- The fashion industry emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined.
- Consumers are holding the industry accountable for its detrimental effects to the environment.
- Julien Born, the CEO of The Lycra Company, is helping transition the industry to a circular economy.
Every year, consumers buy billions’ worth of inexpensive clothing that they then throw out shortly after. This practice, often referred to as fast fashion, is terrible for the environment, and recent data shows it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
The fashion industry produces 10% of all carbon emissions, represents the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply, and pollutes the oceans with microplastics. A report by ResearchGate said fast-fashion uses more energy than the aviation and shipping sectors combined. And over the next 30 years, demand for raw materials for apparel is expected to triple, putting extreme pressure on limited resources, including water, energy, and land, the World Resources Institute said.
As the CEO and president of The Lycra Company — one of the world’s largest textile companies — Julien Born knows the environmental cost of fast fashion and wants to help global brands rethink their approach to sustainability. Born told Insider that Lycra is taking steps to transition the fashion industry to a circular economy — a model of production and consumption that involves reusing and recycling existing materials for as long as possible — by partnering with Primark, Levi’s, and H&M to make their clothing last longer so that they don’t end up in landfills as quickly.
As conscious consumers and environmentalists hold the fashion industry accountable for the detrimental effects of fast fashion on the environment, Lycra is taking the call for sustainability seriously — as it has done for over a decade.
Since 2011, the company’s manufacturing sites have implemented more than 250 energy-reduction programs. As of 2019, two of its sites had reduced their energy intensity by more than 20%, with over half of their sites improving by at least 10%, the company’s sustainability report said.
“We have a long legacy of being first to market with a focus on corporate responsibility, on compliance, and on safety,” Born said. “All these things bode well for leading in sustainability because we’ve built trust, having done the right thing for a long time.”
In an interview with Insider, Born discussed the three main strategies for how Lycra planned to continue its legacy of striving for a more environmentally conscious fashion industry.
1. Sustainable partnerships
As a leading producer of fiber for the global textile, apparel, and personal-care industries, Lycra is uniquely positioned to influence the fashion industry at large. Lycra’s collaboration with the fashion brand H&M is one recent example of the company’s sustainable partnerships. In 2020, the textile company announced that its Coolmax technology, which is made from recycled materials, would be featured in H&M’s menswear collection.
“We typically did not have businesses with companies like those because they move very fast and are not necessarily driven by innovation,” Born said. “But because they are trying to change their models and look more for sustainable fashion, they are collaborating with strategic suppliers like us.”
Nowadays, most companies have environmental, social, and governance goals related to sustainability and the societal effects of a company’s environmental practices. To help fulfill these goals, global fashion brands, such as Lululemon and Levi’s, are turning to Lycra to help lower their carbon footprint and meet ESG standards by incorporating sustainable fibers into their fabrics.
“Getting new business with retailers like this is a great indication that our focus on sustainability is not only the right thing to do, but ultimately it’s the profitable thing to do. These relationships make us more viable over time as a company,” Born said.
2. Innovating products with recycled materials
The equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second, a United Nations Environment Programme report said. What’s more, 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year. The recycling rate for all textiles was 14.7% in 2018, with 2.5 million tons recycled, an EPA estimate said.
The fashion industry is facing growing scrutiny about how its products affect the environment, and Lycra’s demonstrated commitment to innovating fibers using recycled materials makes the company a desirable partner for brands looking to improve the life cycle of their clothing.
In September, the company introduced EcoMade fiber, a denim jean made from a blend of virgin polymer and recycled materials collected from the factory floor at Lycra manufacturing sites. The pioneering fabric is made from 20% recycled materials.
“Sustainability really starts for us at a manufacturing level, and it goes all the way to the end of the garment life cycle, implementing recycling at every step,” Born said.
3. Extending the life cycle
A 2020 survey conducted by Statista found that in 2019, 7% of the average US consumer’s wardrobe consisted of resale clothing. This ratio is expected to rise to 17% by 2029.
The thrift and resale market keeps clothes and their components in circulation for a longer time. As such, Lycra is invested in making quality garments for longer wearability to extend their life cycle and reduce the carbon footprint of the fashion industry.
“If you think about how the industry is evolving with thrifting, rentals, and secondhand garments, all of these new platforms really require garments to be wearable for longer,” Born said. “At the end of the day, the best way to save resources is not to dispose of your clothes because they were poorly made. We have the ability to certify fabrics, to certify garments, and we have the technology to improve durability.”