The sourcing and production of fibres and materials used by the fashion industry puts substantial pressure on natural resources and comes with implications for water, energy, and land use, as well as emissions and waste. At least two thirds of a brand’s environmental footprint can be attributed to its choice of raw materials. As a result, choosing and using the right fibres and materials, as well as production practices, is key to limiting the far-ranging implications for the biosphere.
The conduct of the fashion industry does not only affect ecosystems, but also brings risks for farmers working in fields and workers in factories. It is decision makers, designers, and product developers at major brands who are uniquely positioned to make these changes happen.
Global non-profit organisation, Textile Exchange works holistically with the fashion and textile industry to guide brands, manufacturers, and farmers towards more responsible production and sourcing of fibres and materials across fashion’s value chain. In line with Textile Exchange’s Climate+ strategy and to align the industry on the 1.5 degree pathway by 2030, CO2 emitted during textile fibre and material production will have to be reduced by at least 45 per cent by 2030, compared to a 2019 baseline – achieved through the accelerated adoption of practices that improve the state of our water, soil health, and biodiversity.
To enable more responsible sourcing decisions, in 2020, Textile Exchange adopted the Preferred Fiber Toolkit; a tool previously developed by Gap Inc. to support their design and product teams in understanding the impacts of fibre and material choices.
On a mission to take this tool forward for industry-wide adoption, Textile Exchange, together with Gap Inc. and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition have transformed the tool into a decision-making matrix – Preferred Fiber and Materials Matrix (PFMM) – informing the industry on more responsible sourcing decisions backed by guidance and trusted, quantitative and qualitative data sources.
Currently, the tool assesses over 65 programmes and materials through a robust methodology that considers 6+ indicator themes: climate and greenhouse gas emissions, water use and pollution, chemicals and toxicity, soil health and land management, human rights, waste, and animal welfare. The transparency of the assessment criteria provides nuanced context, giving brands the ability to make comparisons within material types to inform sourcing decisions.
Through adopting the PFMM, Gap Inc. has focused efforts on priority materials to address critical impact areas, developing a directional path towards sourcing that allows for flexibility and continual improvement. Furthermore, the PFMM has supported Gap Inc.’s product teams on how to meet sustainability goals on materials including their ambitious target to source 100% more sustainable cotton by 2025.
The collaborative development of the PFMM enabled Textile Exchange, Sustainable Apparel Coalition and Gap Inc. to successfully land on how the industry can assess and identify preferred fibre and materials through allowing necessary testing and consultation. Today, the resulting tool uses programme documentation, quantitative and qualitative research, and data quality considerations. In this way, it enables brands to consider a more holistic set of impacts.
The outcome of the PFMM assessment methodology is identifying preferred materials on a spectrum from baseline to transformational. Baselining with materials which align to business as usual (typically conventional materials), the matrix identifies stages of improvement from minimising harmful impacts, to maximising positive effects, and ultimately the pinnacle of regenerative and circular production systems.
By using the PFM Matrix to source more preferred materials, brands can swap siloed solutions and go beyond simply considering greenhouse gas emissions to looking at a portfolio of interconnected issues that will ultimately feed into their sustainability targets.
From 2022, the PFMM will become publicly available and act as a key leveraging tool for the industry in driving towards a 45% emission reduction in fibre and raw material production by the end of the decade. To find out more about the PFMM visit their site.