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Opinion article | Circular fashion needs government incentives

Opinion article |  Circular fashion needs government incentives


In the global effort to mitigate climate change and preserve our planet, all sectors find themselves at a crossroads, and the fashion industry is no exception.

Fortunately, we have many of the solutions needed to prevent climate catastrophe. The problem is that they are currently struggling to grow.

Take as an example the recent bankruptcy of Swedish recycler Renewcell.

The company was at the forefront of a rising generation of materials innovators positioned to bring low-impact textiles to market, a shift widely seen as essential to fashion's ambitions to reduce its impact on climate and nature.

The raw material sourcing and processing footprint is responsible for the largest proportion of the fashion industry's emissions, water consumption and nature impacts. Keeping a cap on global temperatures also means ending deforestation and forest degradation this decade, a central goal of my work. But every year, more than 300 million trees are cut down to make fabrics like viscose and lyocell for the fashion industry, and another 3 billion trees are razed to make packaging to ship these products and d 'others around the world, according to estimates by my organization, Canopy.

Renewcell, with the support of some of the biggest fashion brands, has built the world's first commercial-scale factory capable of recycling old textiles into a replacement raw material for these wood-based materials.

But the company faced two fundamental challenges: long delivery times and high prices. These hurdles accompany any new material seeking to penetrate an established market, but they have proven fatal amid a broader downturn that has driven the price of conventional wood-based textiles to exceptionally low levels. Renewcell could not compete in this climate. Achieving the competitiveness that comes with large-scale production required more leads and a system ready to strengthen their prospects.

Although disappointing, Renewcells is not the first environmental innovation to have struggled to get off the ground. Indeed, almost all progress toward global climate goals relies on forward-thinking industry leaders, ambitious investors and, above all, accommodating government support.

Solar power and other renewable energy sources are now cheapest options for electricity generation in some markets, largely due to government initiatives designed to stimulate market growth. Favorable tariff regimes, subsidies, and renewable energy mandates have created an environment that has allowed major investors and companies to advance technology, build large-scale manufacturing facilities, and develop financing models innovative companies that now support the sector.

These same factors can help circular materials innovations compete on accelerated timelines.

Much like renewable energy, technologies that can transform excess materials such as discarded clothing or agricultural waste into new clothing, paper and packaging are a game-changer for the climate. But unlike clean energy, they don't currently get the support they need.

Policymakers must adopt smart regulation that helps markets make the necessary changes. This support should include transition financing, such as tax breaks and grants for innovators and renovations by conventional producers, purchasing incentives for brands, and additional public-private partnerships for research and development .

Without such support, the industry will struggle to comply with ambitious regulatory measures intended to reduce the negative environmental impact of the fashion sector.

Some have already pointed out that Renewcells' experience is a reason to step back from the transition to lower-impact materials.

It's not. Rather, it is a pivotal moment for moving forward.

In the weeks since Renewcell's bankruptcy, more than 30 major brands have sent letters of intent to purchase textiles made with the company's flagship product, demonstrating that the market is eager to develop low-emission alternatives of carbon, even if the system took a while to start. . Fierce competitors have come forward to co-invest in several other innovators and a number of bidders have expressed interest in buying Renewcell post-bankruptcy.

It bodes well that brands continue to step up to support the scaling of these new solutions and, to be clear, they, along with investors, must continue to do so, now more than ever.

Government, however, is almost invisible in this space – and supporting policies and incentives focused on commercial-scale production could play a decisive role in integrating these innovations.

It is clearer than ever that the demand is there, the technology is ready, the need has never been greater and the benefits are enormous. Next generation materials are ripe to transform the fashion sector and we cannot miss this opportunity, the future of fashion and our planet depends on it.

Nicole Rycroft is the founder and executive director of Canopy, a nonprofit organization that works with businesses to transform supply chains to protect ancient and threatened forests.

The views expressed in opinion articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The fashion business.

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