The world now consumes in excess of 100 billion pieces of clothing a year, according to a report by McKinsey. As a whole, the fashion industry is responsible for 92 million tons of waste dumped in landfills every year…

The environmental and ethical issues surrounding fashion are no secret and have only escalated in recent years. The world now consumes in excess of 100 billion pieces of clothing a year, according to a report by McKinsey. As a whole, the industry is responsible for 92 million tons of waste dumped in landfills every year. Meanwhile, a 2017 report found that 35 percent of micro plastic pollution comes from washing synthetic textiles – much of which is produced by fast fashion brands.

  • India’s textile and apparel industry is one of the world’s largest and is a major contributor to global textile and apparel production. Its current estimated worth is US $150 billion, and it is expected to grow to US $ 250 billion by the close of 2019. The industry currently employs more than 45 million people – and hence is also the second largest employer in India. It contributes to more than 15 percent of the country’s export earnings, and to almost 7 percent of the country’s industry output (India Brand Equity Foundation, 2018). Given India’s position as a leading manufacturing and consumption hub globally, there is a need to re-think the way the industry operates, while ensuring profitability in the long term.
  • Although numbers indicate a positive trend in terms of growth of the Indian apparel and fashion industry, the question of sustainability looms large on the sector. The Indian textile and apparel sector is one of the most polluting and is scattered with multiple social inequities among other issues. The production of textiles results in the creation of 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases each year; the industry is the world’s second largest polluter, and estimates indicate its contribution to global climate change is peaking at 8.1 percent (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017). More than 80 percent of textile waste generated is sent to landfills or incinerated instead of being recycled or reprocessed. At the same time, India is increasingly witnessing pressure to match supply and demand due to resource constraints, e.g. in the area of cotton. Hence there is a need to ‘self-disrupt’ existing practices and transition on a more circular pathway.
  • Global pioneering brands like Zara, Uniqlo, H&M, Mango, Patagonia have made public commitments to sustainability and circularity.
Zara 100 percent of cotton, linen and polyester to be sustainable by 2025. Complete supply chain traceability and ban on exploitative labour practices 100 percent of Zara stores to be eco-effi cient by end of 2019.
  • 100 percent of materials and products to be recycled or sustainably sourced by 2030.
  • 100 percent fair & equal supply chain in terms of wages, jobs, opportunities for the entire production line.
  • Reduce the use of single-use plastic by 85 percent by the end of 2020.
  • Improve and strengthen lives of workers across the supply chain through programs and training.
Asos Train design and product teams about circular design by 2020 and launch recycling programs in UK and Germany.

Innovations in the apparel sector have often been created through unusual and collaborative alliances between various ecosystem actors:

  • Adidas has planned to create 11 million pairs of shoes from recycled plastic waste. To achieve this, they are collaborating with Parley – a global environmental organization to collect plastic waste from beaches.
  • The Make Fashion Circular initiative, led by the Ellen McArthur Foundation, brings together fashion giants such as Nike, GAP, and Burberry to adopt more resource-efficient business models and tackle waste.
  • Stella McCartney has enabled a partnership with The RealReal to prevent clothes from going into waste piles. Together, they have created a new business model to retail pre-owned luxury items.
  • Brands such as Filippa K, have collaborated with organizations such as Repack who provide alternative packaging to create incentives & encourage consumers to close the packaging loop.

In India the textile and apparel ecosystem lacks behind in terms of action on the ground. However, leading Indian corporates and manufacturers are paving the path for a circular shift. Larger domestic conglomerates like Aditya Birla Fashion & Retail, Arvind Ltd., and Reliance Industries Ltd. have joined international initiatives such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Fashion for Good, and others. They have also invested significantly in developing sustainable fabrics either from alternative sources or recycled polyester, energy efficient processes and well as researching solutions for post-consumer waste.


– Ashish Dikshit, MD, Aditya Birla Fashion & Retail

Sustainable Solutions
Good intentions need to be turned into collective and industry-wide efforts to re-imagine the future of the textile and apparel industry in India. Recently the Union Minister of Textiles, Smriti Zubin Irani launched project SU.RE – Sustainable Resolution – for sustainable fashion at the Lakmé Fashion Winter / Festive 2019, in Mumbai. The project was launched in association with Clothing Manufacturers Association of India (CMAI), IMG Reliance and United Nations in India. The project is a commitment by India’s apparel industry to set a sustainable pathway for the Indian fashion industry. Top 16 apparel brands with a combined industry value of Rs 30,000 crore are signatories to the project which include Future Group, Shoppers Stop, Aditya Birla Retail, Arvind Brands, Lifestyle, Max, Raymond, House of Anita Dongre, W, Biba, Westside, 109F, Spykar, Levi’s, Bestsellers and Trends. The signatories have pledged to source/ utilize a substantial portion of their total consumption using sustainable raw materials and processes, by the year 2025.

Birla Cellulose, one of the global leaders in Man Made Cellulose Fiber (MMCF) has achieved breakthrough in manufacturing viscose fiber using pre consumer cotton waste. This new line of viscose is already being adopted and is available for sale to interested brands and retailers. This innovation has the distinction of Recycled Claim Standard (RCS) and portrays Birla Cellulose ‘s commitment to a more circular economy. This innovation has been done through in house R&D and uses minimum 20 percent pre consumed industrial water. As part of its commitment to circularity and sustainability initiatives Birla Cellulose is working on further developing products made from more than 50 percent industrial fabric waste as well as post-consumer clothing as inputs by 2020.


– Mukesh Ambani, CMD, Reliance Industries Ltd

Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), which has its roots in the polyester business has started converting used plastic bottles into textiles with some help from fashion brands and designers. The company is already processing two billion used PET bottles as of 2019 and plans to scale it up to six billion in two years. In order to make ‘sustainable clothing’ affordable and accessible RIL has launched an umbrella brand, R|Elan for eco-friendly fiber made from used plastic. The manufacturing process is aimed at reducing carbon footprint at every stage by using biofuels and pre-dyed fibres, which eliminate the water and chemical discharge from wet dyeing.

Indian performance wear brand, Alcis Sports and designer Narendra Kumar have joined hands to launch a collection of sustainable gym and work wear under the label ‘Alcis X Nari’ using R|Elan fibre. RIL and Kumar are also working on ways to further recycle these products once used by consumers so that they don’t land up in landfills. Arvind Ltd has also been very proactive in its circularity initiative and has identified elimination of wastage in water as one of its key circularity goals. Arvind has collaborated with GAP to save 2 billion litres of water and be a zero freshwater organization by 2022. Other areas Arvind Ltd is focusing on include textile to textile recycling, scalable solutions for natural dyes and non-polluting chemical dyes as well as use of renewable energy in its manufacturing process. Arvind Ltd has the largest installed rooftop solar facility of 19 MW by any manufacturer in India. India has the political will to advance a circular shift. With the Indian government banning the use of plastic bags across numerous states, the increasing chatter around global warming and campaigns against dumping in the oceans, the textile industry in India is taking cue and is shifting towards eco-friendly initiatives.

Conversations with leading players in the industry reveal sustainable solutions in fiber, yarn and alternative fabrics, alternative dyes and finishes, biodegradable packaging and innovations to recycle post-consumer waste as key areas of interest in their circularity agenda. There are a number of “shovel ready” projects in India that are ready to scale – but lack access to the capital.

Embracing Innovation Fundamental to Making Transition
Indian corporations committing to circularity have begun to view startups as inspiration for new technologies and business practices. India has also become a hotbed for circular startups, where innovations range from alternative materials to innovative retail models. Mumbai based Boheco and Ahmedabad based Fibre Labs are trying to reduce and replace the use of cotton in textiles with hemp fiber, while Chennai based Trustrace is using blockchain technology to improve transparency and traceability in the supply chain. Flyrobe and Kiabza are two startups innovating with new retail models of rental and second-hand clothing respectively. These innovative enterprises along with others, have had a significant impact on the circularity agenda already. Corporate-startup partnerships are becoming more commonplace as both stakeholders begin to see the benefits of collaboration. While corporations require large-scale organizational innovation to make an impact, startups are agile and can respond to challenges with individual or small scale innovation. Several small-scale retail brands such as Akira Ming, Doodlage, Ka Sha, Bodhi Tree and Yarn Glory have also come up in the market, which manufacture garments in the organic way.

Acknowledging that a transition towards a circular apparel and textile sector in India requires a systems approach that facilitates collaboration, the Circular Apparel Innovation Factory (CAIF) was launched in 2018 with the support of The DOEN Foundation and with Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail (ABFRL) as corporate anchor partner. The initiative was created to test a new collaboration model between value chain stakeholders and startups and innovators, who offer solutions to decrease the amount of harmful substances in production, reduce the amount of waste generated, increase usage of clothing, boost recycling, or increase the use of renewable inputs.

After 18 months of operations, CAIF has generated the following insights about opportunities in the circular fashion space in India:

  1. Industry awareness is low about opportunities that come with certain new product, processes, or business models. There is a need for interventions that help value chain actors understand the need for self-disruption, develop collaborative projects and together design the future.
  2. Discovery of solution is major bottleneck for value chain actors. While solutions exist, there is an information asymmetry on both sides that prevents collaborations to happen. There is a need to bridge the discovery gap.
  3. Action on the ground is limited. While there are lot of good intentions, there is limited experimentation and implementation, partly due to ongoing pressure to maintain competitiveness. There is a need for a pre-competitive platform that facilitates action.
  4. Scalable solutions are rare. While start-ups and innovators have emerged that find answers to circularity challenges in the textile and apparel value chain, many operate at a small scale. There is a need to help circular start-ups & innovators on their growth path.
  5. A pre-competitive industry platform is absent to co-develop and invest in solutions, create a common language and shape the sector together, which are the main challenges. There is a need to create an opportunity for the industry to develop solutions together, share knowledge andwork collectively towards a transition.

A transition towards a circular textile & fashion industry in India would require:

  • Value chain actors like brands, retailers and manufacturers to play a critical role as research and development partners or buyers.
  • Strategic investors to provide important scaling pathways for circular innovations.
  • Enterprises that are pioneering new innovations to offer the agility that large value chain player need to innovate and push the innovation boundary.
  • Patience, flexibility, support from large brands, retailers and manufacturers to successfully integrate enterprise-driven innovations into their value chain.

Hence to summarize, we see that globally apparel brands are taking strong initiatives to become circular and have set aggressive sustainability goals. Apart from collaborative efforts between apparel brands, manufacturers and sustainability initiatives we are also seeing the advent of circularity focused funds at an international level such as the Good Fashion Fund, H&M Collab and the Textile Innovation Fund. In India, however adoption of circularity is still at a nascent stage wherein leading Indian retailers are recognizing the need not only to keep in line with their global counterparts but also as a sincere effort to reduce the detrimental impact their product processes and packaging solutions cause to the environment. In order to move the needle in the Indian apparel industry there is an imperative need to build awareness, create market infrastructure and facilitate connections between enterprises and large brands, retailers and manufacturers. A special emphasis on innovation could result in a new textiles economy that produces substantially better economic, environmental, and societal outcomes.

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