Reducing impacts at every stage.
In order to create truly sustainable fashion, we recognize that we must address the full life cycle of our garments, from raw materials to end of life — and back again.
The environmental impact of a product at the end of its life is large — the majority of textiles ultimately end up in landfill or incinerated. We understand that we must close the loop and create a system that uses recycled inputs and reduces waste. To do so, we are building programs to address product end of life and create circular design systems that reduce waste and increase recycling, upcycling and reuse.
Product Life Cycle
To understand environmental impacts for the entire process—from design, to sourcing, to manufacturing, all the way to a customer’s closet—we perform life cycle assessments (LCA). We use these to evaluate indicators such as product carbon emissions, chemicals and water usage from cradle to grave. Our LCAs helped us understand where we can engage our supply chain, internal teams and customers to help reduce the environmental impacts of our products at all stages.
Given that denim plays such an important role in each of our brands’ assortments, we measured the environmental impact of a pair of both men’s and women’s jeans, as well as one of our T-shirts. Our findings revealed that, in terms of water, raw materials have the greatest impact, primarily due to the water required in cotton cultivation. Consumer use contributed the second-highest water impact due to laundering garments. Consumer use also contributed the most significant carbon emissions due to the high level of energy required to dry jeans and other clothes.
Using these results, we increased focus our efforts in areas where we have direct influence: raw materials selection, fabric development, garment production and finishing. We also affirmed that durable and well-loved garments, worn time after time, will have lower life cycle impacts, which has strengthened our commitment to classic, well-made designs that our customers love and keep for years.
We are building on our communication with customers for a deeper form of engagement that encourages people who buy our clothing to make sustainable choices, starting with what they purchase and ending with what they do with the clothes that they no longer wear. We communicate our product sustainability efforts through store displays, product descriptions, product labeling, social media and other channels, as well as educational campaigns and media around events like Earth Day and World Water Day.
In 2020, we worked together with Textile Exchange, a long-time partner, for the public release of our Preferred Fiber Toolkit.
Our Toolkit – which we created alongside Textile Exchange and MADE-BY in 2018 – was designed to empower our internal product teams to select the best fibers based on sustainability impacts through expanded trainings that are integrated into our companywide learning and development program. This strategic approach allows us to support progress in a holistic way by making sustainability a core skillset of our employees, and by giving them the resources they need to make decisions and take actions that improve the sustainability of our products. In addition to life-cycle assessment (LCA) data on global-warming potential, water use and eutrophication, we consider a holistic set of indicators while evaluating our preferred fibers strategy, including biodiversity, potential for circularity, chemistry, land-use change and social conditions within production.
With this partnership, the Toolkit will be developed as a publicly available, industry-wide resource, providing companies with consolidated, validated guidance so that together we can create healthier communities while better protecting the planet.
Ellen MacArthur Foundation
We are collaborating with leaders in the circular economy, including as a core partner in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Make Fashion Circular initiative. Through this initiative, we have made a three-year commitment to focus on safe and reusable inputs, sustainable-fiber models, and recycling old clothing. Through our involvement, we launched a textile-collection effort in New York City that encouraged customers to bring their spent garments to select Banana Republic, Gap brand and Athleta stores for recycling. In total, our brands involved in the effort collected and recycled over two tons of clothing from more than 1,100 collection points.
We are taking these efforts further through a partnership to tackle clothing waste. Today, more than 70 percent of materials used to make clothes end up in landfills or are burned at the end of their first life, and less than 1 percent of old clothing is recycled to make new clothes. In 2020, we started a partnership with thredUP, the fashion-resale platform, to encourage customers to turn in second-hand clothes in exchange for shopping credit that can be redeemed at our Gap, Banana Republic, Athleta or Janie and Jack brands. thredUP is committed to reselling all clothing that meets its quality standards, which mitigates the carbon, waste and water footprint of a garment by increasing its usable life.
Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA)
In 2019, we embarked on a partnership with the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) to address the technology challenge of recycling certain materials. Our shared mission is to develop more sustainable production processes and technology solutions that enable the industry to advance circular models across the life cycle of textiles. We have identified two initial priorities: separating spandex from used garments, and decolorizing denim for recycling.
Spandex is commonly used to add stretch and improve the comfort of fabrics, but currently it is difficult to separate it from blended fabrics. HKRITA is partnering with Artistic Milliners, one of our key suppliers, to develop an environmentally safe method of separation using bio-solvents.
To create a new method of denim decolorization, which traditionally relies on chemical treatment that can be harmful to the environment, HKRITA is working with Arvind Limited, another key supplier, which also has pioneered a method to use wastewater instead of freshwater in denim manufacturing. We hope these investments make it easier to recycle, reuse or re-dye textiles that currently end up in the waste stream.
Global Fashion Agenda
We also engage with Fashion Positive and Global Fashion Agenda (GFA) to explore circularity opportunities. Through Fashion Positive Plus, we helped create the first Standard for Circular Materials guidance.
As part of our 2020 Circular Fashion Commitment with GFA, we have set three commitments to achieve by 2020:
We will train our cross-functional product teams for each of our brands on circular-design techniques and best practices.
We will help to increase the volume of used garments collected globally through participation in pre-competitive, industry-led collection pilots.
We will identify the most promising recycling technologies for post-consumer materials across multiple product categories and start scaling them in our supply chain.
These partnerships are supporting our strategy and setting the stage for large-scale industry-level innovation.
As part of our education efforts, we have continued to incorporate sustainability workshops and educational training into our companywide learning and development program. To date, we’ve reached over 1,800 employees with workshops on a range of topics, including Sustainability 101, Sustainability Claims, Fiber Sustainability, Conscious Design for Circularity, Sustainable Wet Processing and Sustainable Denim. We also publish a monthly newsletter on product sustainability, which provides the latest sustainability developments and best practices to hundreds of employees. In line with our commitment to the GFA commitment to education, we have hosted intensive workshops for many of our designers and other product-focused teams on how to incorporate circular thinking and sustainability into their product-creation process.
As we consider the complete life cycle impacts of garments, we are also working to investigate the emerging issue of microfibers on the environment, especially those that come from synthetic textiles. There is still a lot we are seeking to understand about microfiber shedding; what are the primary sources of fibers, what textiles and laundering methods have the highest impact, what is the scope of the issue, and what we can do to reduce and eliminate the impact of shedding from textiles.
Microfibers, alongside other microplastics, can come from a wide variety of sources, and we’re working urgently with the apparel industry and cross-industry groups to better understand what we can do to address this issue. Alongside other brands and the Outdoor Industry Association, we have committed resources to research this issue so we can make informed decisions to address microfiber impacts. We are also working with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and others to investigate fiber and textile innovations – we feel we must work on finding solutions alongside understanding the scope of the issue.
There are some steps research has shown that consumers may take to reduce microfiber shedding from garments: reduce the frequency with which they wash clothes, follow washing directions on the garment tag, reduce use of fabric softeners and look into washing machine filters that can capture fibers.
A priority for people, communities and our business.
Selecting sustainable fibers
Addressing hazardous discharge.
Great product designed with sustainability in mind.