Raw Materials Selecting sustainable fibers
We believe great products are created with sustainability at their core — which means using more sustainable raw materials to make our clothes. We give our brands license to improve the sustainability of their products by selecting the best raw materials that meet the performance of their products, while also meeting our standards for social and environmental sustainability. We are constantly refining and innovating our strategy to source and use more sustainable raw materials.
We use many types of fibers in Gap Inc. products: natural fibers, including plant-based items such as cotton and linen, and animal-based materials such as wool, leather and cashmere; synthetic fibers, including polyester and spandex; and man-made cellulosics, including pulp-based materials such as rayon and modal. Each type of fiber has a social and environmental impact, and we are empowering our designers with the knowledge needed to make informed choices within the design process.
Today, we focus our raw materials strategy on the top fibers that account for approximately 97 percent of our fiber consumption: cotton, polyester, nylon and man-made cellulosics. Historically, fiber traceability has been a challenge, as fabric sourcing is done separately from supplier selection, so we have improved our internal reporting systems to provide detailed data on our fiber consumption and volumes and to meet our goals.
Each type of fiber we use has a social and environmental impact, and we empower our designers to make informed choices within the design process.
In 2018, Gap Inc. was the third largest purchaser of Better Cotton globally.
Cotton is essential to our business. As one of the world’s leading apparel brands, we use a significant amount of the global cotton supply. Cotton cultivation requires large amounts of land, human labor, machinery, pest- and weed control measures, and it is also water-intensive. Cotton is also an important crop for the economy, supporting the livelihoods of 250 million people, many of whom are women.
We endeavor to use more sustainable cotton across all our brands, and Gap brand, Banana Republic and Old Navy have committed to using 100 percent sustainable cotton. This includes organic, recycled and Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) cotton. We joined BCI in 2016, and we are proud that Gap Inc. is now the world’s third-largest user of BCI cotton. Across all of our brands, more than 40 percent of the cotton Gap Inc. sourced in 2018 was through BCI.
These options enable us to purchase cotton that is grown in ways that reduce water and pesticide usage, improve soil quality and work to make cotton production better for the workers and farmers involved. For example, BCI provides training to millions of farmers around the world to “produce cotton in a way that cares for the environment, minimizing the negative effects of fertilizers and pesticides, and caring for water, soil health and natural habitats.” BCI farmers also commit to decent work principles — conditions that support workers’ safety and well-being. This approach works: In one benchmark of BCI farmers, between 14 percent and 23 percent less water was used in cultivation than on farms that did not use BCI principles.
As we continue to evolve our sourcing practices, we are also deepening our understanding of the regions from which we source, with a focus on risks in water-sensitive areas and other impacts arising from climate change. Because cotton is mostly grown in areas of high water stress, such as India, China and Pakistan, we have built a comprehensive evaluation of cotton-sourcing risks.
We also use synthetic materials in our products, including polyester, spandex and nylon, which provide essential performance properties. However, synthetics are often derived from nonrenewable, petroleum-based sources. They also have fewer end-of-life solutions than natural fibers because they may never biodegrade.
To address these challenges, we’re taking steps to ensure we’re sourcing more sustainable synthetic fibers. However, converting recycled polyester into fabric can be costly and there are challenges with sourcing a sufficient supply. In 2018, we conducted a life cycle assessment of recycled polyester and have been slowly increasing our use of recycled polyester where possible. We are also an active member of the Textile Exchange Recycled Polyester and Biosynthetics Working Groups, investigating industry innovations toward more sustainable fibers.
As a brand that uses large amounts of synthetics in its active wear, Athleta is taking a leading stance on addressing this issue with its goal of having 80 percent of materials made with sustainable fibers by 2020. Athleta incorporates recycled polyester and nylon into sourcing, which helps offset the impacts and waste streams of virgin materials and preserves our nonrenewable resources. Banana Republic has also set a goal to make 50 percent of its products with sustainable fibers (including cotton through BCI, as well as recycled and organic sources) by 2023.
Athleta has a goal of having 80 percent of materials made with sustainable fibers by 2020.
We are working closely with our top suppliers to support our companywide policy to eliminate our use of wood-derived fibers from ancient and endangered forests by 2020. This commitment helps protect critical forests and also supports our efforts to tackle climate change, as forest ecosystems are vital natural resources that promote biodiversity, protect watersheds and help mitigate the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Our policy — which we developed in partnership with Canopy’s sustainable fashion and forestry initiative, CanopyStyle — aims to ensure that our suppliers do not use ancient, endangered, high-conservation or high-carbon value forest areas to make cellulose-based textiles, including rayon, modal, viscose and lyocell.
To achieve our commitment, we are partnering with mills on the following: identifying our raw-material suppliers in order to eliminate sourcing of wood-derived fibers from ancient and endangered forests, leveraging CanopyStyle’s audit and remediation plan and encouraging the development of innovative fabrics. In partnership with our major suppliers, we are also exploring ways to integrate recycled cellulosics into our products. In 2018, we gathered data on our supply chain representing more than 80 percent of our cellulosic fiber volume through an internal survey and multiple conversations with suppliers. Through this data, we show that 77 percent of our cellulosic volume is compliant with our commitment. We still have work to do to engage additional suppliers to take the Canopy audit and have some engaged suppliers commit to a remediation plan.