Selecting sustainable fibers
We believe great products are created with sustainability at their core — which means using more sustainable raw materials to make our clothes. We give our brands license to improve the sustainability of their products by selecting the best raw materials that meet the performance of their products, while also meeting our standards for social and environmental sustainability. We are constantly refining and innovating our strategy and engage in industry partnerships that focus on preferred raw materials and circular approach to materials use and end of life.
We use many types of fibers in Gap Inc. products: natural fibers, including plant-based items such as cotton and linen, and animal-based materials such as wool, leather and cashmere; synthetic fibers, including polyester and spandex; and manufactured cellulosic fibers, including pulp-based materials such as rayon and modal. Each type of fiber has a social and environmental impact, and we are empowering our designers with the knowledge needed to make informed choices within the design process.
We empower Gap Inc. and brand teams—including mill management, international sourcing, product design, marketing, and research and development—to reduce the impact of our products through more sustainable sourcing decisions.
To aid us, we use industry tools such as the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI) and Textile Exchange’s Preferred Fibers Matrix. Our holistic preferred fibers strategy uses life-cycle assessment (LCA) data on indicators including global warming potential, water use and eutrophication, as well as evaluations for biodiversity, potential for circularity, chemistry, land use change and social conditions within production. We also give relevant teams sustainable-fiber consumption reports on a regular basis, to highlight progress and drive ongoing improvements.
Today, we focus our raw materials strategy on the top fibers that account for approximately 97 percent of our fiber consumption: cotton, polyester, nylon and manufactured cellulosic fibers. Historically, fiber traceability has been a challenge, as fabric sourcing is done separately from supplier selection, so we have improved our internal reporting and fabric-management systems to provide detailed data on our fiber consumption and volumes.
In 2020, we deepened our work with our Gap Inc. brands, which have taken ownership of sustainable materials sourcing by setting their own goals and conducting their own training programs. By combining the power of our brands, we’re also able to pursue economies of scale by purchasing larger amounts of materials such as recycled cotton. This work has enabled our brands to enhance their commitment throughout their entire portfolio, while also testing and developing new product lines with a sustainability focus, such as Gap Teen.
Also in 2020, we created an extensive internal Product Claims Toolkit that is designed to help our teams understand how to validate standards and certifications and make accurate, credible claims on the sustainability attributes of our products. And we donated our Preferred Fiber Toolkit to Textile Exchange, helping streamline industry approaches and expand best practices. The resource will rigorously measure and provide guidance on sustainable material choices, enabling sourcing and design teams to select more planet-friendly fibers and help their companies meet their sustainability goals.
Looking ahead, we will continue to use industry and Gap Inc. tools to set goals, measure progress, and communicate to customers and others how we are expanding our use of lower-impact fibers. To understand how the adoption of preferred materials supports our ambitious climate and water goals, we have been developing tools to calculate climate and water impacts based on raw materials sourcing—enabling us to directly measure the outcomes of our actions. Our aim is to create an internal platform to share that information with relevant teams for goal-setting and reporting.
In addition, we will be exploring ways to develop the landscape of regenerative practices of raw material production. These include restoring soil heath and microbial ecosystems, reducing the use of machinery and high-impact soil preparation, encouraging natural pest and weed-management methods, and, ultimately, enhancing the land’s ability to sequester carbon, support biodiversity, reduce runoff and store water.
Biodiversity—the variation and range of biological organisms on Earth—underpins the health of our planet, human well-being and business resilience. Today, biodiversity is at risk due to land use and sea-level rise, pollution, over-exploitation, climate change, and invasive species and disease. Between 1970 and 2016, there was an average 68 percent decrease in species populations among mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish, according to WWF.
Our company depends on plant and animal abundance and well-being to support the production of raw materials and nourish the global communities that support our business. We also understand that our business and our industry threaten biodiversity through land use practices, raw material extraction, manufacturing and production. Gap Inc. supports the development and implementation of science-based targets (SBTs) for nature within our industry to help protect and restore ecosystems and key species.
We are also committed to developing a biodiversity strategy to meet the forthcoming SBTs. We already partner with several organizations that are committed to protecting nature, and our sustainability goals and initiatives—covering sustainable sourcing, water resilience, carbon neutrality and zero discharge of hazardous chemicals—focus on mitigating our impacts. We are in the process of mapping out areas of key concern. We look forward to not just working to reduce our impacts but restoring, retaining and regenerating our planet’s rich ecosystems.
Cotton is one of the most important fibers for Gap Inc., representing 61 percent of Gap Inc.’s fiber consumption across all brands. As one of the world’s leading apparel brands, we use a significant amount of the global cotton supply. Cotton cultivation requires large amounts of land, human labor, machinery, pest- and weed control measures, and it is also water-intensive. Cotton is also an important crop for the economy, supporting the livelihoods of 250 million people, many of whom are women.
Gap Inc. Sustainable Fiber Sourcing: Natural Fibers
More Sustainable Cotton
We focus our cotton strategy on building fiber security and evaluating cotton-sourcing risks, as well as building a more sustainable source of cotton that is better for people and planet. Cotton supply chains are often opaque, complex, and can involve traders and agents that facilitate the exchange of cotton and yarn between the different stages of production. We regularly explore new solutions that will give us meaningful insights into the origins of the raw materials in our products and how those who harvest them are impacted. We understand that there are human rights risks in our raw materials supply chain and are diligently working to manage these risks. To respect the rights of people throughout our raw materials supply chain, we conduct high-level risk assessments to identify where countries that we may source from have weaker protections for labor rights or increased risk of forced labor and human trafficking. These assessments rely on tools such as Verité's Forced Labor Commodity Atlas and the U.S. Department of State's Findings on the Worst Forms of Forced and Child Labor and Trafficking in Persons Report, as well as consultations with expert stakeholders.
As a result of this work, our current policies prohibit suppliers from using cotton originating from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Xinjiang in our products. We recognize that these risk assessments also require supporting enforcement processes, which can include country of origin declarations from suppliers, the utilization of fiber-tracing technologies, and the collection of various documents that provide visibility into the flow of cotton and other materials that may enter our supply chain. We are utilizing several technologies and partnerships to help us evolve and mature our approach to enforcing our standards on cotton.
We also endeavor to use more sustainable cotton across all of our brands. Gap brand, Banana Republic and Old Navy have each committed to use 100 percent sustainable cotton (by 2021, 2023 and 2022 respectively) and Gap Inc has a goal to use 100 percent sustainable cotton by 2025. In 2020, we joined Textile Exchange’s 2025 Sustainable Cotton Challenge, and we further advanced our efforts by becoming a signatory of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol to start receiving verified data on the sustainability attributes of U.S.-grown cotton. The Protocol will provide verified data on the sustainability practices used on U.S. cotton farms, helping us aggregate and accurately assess data in six areas: water use, GHG emissions, energy use, soil carbon, soil loss and land-use efficiency.
As we continue to evolve our sourcing practices, we are also deepening our understanding of the regions from which we source, with a focus on risks in water-sensitive areas and other impacts arising from climate change. Because cotton is mostly grown in areas of high water stress, such as India, China and Pakistan, we have built a comprehensive evaluation of cotton-sourcing risks.
Looking ahead, we plan to identify potential low-carbon cotton alternatives, to reduce our dependence on virgin cotton production. Alongside this effort, we will be working with partners to improve cotton traceability and develop a calculator to better record the water and GHG impacts of preferred cotton.
We also use synthetic materials in our products, including polyester, spandex and nylon, which provide essential performance properties. However, synthetics are often derived from nonrenewable, petroleum-based sources. They also have fewer end-of-life solutions than natural fibers because they may never biodegrade.
Gap Inc. Sustainable Fiber Sourcing: Synthetics
To address these challenges, we’re taking steps to source more sustainable synthetic fibers, including recycled polyester and recycled nylon. We have been increasing our use of recycled polyester and nylon where possible, while also working to understand how to reduce manufacturing challenges and develop high-performance products with these materials. We are also an active member of the Textile Exchange Recycled Polyester and Biosynthetics Working Groups, investigating industry innovations toward more sustainable fibers. In addition, we are collaborating with the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) to innovate a process to separate spandex from other fibers in used garments to increase its recycling opportunities
Our brands are also taking action to incorporate more recycled fibers into their synthetics. In response to the Textile Exchange rPET challenge, Gap, Banana Republic and Athleta have signed a commitment to increase their sourcing of recycled polyester by volume to at least 45 percent of their polyester use by 2025.
Manufactured Cellulosic Fibers
We are committed to helping protect critical forests and tackle climate change, as forest ecosystems are vital natural resources that promote biodiversity, protect watersheds and help mitigate the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Our Wood-Derived Fabric Policy—which we developed in partnership with Canopy’s sustainable fashion and forestry initiative, CanopyStyle—aims to ensure that our suppliers do not use ancient, endangered, high-conservation or high-carbon value forest areas to make cellulose-based textiles, including rayon, modal, viscose and lyocell.
Gap Inc. Sustainable Fiber Sourcing: Manufactured Cellulosics
We are working closely with our top suppliers to support our company-wide policy to eliminate our use of wood-derived fibers from ancient and endangered forests . While we had aimed to achieve this by 2020, we are still working with some suppliers to verify compliance.
To achieve our commitment, we are partnering with mills on the following: identifying our raw-material suppliers in order to eliminate sourcing of wood-derived fibers from ancient and endangered forests, leveraging CanopyStyle’s audit and remediation plan and encouraging the development of innovative, more sustainable fabrics. In partnership with our major suppliers, we are also exploring ways to integrate recycled cellulosics into our products.
In 2020, we gathered data on our supply chain representing more than 98 percent of our cellulosic-fiber volume through a detailed survey and follow-up conversations with suppliers. Through this data, we show that 100 percent of tested cellulosic volume is compliant with our commitment. We still have work to do to engage additional suppliers to take the Canopy audit, and encourage some engaged suppliers commit to a remediation plan.
Reducing impacts at every stage.
Great product designed with sustainability in mind.
The time to act is now - for all of us.
Improving environmental practices and benefiting communities.