Circularity

Reducing impacts at every stage

 

Product team employees meeting

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: Today, more than 85 percent of clothing in the United States ends up in landfill or is burned after being discarded, and less than 1 percent of old clothing is recycled to make new clothes, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. 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.

We collaborate with circular economy leaders to set the stage for large-scale innovation across the industry.

Our Approach

Our work on circularity is organized into four pillars that form the foundation of the circular ecosystem and create the mechanisms to effectively prioritize our work:

  1. Design for Circularity: Educating design teams on choices that can positively impact product longevity, reuse and recyclability (read about our how we sustainably source raw materials).
  2. Materials and Manufacturing: Increasing the use of safe, renewable and recycled materials, and supporting innovation in circular manufacturing
  3. Advanced Resource Recovery: Supporting systems for collecting, sorting and recycling worn textiles into new materials for the fashion industry
  4. Circular Business Models: Decoupling profits from the use of natural resources, resulting in new value propositions for the customer.

We affirmed that durable and well-loved garments, worn time after time, will have lower life cycle impacts.

To design for circularity, we have continued to incorporate sustainability workshops and educational training into our companywide learning and development program. To date, we’ve reached more than 2,100 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. 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.  

Since consumer engagement is a critical lever in the circular economy, we use a variety of channels to communicate with our customers about our product sustainability and circularity efforts, including store displays, product descriptions, product labeling and social media. We also engage customers through educational campaigns and media around events like Earth Day and World Water Day.  

In addition to our efforts on circularity, we continue to reduce, eliminate and recycle packaging waste, and we have set a goal to eliminate single-use plastics (read more about our approach to reducing waste). 

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 are focusing our efforts in areas where we have direct influence: raw materials selection, fabric development, garment production and finishing, and advanced approaches to recovering and recycling textiles. 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.

Product Sustainability Impacts and Opportunities

Below, we outline the impacts and opportunities across the whole life cycle of our products, from sourcing materials and production to packaging, customer use and end of life.

Raw Materials 

  

·       Water, energy, land use, pollution 

·       Labor/working conditions 

·       Fiber security 

·       Fiber traceability 

Dyeing/Finishing 

  

·       Clean water and water efficiency 

·       Hazardous chemicals/preferred chemicals 

·       Energy efficiency/renewables 

Cut and Sew 

  

·       Labor/working conditions 

·       Material and sample waste 

Packaging 

  

·       Waste, energy 

·       Single-use plastics 

Customer Use 

  

·       Garment care 

·       Repair/re-commerce 

End-of-Life 

  

·       Textile waste 

·       Circular economy 

·       Garment collection/recycling 

Microfiber Shedding

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 highleftest impact? What is the scope of the issue? 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, including the Microfibre Consortium, the Outdoor Industry Association and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, so we can make informed decisions to address microfiber impacts. We are also exploring ways to educate consumers about how to reduce microfiber shedding from garments, including by reducing how often they wash their clothes, reducing the use of fabric softeners and using washing machine filters that can capture fibers.

Industry Collaboration

We believe collaboration fuels the circular economy. That’s why we participate in several partnerships that are helping build circular systems by setting ambitious goals, expanding circular business models, and scaling up innovative technologies and best practices.

Accelerating Circularity: We are on the steering committee of this collaborative industry project aimed at moving the textile industry toward circularity. Focused on the United States, the group uses research, mapping, supply chain modeling and pilot projects to jumpstart circular solutions for apparel. In 2020, Accelerating Circularity published its first research report, on the potential for circular supply chains on the East Coast of the U.S.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Make Fashion Circular: As an advisory board member and founding member of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Make Fashion Circular initiative, we have made a three-year commitment to support the industry’s transition to using safe and reusable inputs, circular business models and recycling worn clothing. In 2020, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation released its Vision for a Circular Economy for Fashion.

Fashion Positive and Textile Exchange: As a member of these coalitions of brands focused on circularity, we contributed to the 2020 release of the pioneering Circular Materials Guide, which clarifies the pathway to circularity by defining which fibers come from safer, recycled and renewable sources.

Give Back Box: Starting in 2021, our Gap brand is making it easy for customers to donate their pre-loved clothing to those in need through this non-profit partnership.

Global Fashion Agenda (GFA): As part of our 2020 Circular Fashion Commitment with GFA, we continue to integrate three commitments into our work: training our cross-functional product teams for each of our brands on circular-design techniques and best practices, increasing the volume of used garments collected through industry pilots and scaling promising recycling technologies for postconsumer materials.

Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA): Through this partnership, we are developing more sustainable production processes and technology solutions that enable the industry to advance circular models across the life cycle of textiles. We are focused on two initial priorities. In one, HKRITA is partnering with Artistic Milliners, one of our key suppliers, to develop an environmentally safe method of separating spandex from used garments. HKRITA is also working with Arvind Limited, another key supplier, on denim decolorization that will facilitate fabric recycling by removing indigo dye from cotton fiber.

How2Recycle: We will be including the How2Recycle logo on our new e-commerce mailers, helping customers appropriately recycle them after use.

The Microfibre Consortium: Together, we are developing test methods and policies to mitigate the issue of environmental pollution from microplastics. These contaminate water, soil and species when fiber fragments are shed from textile yarns during manufacturing, textile laundering and drying.

thredUP: Through our partnership with this fashion-resale platform, we encourage customers to turn in second-hand clothes in exchange for shopping credit redeemable at Gap, Banana Republic and Athleta.  

2020 Progress

Circularity: In addition to refining the four pillars of our circularity strategy in 2020, we worked with our brand teams on both internal and customer-facing circularity initiatives. We are pleased that all of our brands have embraced work that aligns with at least one pillar of the strategy (read more about our brands’ work on product sustainability).

Preventing surplus inventory from becoming waste: Temporary store closures in 2020 left our brands with excess inventory that we repurposed by donating clothes to organizations in need, including giving 6 million units to UNHCR through the nonprofit Good360; and put products in long-term storage to be released when stores reopen.

Gap and Banana Republic debut circular denim: In partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Jeans Redesign project, Gap and Banana Republic both debuted circular denim at the virtual Copenhagen Fashion Summit. Gap’s collection of five pieces met the Jeans Redesign guidelines through measures such as eliminating spandex, using post-consumer recycled cotton, using only ZDHC-compliant chemicals for dyeing and finishing, and replacing zippers with removable hardware to make recycling easier. Meanwhile, Banana Republic’s denim used organic cotton, eliminated rivets, and used laser finishing instead of chemicals to produce fading, making them easier to reuse.

Banana Republic’s fashion rental program: The brand launched its Style Passport program, a subscription service through which customers receive three items at a time and have the option of renting and returning them or purchasing their favorites. Together with the online marketplace Thrilling, Banana Republic is also offering vintage clothing for sale.

Gap Teen collection: The Gap Teen collection launched in 2020, featuring at least one sustainability element—including recycled cotton and polyester—in every product.

Gap Inc. is committed to joining partnerships that advance circular business models, create innovative solutions to outstanding issues, engage customers and scale new technologies.

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