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Profitable, Competitive and Fashionable: Sustainability in the Textile Industry

Quality InsightsMarch 20, 2020

Sustainability is a hot topic in the textile industry. Consumers are willing to pay more for products that come from responsible sources. How can a brand use this opportunity to reduce costs and enhance its reputation?

The textile industry is currently facing several challenges. Consumers and authorities are concerned about a variety of environmental problems:

  • Unsafe pesticides and chemicals
  • Large volumes of water used during production
  • Animal welfare issues when sourcing raw materials
  • Factory pollution
  • Microfiber pollution
  • Non-recyclable packaging
  • Waste products ending up in landfill

At the same time, society is demanding more clothing at lower prices. Industry therefore needs to find ways to meet this demand without damaging the environment for future generations.


There are multiple options available that will result in more sustainable production methods. Among industries that need to adapt to environmental concerns, the fashion industry has one unique advantage. This is an industry that is characterized by quick changes in style and product. Manufacturers and brands can use this to affect real and permanent change but without breaking the normal cycles of the fashion industry.

Positive change can be introduced in the form of reduced resource consumption (water, land and oil), increased product reuse, and more recycling of materials. Industry can also move towards more sustainable materials, for example reducing reliance on cotton, with its large carbon footprint, by blending it with more sustainable resources, such as synthetic eco-friendly fibers and recycled fibers.

The key to this approach is to build the sustainability into the process from the development stage. By taking a holistic approach to the production cycle, and considering sustainability at this point, the manufacturer can introduce processes that are less polluting, conserve more energy, and are less reliant on natural resources.

Introducing measures that promote ‘reduce, recycle, reuse’, the 3Rs, at the development stage will also help the company to decrease costs and will have a positive impact on the safety and health of employees, local communities and, ultimately, consumers.


Responsible businesses need to adapt in a way that allows them to remain competitive. The key to this is the development of new products that are better quality, are produced more efficiently, and which allow the manufacturer greater control over costs. To remain competitive, these changes cannot be introduced overnight, but the cyclical nature of the fashion industry means the adoption of green and eco-friendly initiatives can be gradual and steady.

Supporting this transformation requires business planning that is long-term, resulting in a slow and gradual transformation of the organization. Part of this must involve continuous employee training in sustainability issues.


Adherence to the Global Organic Textile Standard (GTOS) will help companies deliver sustainability in relation to ecological and social responsibilities. Version 5.0 of the standard was issued in March 2017. It aims to define globally recognized requirements that ensure textiles are organic, from harvesting to labeling. It promotes environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing practices along the whole supply chain. By following the requirements of GTOS, a textile company will not only reduce its impact on the environment and society, but it will also increase its credibility with end consumers.

Sustainability is now part of the discourse surrounding the future of the textile and garment industries. Consumers feel they should be actively supporting companies that promote sustainability. For businesses, the good news is that consumers are not only paying lip service to these ideas, they are also enthusiastically seeking out sustainable products and are willing to pay a premium price for these garments.

The idea that sustainability is a concept only supported by a minority is now firmly consigned to the past. Movements, such as the Fashion Revolution, are now global and encompass all aspects of the fashion world. They offer assistance to consumers, brands, retailers, and producers on how to best achieve sustainability while still being competitive.


Forward-thinking companies are looking at the move to sustainability as an opportunity to compete more competitively. For example, Swedish multinational retailer H&M has introduced its ‘Conscious Initiative’ collection that combines cutting-edge fashion styling with more sustainable materials, including organic cotton, hemp and recycled polyester. In addition, it has added a ‘Sustainability’ tab to its website to help consumers find these products.

H&M sees sustainability as not only a way to contribute positively to the textile industry’s challenges surrounding social and environmental responsibility, but also a way in which it can differentiate itself in the marketplace. Their CEO proudly states: “sustainability work is embedded in our culture and our values. A long-term approach is a natural and important part of our overall business strategy. We also believe that taking a long-term view is crucial when it comes to dealing with complex sustainability issues.”

The concept of ‘reduce, recycle, reuse’ provides the textile industry with plenty of different opportunities when it comes to finding new ways to be both sustainable and competitive. Approaches include producing shoes from recycled plastic waste that is recovered from the sea , and even recommending their products are washed less often to reduce the amount of wasted water.

In all cases, the movement towards sustainability in the textile industry is one which is being grasped by companies who can see the way society is moving and they are trying to capitalize on the opportunities that are created. As one industry insider recently noted in his speech, “Innovation & Sustainability: Rethink or Die!”, the debate is no longer whether companies should move towards a sustainable future, it is how they do that. The sooner a business addresses this issue, the quicker they can reap the rewards.


SGS leverages high level data analytics to identify common issues within the textile supply chain. We use this information to help brands, retailers and manufacturers implement action plans to reduce their impact on the environment.

Utilizing its global network of laboratories and industry experts, SGS supports businesses during their adoption of environmental assessment programs such as Higg FEM verification, the Foreign Trade Association’s Business Environmental Performance Initiative (BEPI), and various chemical management assessment programs that support the implementation of Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) processes and procedures. In early 2019, SGS was recognized by the ZDHC Foundation as an indicator of Manufactured Restricted Substance List (MRSL) conformity.

Learn more here.

About SGS

We are SGS – the world’s leading testing, inspection and certification company. We are recognized as the global benchmark for quality and integrity. Our 96,000 employees operate a network of 2,600 offices and laboratories, working together to enable a better, safer and more interconnected world.

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