Released in The Interline’s first Sustainability Report, this executive interview is one of a ten-part series that sees The Interline quiz executives from major companies on what the term ‘sustainability’ really means, as well as the integral role they play in supporting brands and retailers in their sustainability strategies.

For more on sustainability in fashion, download the full Sustainability Report 2023 completely free of charge and ungated.

Key Takeaways:

  • Sustainability and traceability should be seen as two sides of the same coin, with data-backed traceability underpinning any credible sustainability claim – something that Lectra’s TextileGenesis aims to provide.
  • The length, complexity, and fragmentation of the fashion value chain has created a uniquely difficult environment for establishing the visibility needed for compliance and disclosure.
  • Climate change across the globe is driving younger generations to make even more conscious decisions about their product choices, accompanied by unprecedented collaboration between competing brands.
Do you believe “sustainability” is still a useful term for defining the complex road that fashion needs to travel? What does that word mean to you, and how does your definition manifest itself in your company’s approach to designing solutions for fashion’s most urgent challenge?

Sustainability is still a useful term however definition has expanded to cover all aspects of an organization: social, environmental and governance.  Increasing regulations in the fashion industry are ensuring that sustainability is taken as a serious term, especially when used in the context of product marketing and corporate sustainability reporting. 

At Lectra and TextileGenesis, we view sustainability and traceability as two-sides of the same coin.  It’s impossible to make a credible sustainability claim without underpinning it with traceability.

Our focus is to continue to deliver industry-leading traceability solution from material-origin to retail for sustainable and certified materials in the textile industry.   We are adding several new features to support brands on risk management and legal compliance. 

Why is traceability such a difficult prospect in fashion compared to other industries? What makes the average fashion value chain so difficult to map, monitor, and control?

Traceability is so difficult in fashion industry since it’s one of the most fragmented industries on the planet where the top 10 brands have less than 10% market share in a $2.4 trillion market.  Whereas in automotive or consumer electronics the market share of the top 10 brands is close to 80-90%.

Second, fashion value chain is extremely long with 5-6 tiers across multiple countries.  For a simple product such as cotton T-shirt, there could be up to 10 organizations involved from cotton-farm to retail.

Third, the industry is continuing to see higher ‘material-blending’ across the value chain.  This implies that an average garment is composed to several materials such as cotton, polyester or viscose, and not just mono-materials.

How strong is the consumer mandate for data-backed transparency? How does that mandate divide across different consumer demographics? And what does this mean for brands’ and retailers’ planning and product strategies?

Consumers, especially Millennials and Gen Z, are increasingly vocal about their brand preference based on their sustainability and transparency record.  Increasingly severe impact of climate change across the globe is driving younger demographics even more conscious about their product choices and how it impacts the environment. 

This is directly evident in every single brand’s strategy where products made with sustainable materials is a key corporate objective.  In fact, the majority of top 100% fashion brands have set 100% sustainable material target by 2025.

To deliver on such ambitious product sustainability targets, the supply chain traceability is a fundamental pre-requisite. 

A lot has already been written about the tightening regulatory environment in Europe, where waste and product lifecycle impacts are in the spotlight, but there’s also a great deal happening in North America at the legislative level. What does the near-term future look like for multi-tier supply chain visibility and data disclosure in those markets?

Our analysis shows that close to 27 legislations focusing on sustainability, traceability and transparency are being enacted in fashion industry from design, production, retailing to end-of life.  These legislations will significantly impact how fashion business interact with their supply chain, consumers and being accountable for product’s after-life.

We found this extremely encouraging as it brings a certain ‘level playing’ field for all brands and raises the bar for the entire industry.  We have seen that in the absence of effective regulation, it has been extremely challenging to push the industry to the next level. 

For majority of these emerging regulations, supply chain traceability across the entire value chain from origin-to-retail is fundamental to ensure effective compliance.  It’s exciting times to be in the space of traceability and transparency. 

Lectra acquired TextileGenesis – which The Interline has written about in the past, and which aims to create objectivity behind traceability and transparency. How has that platform grown since it became part of Lectra? And what potential does that growth hold for brands and retailers in the USA in particular?

To put things back into context, let me remind you what the TextileGenesis solution is all about. TextileGenesis provides a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform that enables fashion brands and sustainable textile manufacturers to ensure a reliable, secure and fully digital mapping of their textiles, from the fiber to the consumer, and thereby guarantee their authenticity and origins. Its innovative traceability mechanism, which addresses both ends of the textile value chain, as well as its network of partners for material certification, and its technology platform guarantee the exchange and tracking of reliable and secure data throughout a material’s life cycle.

Being part of Lectra family has allowed us to accelerate our access to key fashion retail markets and globalize our customer support footprint.  Our team has doubled in short eight months since we joined Lectra across all our core functions – technology, customer engagement, and supplier expertise centres.

US is a strategic market for us given our deep long-term collaboration with major US retailers and strategic traceability partnership with US Cotton Trust Protocol and Supima.  

UFLPA legislation has been increasingly tough for US brands and we are building specific features within TextileGenesis to support compliance with UFLPA and other emerging legislations in US.

This specific feature pro-actively assesses and flags supply chain risks to brands on three core elements: material risks, country risks and entity risks.

For a lot of fashion businesses, compliance with regional regulations is the priority target, but long-term sustainability is about individual and collective action to rapidly improve fashion’s environmental and ethical credentials. What do you think the future looks like at that whole-industry level? And what does that mean for your roadmap and your customers?

We see that industry has become significantly more collaborative than in past.  Major global brands across the sector are coming together on various initiatives from joint-investment in material innovations, accelerating the move towards recycled materials, and supporting industry-wide ESG material standards.

This level of collaboration between competing brands was unthinkable just a decade ago.  So, we are very optimistic about the industry as a whole and it will drastically change over the coming 5-10 years.

From traceability and transparency perspective, it’s a golden age as several tail-winds from consumer mandate, legislations, and corporate sustainability ambition will continue the drive industry towards more traceable and transparent supply chains.