‘Sustainable fashion’ is becoming a buzz word in the fashion industry as large corporates, textile manufacturers, fashion designers and renowned fashion houses are aggressively putting their act together to meet the burgeoning demand for sustainable fashion apparels.
Today, the youth is aware and conscious about the environment and they are demanding sustainable products, having the lowest carbon footprints and one that can be disposed of with least harm to the environment.
Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), the world’s largest integrated polyester yarn and fibre producer, has taken a big stride to make ‘sustainable clothing’ affordable and accessible, taking a leaf from the success story of the group’s telecom venture Jio in getting volumes with competitive pricing, a top RIL official said.
“For us, sustainability is not a fashionable word, we are making fashion out of it and it is a sustainable business,” said Vipul Shah, chief operating officer of petrochemicals division at RIL. “It is time we look at sustainability beyond corporate social responsibility.”
RIL, the pioneer of recycling of PET bottles in India, is processing over two billion post-consumer (used) PET bottles every year and plans to scale it up to six billion in two years, he said.
RIL’s initiative for recycling of used waste PET bottle is a classic example of sustainability and circularity as it is the only company in the world that has created a complete circle from creation of PET Resin for making bottles, collection of discarded PET bottles, converting them to Recron® Green Gold, eco-friendly polyester fibres for use by downstream textile value chain that converts the fibres in to high-value sleep products and R|Elan™ based fashion apparel.
RIL has pursued the collection of used PET bottles and recycling it to fibre in a sustainable manner with the key objective of social responsibility towards the society and nation, for over two decades. The grey fibre produced using used PET bottles are branded as Recron® GreenGold and the dope dyed polyester staple fibre are branded as Recron® Green Gold EcoD. These eco-friendly fibres also provide the power of sustainability to Reliance’s next-generation fabric range branded R|Elan™ Fabric 2.0.
Normally all beverages bottles are thrown-away as waste, and could potentially find its way to landfills or choke the cities drainage systems. RIL being a responsible corporate, proactively took the initiative to address this, by creating awareness among people to believe in the concept of reduce, reuse, recycle into useful products starting way back in early 2000’s.
Apart from strengthening internal initiatives in sustainability RIL is also working closely with the entire textile industry, through its Hub Excellence Programme encompassing yarn, textile manufacturers, leading domestic and international brands – retailers and fashion houses. RIL also partners with like-minded leading yarn, textile and apparel manufacturers to develop a symbiotic relationship. RIL pursues the strategy to manufacture co-branded textile and apparels and it has already partnered with brands like Arrow, Wrangler, Raymond, Lee, among other international brands.
The global petrochemical market stares at several challenges as US trade disputes with China and Mexico have upset global supply and new capacities are coming up. But experts believe that recycled polymers may see strong demand coming from global brands that are increasingly looking at sustainable products to respond to growing awareness among consumers.
Italian brand Prada has decided to switch to recycled material for its iconic nylon bags, while British label Burberry has launched a collection made out of green yarn.
Consumers in many developed countries are embracing ethical or sustainable fashion, and are even ready to pay a premium for it. The Indian buyer, though, is still very price-conscious.
RIL’s strategy is to build scale and create an ecosystem for sustainable fashion to make it affordable and accessible. “The demand for these products will grow, but nobody is going to pay a premium for sustainable products,” Shah said. “We have to create a mass movement with the right pricing that makes commercial sense. Premium pricing for sustainable clothing will not lead to a substantial change, which is what the environment needs.”
As a strategy, RIL is selling the sustainable fibre on the basis of attributes that it will provide to the clothing made from it at a price competitive to non-sustainable products with the same attributes.
Indian performance wears brand Alcis Sports and designer Narendra Kumar has joined hands to launch a collection of sustainable gym and workwear under the label ‘Alcis X Nari’ using R|Elan fibre.
“There is a low recognition among consumers for sustainability,” Kumar said. “Most consumers are yet to understand the magnitude of the environmental issues we face. So we have worked to incorporate elements of fashion but made it functional and affordable. We are telling consumers, don’t wear these clothes to save the world, wear it because it is fashionable and affordable.”
RIL and Kumar are also working on ways to further recycle these products once they have been used by consumers so that they don't land up in landfills.
“We will have a system in place where customers can return used products at the store and get a discount,” Kumar said. “The clothes can then be sent back for recycling. The whole value chain is cyclical.”
Global brands are making everything from swimwear to winter wear to backpacks with recycled material. India can catch up soon if it looks at its waste as a resource.