The fashion and apparel industry is under pressure. More than 85% of leading brands (by sales) have publicly declared decarbonisation targets for their supply chains. In addition, more than 35 new pieces of sustainability-linked legislation are forecast to go into effect around the world in the next two to four years, targeting import restrictions, product design guidelines, labelling requirements and more.
Given that raw materials can constitute as much as two-thirds of a fashion and apparel brand’s climate impact, securing access to sustainable materials is essential. However, demand for low-climate-impact (“preferred”) raw materials could exceed supply by as much as 130 million tonnes by 2030.
These are among the findings of a new report released today by Boston Consulting Group (BCG), in collaboration with Textile Exchange and Quantis.
The report, Sustainable Raw Materials Will Drive Profitability for Fashion and Apparel Brands, says that brands must act today to significantly increase the share of preferred raw materials in their portfolio.
Brands that succeed will be positioned to capture an average net profit increase of 6% over a five-year period, based on the report’s model. In fact, at the high end of the range in the model, a fashion brand with $1 billion in annual revenues has the potential to tap a cumulative opportunity of approximately $100 million over five years.
Jocelyn Wilkinson, a BCG partner and a co-author of the report, said, “Fashion and apparel brands face a two-part challenge: they must double down on driving carbon reduction while preparing for upcoming regulations. Success on both counts relies on a robust strategy for preferred raw materials – one that helps brands lock in a supply of sustainable materials for the future. Putting that strategy into immediate action promises to pay off.”
The pending regulations have greater depth and breadth than the fashion and apparel industry has seen before, and many brands may struggle to adapt. Based on a review of luxury brands, the report estimates that just 15% currently comply with all the guidelines of a flagship sustainability-linked regulation (in this case, the 2015 UK Modern Slavery Act).
Failure to comply poses a real threat to a brand’s bottom line. Products may be denied entry to markets until brands can satisfy new requirements and labelling laws – placing up to 8% of their earnings before interest and taxes at risk.
Despite the growing number of pledges and decarbonisation targets across the fashion and apparel industry, Tier 4 suppliers have yet to receive a strong enough signal that brands will commit to and invest in preferred raw materials. Consequently, raw-materials producers, farmers, and growers lack the incentive to take on the risks associated with increasing the supply.
The report projects that just 19% of materials produced in 2030 will be preferred, given the current lack of economies of scale. Without proper investment, the demand-and-supply gap for preferred raw materials will rise to as much as 130 million tonnes by the end of the decade – equal to more than six times India’s production of these materials in 2021.
Philipp Meister, global lead for fashion and sporting goods at Quantis and a co-author of the report, said, “Fashion and apparel brands need to take immediate action to invest in the supply of preferred raw materials, thereby securing resources and transforming their business models for a sustainable future. This will require brands to rethink product portfolios, strengthen supplier relationships, and build company-wide engagement – all of which could take years.”
The Materials Manifesto
- The report outlines six principles for brands looking to create a robust materials strategy:
- Invest in and embed full traceability to de-risk supply chains and fully understand materials’ impacts.
- Use a science-backed approach to strengthen decision making and satisfy stakeholder
- Diversify the materials portfolio to spread risks and future-proof operations
- Build a business case that leads to a triple win—for brands, for suppliers, and for nature
- Strengthen supply chain relationships—they will make or break brands going forward
- Ensure that knowledge, tools, and incentives are engrained throughout the company
Beth Jensen, director of climate+ impact at Textile Exchange and a co-author of the report, said, “In the face of the climate crisis, the policy landscape, and investor and consumer scrutiny, fashion and apparel brands cannot afford to underinvest in their raw-materials strategies any longer. Brands must act boldly now to invest in the supply chain relationships that will enable achievement of their climate goals by 2030—a key milestone year that is rapidly approaching.”