Forest, Field & Future: Expert Insights From the 2023 Textile Exchange Conference
By Oscar German | 17 November 2023
minutes to read.
Legislative changes will affect everyone in the textile industry – but should be embraced. That was one of the findings from the panel discussion hosted by Oritain at the 2023 Textile Exchange Conference in London.
Key trends and developments affecting fashion and textiles were addressed, including deforestation, the drive for traceability, the impact of legislation, and predictions for the future of the industry.
The panel was themed ‘On the Ground’, reflecting the criticality of soils, farms, and environmental sustainability to textile production.
Chaired by Oritain’s New Verticals Lead, Oscar German, it featured senior experts from some of the sector’s leading businesses: Patagonia, Supima and Cape Wools. The solution-focused discussion provided hundreds of event attendees with valuable insights into how to improve their business and build more beneficial futures.
We’ve summarized some of the key takeaways for fashion and textiles professionals below.
Deforestation becomes hot topic
In June, the European Union Regulation on Deforestation-free Products (EUDR) came into force, prohibiting businesses from trading, importing to or exporting from the EU, goods that could be linked to deforestation. The legislation is especially relevant to textiles and will affect everybody in the industry at every stage in the supply chain. The panel advised that the only way to ensure compliance and build trust is to start acting now by proactively untangling supply chains and verifying origin, back to plot level.
Unfortunately, there are instances where companies are led to believe that the materials they're sourcing originate from deforestation-free areas, only to discover otherwise. This discrepancy can result in a situation where a company thinks it's procuring an EUDR-compliant commodity, but it is not authentic, potentially exposing the company to penalties.
It was agreed that supply chain mapping can provide part of the solution, in helping businesses to prepare and move sourcing away from areas affected by deforestation, as well as providing independent certification for these materials. However, these mapping exercises are not robust enough on their own and continue to rely on a level of trust which cannot always be guaranteed. Therefore, these mapping solutions cannot exist in isolation and must be supported by independent origin verification which does not rely on second or third hand information. The most robust solution is one that places equal value on both components.
Origin verification enables sustainable transformation
Product origin is a focus for many textile businesses right now. Knowing the origin of products and raw materials has become essential throughout the supply chain to minimize the risk of product fraud, support organizational ESG commitments, and avoid high risk areas where forced labor is prevalent.
The panel experts were unanimous that greater collaboration across supply chains is essential in achieving a broader perspective of the entire process. For a product, that begins at source – the farms, fields or forests from which raw materials are derived. As one panelist noted, if we don’t know the origin of the product, the whole system breaks down.
Product traceability technology enables organizations to accurately verify product origin and empowers them to make positive choices around minimizing environmental impacts. For example, supporting farms which have introduced improvements to lower their agricultural emissions. In this way, traceability can assure consumers, regulators and the wider market that efforts at farm level translate through to finished product, thereby supporting a virtuous cycle of sustainable growth.
However, the panel recognized that not all traceability systems are made equally. Digital or paper passports are prone to tampering and rely on vendor self-declaration. Properly validating a product from farm to finished product must be achieved in a manner that maintains scientific rigor without adding operational burden.
With these systems and processes in place, organizations can begin to tell more compelling brand stories rooted in the positive sustainable and ethical practices that increasingly matter to consumers, whose spending power fuels business success.
Legislation puts processes under the spotlight
Recent legislation like the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) has created ripples through the textile industry, forcing businesses to place greater scrutiny on their operations to avoid incurring stiff penalties. It’s clear that traceability and supply chain visibility is no longer a ‘nice to have’, but a ‘must have’.
Despite this, our panel experts agreed that the legislation is to be welcomed in setting a baseline of what is acceptable and encouraging those businesses who fall behind to do better. The advice to the industry was to be proactive rather than reactive. Regulation needn’t be a burden if you’re already on your journey to change.
For any businesses unsure where to start, the panel recommended conducting research to identify where specific risks in the supply chain exist, after which strategies for resolution can be implemented. Starting from square one is generally the most effective way to build a supply chain that enables sourcing in a low risk, ethical and sustainable manner. However, businesses further along their journey will require tools such as Oritain to provide necessary visibility across their existing processes.
Facing the future – the textile industry in 2024
Our panellists peered into their crystal balls in an attempt to divine what the future holds for the textile industry in 2024 and beyond.
Many predicted stronger, deeper, and more collaborative relationships with farmers and others on the ground. This was seen as critical to meet the ESG and transparency demands of both regulators and consumers, both of which have significant influence on the business’s ability to survive and grow.
Environmental sustainability was seen as a continuing driver, reflecting the market’s growing conscience around our actions and the impact they have on our planet. ESG practices and traceability will increasingly go hand in hand. Those organizations that do both well will ultimately sustain less pressure from regulators, secure greater market share, and enjoy greater growth opportunities.
Promoting stories of true traceability will set an example of sustainable and ethical practice to demonstrate to the industry that it is possible, it will add value, and it is absolutely vital to the future of textile production. From our discussions, it’s clear the desire and the technology are there. As an industry, we now need to translate this desire into action that will benefit us, our customers and the world around us.
The ‘On the Ground’ panel discussion at the Textile Exchange Conference 2023 revealed fascinating insights into the concerns of top industry professionals today. With all the changes and developments, one thing is clear – staying ahead of the game is a constantly evolving process. Staying still isn’t an option.
To learn more about traceability and how we help textile companies prove their product origin, visit our Cotton & Fashion page or contact us.