Brazil’s textile industry stands out with a series of sustainable actions ranging from the best use of resources to the reuse of waste. Environmentally responsible consumers can also do their part
Brazil’s textile industry has been more and more caring about sustainability, and this is consistent with the figures for the sector, which had an estimated turnover of BRL 194 billion in 2021, according to the Brazilian Textile Industry Association (ABIT). This is a growth of about 20% in relation to the BRL 161 billion in the previous year. In addition, compared to 2020, the production of textiles (inputs) increased by 12.1%, and that of the domestic clothing market (apparel, socks and accessories, home goods and technical articles) increased by 15.1%. The apparel retail sector grew by 16.9%.
Data from ABIT also show that, in 2020, the domestic clothing sector manufactured 7.93 billion items, or 1.91 million tons of textile materials. All this raises a question: how can one ensure that this barrage of products does not become a sea of waste further down the road?
The socio-environmental agenda for the sector includes a number of positive and robust actions throughout the textile and fashion industry’s supply chain. It includes ensuring that natural resources are used sustainably and efficiently during the production stage, making investments in industrial innovation for the reuse of fibers and materials that previously went to waste, adopting a wildly creative approach to invest in the circular economy and recycling initiatives, and even engaging small companies to work towards reducing their own textile waste.
“The textile and apparel sectors in Brazil have a unique opportunity to help Brazil play a leading international role in this agenda, for all the efforts currently being made and for the projects that are underway,” says Fernando Pimentel, president of ABIT.
These actions include initiatives for the use and reprocessing of cotton waste and PET bottles to generate new fibers and the recovery of used products. Initiatives also include close collaboration with groups of large retailers through compliance certifications, with a number of efforts across several fronts, whether in textiles, whether in raw materials, clothing or post-consumption, in addition to the various patents focusing on the use and recovery of waste.
Brazil currently holds the largest comprehensive textile capabilities in the West and occupies a privileged position to respond to this and act decisively on the sustainability agenda, as it covers the production of fibers and conduction of fashion shows, not to mention the country’s spinning, weaving, processing and manufacturing facilities, in addition to a robust retail market.
“Various strong initiatives are being pursued in the sector towards this agenda, but there is not a single path,” says Pimentel. “It’s the various actions by public and private actors that contribute to this response, which is also a planetary challenge. This is a trending topic in all discussions and actions related to the future of the sector; this sustainability-oriented agenda underlies the entire environment,” he says. “For example, the implementation of best practices is in line with the monitoring of production, which is a crucial aspect for responsible and sustainable development,” he says.
Challenges – Fernando Pimentel believes that one of the most significant challenges is proposing practical operating approaches that are based on a comprehensive vision of sustainability to such a wide-ranging group of companies – it’s not only about raw materials and the product itself, but about business models, labor practices and corporate governance.
“By 2050, the world will be home to nearly 10 billion people; there are currently 7.4 billion people. The challenge facing the industry is to dress this entire audience; increase production without undermining nature, the environment, labor relations, and social relations involved in this sector,” he ponders.
Tips – Clothes never go to waste: they can be creatively sold, exchanged, given as gifts, donated, renovated, customized, or repurposed and recycled by individuals, organizations and industrial players that strive to give them new uses. Consumers should always remember to check with their favorite brands if they have any initiatives related to the circular economy, recycling or reuse of their products – in order to reduce their ecological footprint. Here are some valuable tips:
A first-mover initiative – In collaboration with the Chemical and Textile Industry Technology Center of the National Service for Industrial Learning (Senai/Cetiqt), ABIT established the Sustainability and Circular Economy Center (NUSEC). Its purpose is to meet the demand for qualified information regarding sustainability strategies in the country’s textile and apparel industry. In November 2021, NUSEC released its first Sustainability and Circular Economy report, which provided the background and showed key opportunities to overcome the sector’s challenges at the global level.
The association is also working on the preparation of a Circular Agenda for the Textile and Apparel Sector in order to develop and implement methodologies to assess and measure the level of circularity of organizations, to generate a positive agenda and to fast-track the circular transition. “The breadth of participation of the actors is a key factor to ensure that the findings are representative from a trade association perspective,” says Pimentel.
Sustainable chain – Brazil’s textile industry is unique for the positive interconnection of its supply chains. “This is driven by end consumers, by promotion efforts, by the regulatory framework, and it trickles down all the way to the elementary level of production – the land where products come from. So you have a sustainability network, and not just a few sustainable links,” says Fernando Pimentel.
A good example of this sustainable supply chain is the Sou de Algodão initiative (www.soudealgodão.com.br), which first appeared in 2016 to raise awareness around responsible fashion and consumption. This is a unique initiative in the country that brings together all the players in the supply chain and in the textile industry, including farmers, end consumers, weavers, artisans, spinners, fashion designers, stylists, and fashion students.
The role of consumers – But how can consumers and citizens contribute to this environmental agenda? The president of ABIT believes that consumers and citizens have a key role to play. “These changes don’t happen overnight. It is obvious that we, as consumers, have a relevant role to play. We can accept or refuse a product based on its origin, production mode, and raw materials used. The better informed consumers are, the more demanding they will be when it comes to their consuming habits,” says Pimentel.
“At first, a sustainable product might even cost a little more than a product that is conventionally made, but prices are likely to be the same. You may not sell more if you make a sustainable product, but you will certainly sell less if your product fails to meet these consumer requirements,” he warns.
Socio-environmental communicator Giovanna Nader – author of the book, Com que Roupa? (Editora Paralela, 2021), where she shares tips for responsible consumption – agrees that consumers play a crucial role in the sustainability chain of the domestic textile industry: they are drivers of change and should learn to consume more responsibly.
“Used clothes never go to waste: I always keep to this principle,” says Giovanna. Creativity is key in this process. “What can we do? We can sell, exchange, donate, gift; we can rent rather than buy; we can borrow – and the stuff we no longer use we can turn into completely different things.” She points out that the Internet provides “a wealth of ideas about what to do with our clothes so that they never end up in the trash, where they are not properly recycled, stay around for a long time, and ultimately go to a clothes dump”.
In Giovanna’s life, the transformation from an irresponsible consumer to a responsible one did not happen by chance – and fashion was precisely what served as the gateway to a new socioenvironmental awareness. In the initial pages of her book, she says: “At least that’s what happened to me: first, I changed my way of consuming fashion and only then, years later, I adapted my entire lifestyle to my new way of thinking”.
And she says she is optimistic, albeit cautious: “We are now in a very different place than we were eight years ago, for example. We are indeed making progress, particularly when it comes to accountability in the fashion industry – but there is still a long way to go.”