Net Zero Materials Transition in the Fashion Industry

  • Written by Laura Houghton
  • Published on 25 January 2024
  • Blogs

How Supply Chain Traceability can empower the shift to Sustainable Sourcing Practices

Net Zero Materials TransitionWhat is net zero materials transition?

Net zero materials transition is a strategic approach to transforming the fashion and apparel industry’s material sourcing and production practices to achieve a sustainable future.

Why is a transition to net zero materials important?

It’s widely publicised that the apparel and footwear industries generate 8–10% of global carbon emissions, superseding emissions from the aviation and shipping industries combined (European Parliament, 2021). 

Additionally, the textile sector is one of the most polluting industries on the planet caused by:

  • high energy, chemical and water use
  • the generation of textile waste, and
  • microfibre shedding into the environment during laundering.

To reach net zero carbon output, and drastically reduce negative environmental impact, fashion brands and retailers must examine every avenue to lower waste, greenhouse gases, environmental damage, and water pollution, and embrace the circular economy.

Importantly, this includes sourcing materials from renewable and sustainable sources, and embracing more energy-efficient and water-efficient practices in manufacturing.

To stand a chance of reaching net zero, countries and businesses should also consider what might be called a materials transition, which would involve both the implementation of lower-impact ways to produce materials and—crucially—the application of circular economy principles to optimize the use and reuse of these materials. (Mckinsey: How a Materials Transition Can Support the Net-Zero Agenda)

How to approach net zero materials transition

Many fashion retailers and brands have already published ESG targets and are making moves towards net zero. In this article we’ll look at:

  • how net zero materials transition can be achieved;
  • how supply chain visibility and traceability are critical to being able to track and trace materials’ sourcing and production;
  • how supplier reporting on key targets is crucial in order to monitor progress. 

Embrace Sustainable Materials – start from where you are now

To begin selecting more sustainable materials for manufacturing, the first step is to identify the materials used now, and the composition/fibre mix in those materials. This creates a benchmark to start from, helping you to identify areas of weakness and to plan a strategy for how to transition to more sustainable fabrics.

Choose your focus – let legislation be your compass

compliance compassStrategically, you need to analyse and assess where your efforts may have the biggest impact, where the opportunities are within easy reach, and when you need to engage partners to help.

Let legislation be a motivating factor.

For example, the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures in the UK requires the disclosure of metrics to assess and manage climate-related risks and opportunities. Leverage this essential piece of work to inform your materials transition strategy. 

In Europe (already in France) the requirement for environmental labelling is another compelling driver to focus on producing goods that are long-life, recyclable, and use eco-friendly design. This will be at the top of the list for any forward-thinking clothing retailer.

Gather data for reporting and tracking progress

Many clothing retailers don’t have an accurate picture of the materials they are using on a real-time basis, from which to start measuring and implementing change.

Even if you’re using Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software that lists materials selected in product design, you may not have an accurate picture of what has been fulfilled in each order.

With Segura, you can automate the request, chasing, collection, and consolidation of all data from your supply chain. You can dig into the material composition/fibre mix of the fabrics, materials, and packaging used per order and calculate estimations of energy and water use, carbon emissions, etc. 

For Sustainability, Segura has allowed us to delve into and review the factories that have an impact from a water and chemical point of view. We can really start to have that visibility, and in turn talk to those suppliers directly to figure out how we can work together to reduce their impact. We can monitor our carbon emissions at those sites as well. The data is invaluable from an environmental perspective in terms of understanding our footprint as a business. (River Island)

Supplier reporting on key targets is crucial to be able to monitor progress. The Segura approach identifies and engages with the suppliers directly and links back to the Purchase Order / Bill of Materials, enabling retailers to gather the critical information that they are focusing on, up the supply chain, and resulting in easy reporting.

This provides the ability for retailers to focus on reviewing and changing/ eliminating the materials in the supply chain that have a high carbon and environmental cost or that cannot be broken down, re-used, or recycled.

The circularity mindset

The direction of travel is to consider all clothing, footwear, packaging, and point of sales material with the same lens: what does this product’s use and end-of-life look like? Net zero materials are not just about manufacture, they are also about their maintenance and disposal.

If we look at pure wool, a natural fabric; it will not shed micro-fibres of plastic in washing, it cannot be tumble-dried so will have low-energy consumption. Wool can easily be recycled, donated in good condition to charity shops, or alternatively, because it is entirely biodegradable, it could even be composted! You just need to be sure it’s 100% wool and any buttons and non-wool labels are removed.

The problem for consumers is that wool products need to be cared for, requiring delicate washing and careful drying, and so here arises a conundrum. How do you balance the choice of materials: convenience versus net-zero, and what consumers do with an item of clothing if it is of mixed composition or non-recyclable? How do they know what to do with it at the end of its life?

Digital product labelling and rewarding recycling

The EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles legislation focuses on re-use and repair as a sustainability strategy. Its goal is a cultural shift to high-quality, long-lived, and recyclable clothing. It aims to reduce textile waste, help customers care for their clothing to ensure long life, and then offer solutions for disposal and reuse sustainably. The EU’s Digital Product Passport will be a large part of the solution for retailers, to provide information directly to the consumers empowering them and suggesting ways to best look after their purchase, how to recycle, re-purpose or dispose of it in an environmentally sustainable way.

Some retail brands have already launched their circular fashion strategies with collection points in store, rewards to donate old garments when you buy new such as River Islands' partnership with ReSkinned, and other responsible textile sorting and recycling organisations that move old garments to their next stages of life.

100 recycled fabricQuality clothes are either donated or sold to secondary markets and the rest is sorted and can be recycled for innovative new material creation. Renewcell is innovating ways to re-use textile waste, their flagship product is CIRCULOSE® an entirely recycled material made from textile waste that is pulped to create biodegradable regenerated fibres, which are then spun into yarns to make new fabric.

How to transition to net zero materials

Plastic and Packaging

UK Plastic Packaging Tax and UK Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for packaging

A potential ‘low-hanging fruit’ for net zero materials transition is packaging and plastic. In the UK retailers need to report on their packaging, with financial incentives in place to encourage sustainable packaging design and disposal.

You’ll probably be familiar with Extended Producer Responsibility (ERP), part of packaging waste regulations in the UK. All businesses involved in the production, supply, and sale of packaging must take responsibility for their environmental impact and pay a proportion of the cost of the recovery and recycling of packaging via the purchase of certificates or recycling evidence, otherwise known as Packaging Waste Recovery Notes (PRNs). Compliance partners such as Valpack help large organisations make the necessary submissions to maintain compliance.

In addition, businesses may need to pay Plastic Packaging Tax if they have manufactured or imported plastic packaging components that contain less than 30% recycled plastic. Plus, companies are responsible for carrying out due diligence checks on companies they do business with to identify their plastic use. See our legislation guide for more details.

Plastic packaging-2A priority focus is to capture data from your finished goods suppliers, including the various plastic components used alongside collecting evidence of recycled plastic composition. Then identify if there are any ways to reduce the use of plastic and packaging overall.

In practical terms, this could mean making switches such as:

  • Recycled paper and cardboard packaging instead of plastic wrap and bags. Although recycled paper is more expensive, it uses less water, energy, bleach, and chemicals and up to 52% less energy in production.
  • Muslin, cotton, canvas, hemp, or recycled plastic bags or pouches are other alternatives to non-recycled plastic. It’s essential to consider how each material can be reused or recycled at the end of its life, though. Paper is easy to recycle for most people in Europe now, whereas recycled plastic is still likely to end up in landfill.
  • Flat-pack packaging that is designed to stack efficiently, can ship more items in a single box and reduce shipping costs, fuel use, and waste.
  • Recyclable swing labels / hang tags, with recycled paper, seed paper, or wood pulp labels.
  • Eco-friendly hang tag fasteners – switch from the familiar plastic tag fasteners to cotton or linen cord or string, jute or hemp tag cords, etc.
  • A sustainable clothes hanger policy. Gone are the days when high street shoppers can expect to keep the clothes hanger with their purchase. If sticking to plastic hangers, then most retailers have a reuse best practice. When plastic hangers break down, both the metal and plastic parts can be recycled (though not in usual household recycling – you would have to seek out a coat hanger recycling service). Retailers who do this could help customers by offering a collection bin for unwanted hangers.

What can you do to make fashion fabrics sustainable?

The net-zero material transition approach must be a comprehensive look at the materials you are using first and selecting the best options for your business. It’s vitally important to educate the design team and buyers to understand the strengths and weaknesses of material options with your net zero transition strategy in mind.

  • Do your chosen materials have the potential to be net-zero? If so, how?
  • Are they long-life and recyclable?
  • Are there recycled materials that you can adopt now?
  • How can you meet any sourcing and cost challenges?
  • Are there innovations in materials and processing that you can leverage now or in the next few years?

A supply chain traceability and reporting software like Segura will be able to capture the real picture of what was supplied, where it came from, what processing was used, what the water and carbon usage was, and whether you are meeting or moving towards your goals.

Having a platform like Segura will help with uncovering the materials and components for our products, coupled with where they come from, in much greater detail. Supply chains have become more dispersed and global, and in turn, so have data capture and reporting. Segura will provide us with access to real-time, accurate information. Segura’s ability to capture and enable us to monitor our emissions and ESG standards is vitally important to our business and goals (schuh)

Proving Sustainability: Supply Chain Transparency is key

The ability to report on the changes you are making is the only way you can prove you’re making a difference, by embracing sustainable materials and improving production practices.

The Segura platform gives us a deeper insight into our suppliers and the products and components they are providing us. This enables us to minimise risk and ensure products continue to comply with ever-tightening legal requirements. Segura’s ability to centralise all our data and evidence onto a single platform allows the various teams to use the same robust data to underpin their decision-making and provides the business and consumers with the confidence that we are working towards the same goals. (Whistles)

A transparent supply chain is essential for fashion retailers to monitor and demonstrate that they are reducing their environmental footprint, working toward and contributing to a more sustainable future.


Over the next few weeks we are going to deep dive into commonly used materials and how to transition to net zero materials, next week we’ll be looking into cotton.

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About Segura

Segura is the leading fashion supply chain traceability solution, empowering fashion retailers and brands to deliver ethical, sustainable and efficient multi-tier supply chains.  

Segura provides n-tier mapping, transparency, traceability, visualisation, compliance and reporting. Segura sits in the center of your supply chain management structure creating a central repository for all your supply chain, ESG-related data and evidence, including from third-party data sources.  

With all supply chain traceability data stored on a single platform, our customers get the right evidence in the right place to back up claims and meet regulatory compliance. 

To learn more about how Segura can help you manage your supply chain; contact us today


Pentland Partners with Segura

As part of its ongoing sustainability strategy, Pentland has partnered with Segura

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