Sustainable Apparel Coalition Dives Deep on Circularity, Decarbonization and Compliance at Sourcing Journal Fall Summit 2023

  • Manufacturing
  • Decarbonization
  • Circularity
Photo of people talking at a conference
November 10, 2023

Kaley Roshitsh, SAC editorial director, attended the Sourcing Journal Fall Summit for a deep dive into sourcing, as the pinnacle holiday sales season approaches. The event convened executives across sustainability disciplines for sessions on the politics of trade, managing volatility in supply chains, benchmarking and scaling circularity while securing garment provenance, among others.

Circularity Definition “Disconnect” 

At the conference, presentations underscored the fact that circularity is still top of mind – but circularity awareness is lagging despite perceived momentum, according to a 2023 circularity survey from Cotton Incorporated and Sourcing Journal. Melissa Bastos, director of corporate strategy and insights at Cotton Inc., reported findings of an “industry disconnect” and “a lot of confusion” around circular fashion. Per the survey, some 55 percent of consumer respondents were “unsure” of circularity’s meaning yet 40 percent were also “interested” in repair, resale and circular clothing avenues.

Meanwhile, 84 percent of industry executives said circularity influences design choices, and 69 percent reported interest in donating old products to be upcycled into housing insulation – the objective of Cotton Inc.’s “Blue Jeans Go Green” circularity program. Cotton Inc., along with Better Cotton, Cotton Connect, and the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol are members of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.

Manufacturer-First Focus 

Manufacturing challenges were also a hot topic. “There is a gap in the market between what is demanded and what is required,” said Ebru Debbag, executive director-global sales and marketing at Soorty Enterprises Pvt. Ltd., in a session on supply chain volatility. She called for a stronger leadership proposition to prioritize suppliers in the decarbonization journey. According to Debbag, the company set their science-based emissions target of 54 percent, and aligned it with a transition to organic cotton.

Throughout the day, panelists agreed that suppliers are challenged by the costs of decarbonization. “We can’t go green if we’re in the red,” said Jasmin Malik Chua, sourcing and labor editor at Sourcing Journal, quoting a separate conversation with a manufacturer source.

Compliance, Provenance of Growing Concern

At a panel on compliance, speakers agreed that transparency is paramount to sustainable fashion brands. “The amount of visibility that is expected is only increasing,” said Marissa Brock, director, marketing and policy at Sourcemap, who was joined by executive panelists from Supima, Oritain and Alice & Olivia. Buxton Midyette, vice president marketing and promotions at Supima, said tracing Supima fibers, and fibers generally, is a “longstanding challenge,” and not one without its costs. Supima depends on 300 family farms in the U.S. for their fiber, and all hold a vested interest in identifying and tracing their cotton fibers in depth.

Ben Tomkins, vice president of retail sales at Oritain, added there is a “superficial level of compliance on supplier declarations,” which highlights the need for alignment at the ground level so suppliers aren’t stuck with duplicate audits.

In a separate conversation about textile recycling, Bryan Timm, Recover’s chief strategy officer, explained the company’s ongoing partnership with Oritain to identify cotton waste streams. “[The] Holy grail is to recycle the clothes you’re wearing, [and the] only way to do that is design with circularity,” Timm said. He also noted that the policy gaps around circular fashion are multifold but relevant to both Democrat and Republican lawmakers, who see the U.S. Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) as “100 percent bipartisan.” However, he emphasized, “as a supplier, you have to be responsible for what happens in your supply chain.”