Circular Design Reducing impacts at every stage
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.
We collaborate with circular economy leaders to set the stage for large-scale innovation across the industry.
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 increased our efforts in areas where we have direct influence: raw materials selection, fabric development, garment production and finishing. 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.
We affirmed that durable and well-loved garments, worn time after time, will have lower life cycle impacts.
Circular Design: Product End of Life
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 — the majority of textiles ultimately end up in landfill or incinerated. 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 are collaborating with leaders in the circular economy, including as a core partner in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Make Fashion Circular initiative. Through Make Fashion Circular, we have made a three-year commitment to focus on safe and reusable inputs, sustainable-fiber models and recycling old clothing. Through our involvement, we launched a textile-collection effort in New York City in early 2019 that encourages customers to bring their spent garments to select Banana Republic, Gap brand and Athleta stores for recycling. Their aim is to develop safe and reusable inputs that feed into sustainable-fiber models in order to turn old clothes into new. In addition to these partnerships, we continued our engagement with Global Fashion Agenda (GFA) and Fashion Positive, to explore circularity opportunities.
As part of our 2020 Circular Fashion Commitment with GFA, we have set three commitments to achieve by 2020:
- We will train our cross-functional product teams for each of our brands on circular design techniques and best practices.
- We will help increase the volume of used garments collected globally through participation in pre-competitive, industry-led collection pilots.
- We will identify the most promising recycling technologies for post-consumer materials across multiple product categories, and we will start scaling them up in our supply chain.
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 highest impact, what is the scope of the issue, and 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 to better understand what we can do to address this issue. Alongside other brands and the Outdoor Industry Association, we have committed resources to research this issue so we can make informed decisions to address microfiber impacts. We are also working with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and others to investigate fiber and textile innovations – we feel we must work on finding solutions alongside understanding the scope of the issue.
There are some steps research has shown that consumers may take to reduce microfiber shedding from garments: reduce the frequency with which they wash clothes, follow washing directions on the garment tag, reduce use of fabric softeners and look into washing machine filters that can capture fibers.