More sustainable materials are being used in the production of the world’s clothing, pointing to “glimpses of progress”, according to Textile Exchange’s latest Material Change Insights Report.

Its annual tracking of clothing brands and retailers revealed that, for the first time, participants reported they were using 50% sustainable materials, up from 44% the previous year.

Drawing on companies’ 2020 data, it found that preferred cotton, such as certified organic cotton, represented 65% of overall cotton while recycled polyester jumped to 32% of polyester used, compared to 21% the year before.

The report also highlighted 47 companies as overall leaders in their strategies and achievements in sustainability in clothing, including Mantis World and Stanley/Stella.

The use of recycled materials grew in 2020, increasing to 29% of synthetic fibres and 12% of materials overall. The growth was predominantly from the use of recycled plastic packaging waste, with only a slight increase in post-consumer textile waste.

Greenhouse emissions fell by 5% year on year although Textile Exchange’s report suggested this might partly be due to lower production in the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In 2020, more than five million hectares of crop land and forestry came under improved practices, such as sustainability programmes and certification – over one million more hectares than last year but still only 17% of the total land area from which land-based materials were sourced.

The report called for improvements in brands’ and retailers’ transparency over where they sourced materials. Knowledge of country of origin still hovered around 48% of materials sourced, dominated by India, China, Turkey, the US and Pakistan.

The report pointed to the small but growing trend for garments being reused or recycled, contributing to a more circular economy and “dematerialisation” – the use of fewer of the planet’s raw materials. The number of companies reporting data on “re-commerce” grew from six to 13, with more items making it through to re-sale.

Using data from Textile Exchange’s Corporate Fibers and Materials Benchmark (CFMB), this year’s Material Change Insights Report tracking involved 292 brands and retailers, up from 191 last year. Newcomers for the latest report included Helly Hansen.

The top 17 companies rated for aligning their work in preferred materials and sustainable development goals included Dickies which was also in the top 10 of companies moving upwards.

Publishing the 2021 report yesterday, Textile Exchange said it “shows glimpses of progress in sustainable sourcing but emphasises that dematerialisation is crucial now”.

Liesl Truscott, director for corporate benchmarking at Textile Exchange, said: “Turning the corner from exploitative to regenerative and circular models of doing things will take all the effort and collaboration we can gather.

“Our hope is that the benchmark can capture the learnings and amplify the opportunities to move faster and at scale towards a better world.”

Click here for the full report as a PDF. It includes analysis of how Covid-19 has impacted moves towards greater sustainability as well as insights into materials including cotton, polyester, wool and leather.

Textile Exchange materials reportr

Above: Participants’ preferred materials such as organic cotton hit the 50% “tipping point”