a Leonardo DiCaprio-backed venture that invested $45 million in circularity and regenerative materials, see the opportunity: Trove and Recurate, two third-party circular economy providers, recently received investments of $77.5 and $14 million respectively. They and companies like The RealReal and ThredUp are working to provide back-end support for companies like Nike, Adidas, Levi’s, Patagonia and dozens of other retailers. Companies as diverse as Zara and Coach have similar programs; Neiman Marcus’ program extended the life of 350,000 luxury items in 2021 through alternations, restoration and resale.


Perhaps the most important theme highlighted in “The Road to 2030” is collaboration. Every sustainability initiative referenced in the report succeeded because of internal collaboration across extensive cross-functional teams or by working pre-competitively with others in the industry. Textile recycling, as an example, cannot be successful without broad industry support. One of the final articles in the report details how 16 of India’s largest fashion brands are working together to make the industry more sustainable. Their collaborative approach is a potential model for the broader industry.

Sustainable fashion requires sustainable supply chains and sustainable supply chains require effective collaboration.

Did you miss NRF Supply Chain 360 this year? Catch up on show highlights at the 2022 event recap.

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