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LONDON – The textile industry is facing a profound regulatory shift, spurred on by the need to meet sustainability targets over the next decade. At the centre of this regulatory overhaul is the European Union’s ambitious Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles, which is aiming to revolutionise the textile sector by ensuring that all products sold on its market are durable, repairable, reusable and recyclable.

Brands and retailers who are seeking to operate within the EU must soon comply within stricter design parameters, ensure that their products carry more information about their origin and composition than ever, and that environmental claims are fully substantiated.

While the EU is spearheading this regulatory shift, other major markets are following suit. New York’s Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act, the U.S. Federal Fabric Act, and the UK’s Competitions and Markets Authority’s crackdown on greenwashing all signal a sea of change perceptions of the textile industry, emphasising the need for greater accountability, traceability, and data to back up claims.

Regulatory Pressures

The European Commission’s proposed legislative measures are set to elevate the burden of proof across the entire textile value chain. Brands and retailers will be obligated to share more detailed information about their supply chains and the environmental impact of their products than ever before.

From a design perspective, the cornerstone of the Commission’s approach to more environmentally sustainable and circular products is the proposed Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR). Through providing minimum design requirements, the ESPR effectively aims to ensure the lifetime and post-consumption phase of a product are optimised through its design features. Textiles have been identified as a priority sector for eco-design, and will soon receive its own secondary legislation (delegated act) spelling out its specifics.

Within the ESPR, the EU proposes the introduction of a Digital Product Passport (DPP) to enhance the traceability of products and their components. This passport aims to empower consumers and the value chain to make more informed purchasing choices, whilst allowing authorities to verify compliance with legal obligations.

Then there’s the point of sale. The proposed Green Claims Directive seeks to disallow environmental claims companies make on their products that are not backed up by evidence. To do so, the Directive necessitates the use of accurate and holistic communication, scientific data, and external verification to address concerns regarding the sustainability credentials of products sold on the market.

In this new regulatory landscape, brands and retailers are tasked with providing high-quality, data-based evidence and enhanced transparency throughout their value chains. Access to supply chain data is no longer optional but a fundamental requirement for brands and retailers. 

Adapting to New Regulations

New regulation will not only challenge brands and retailers to reassess their entire value chain, from material sourcing to production processes and end-of-life management, but it will also be helped by an intrinsic understanding of the chain of custody for the entire product supply chain.

An obvious first step is for brands and retailers to map out their supply chain and through this exercise, gain access to robust data. However, given the number of individuals and processes involved, fashion supply chains have traditionally been complex and environmental metrics challenging to quantify. Therefore, many brands and retailers are now turning to their supply chain partners for support.

Science-based initiatives such as the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, which is built on a foundation of robust data capture and the provision of article-level supply chain transparency, have a crucial role to play in helping brands and retailers adapt and comply with the evolving legislative landscape.

Making transparency a reality

The use of traceability technology solutions for example, has been a game changer to the industry. As the world’s first sustainable cotton fibre programme to offer article-level supply chain transparency to all our members, the Trust Protocol has witnessed first-hand the value of increasing supply chain visibility.

Through the Trust Protocol’s proprietary traceability technology, brands and retailers are able to track cotton produced both in the U.S. and on Protocol grower members’ farms. When cotton is tracked through the solution, brands and retailers receive a transparency map that verifies the origin of the cotton starting from the initial fibre shipment to a textile mill, through to the delivery of the finished products.

The Trust Protocol also collaborates with its members to ensure only verified, transparent claims are made. By doing so, brands and retailers can have confidence that U.S. cotton is included in their products and subsequently have the ability to communicate with their customers on the traceability of cotton fibre elements within their garments.

Data-Led Insights at the Farm Level

However, supply chain visibility is just one piece of the puzzle. Brands and retailers also need confidence in the environmental credentials of the raw materials they use. The Trust Protocol takes a data-powered approach to provide brand and retailer members with assurance that the cotton growers enrolled in the programme are stewards of the land, committed to responsible farming methods, and dedicated to driving continuous environmental improvement for the raw materials they grow.

The Trust Protocol brings quantifiable and verifiable goals and measurement to U.S. cotton production across six key metrics: land use, soil loss, water reduction, soil carbon, greenhouse gas emissions and energy use. In doing so, the Trust Protocol provides its growers with self-assessment and benchmarking capabilities to identify areas of improvement within their operations.

Brands and retailers are also granted access to the aggregate farm data which, through independent, third-party verification, provides assurances that the cotton fibres in their supply chain are more sustainably grown and provides them with the ability to demonstrate commitment to continuous improvement regarding environmental impact.

In the same way that you can’t improve what you don’t measure, it is also true that you can’t fix what you can’t see, hence both data and transparency should be considered part of the same solution and vital to bring about meaningful sustainability improvements.

Fashion Fit for the Future

Far from being merely about compliance, data and supply chain transparency are emerging as the cornerstones of a successful, profitable business. Understanding and responding to these challenges is vital for driving a more resilient industry that can successfully achieve its sustainability goals. The industry’s responsiveness to these challenges will define its ability to thrive in a landscape that demands not just compliance but genuine commitment to sustainability.

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