Coming Full Circle: Innovating towards Sustainable Man-Made Cellulosic Fibres
The current fragmented ecosystem of brands, upstream manufacturers and innovators is inefficiently connected and requires greater orchestration to create a marketplace more ready for innovation. Targeted consortium projects and the parties within have the power to convene, accelerate progress and transition from siloed success stories to systemic change70. A recent BCG and Fashion for Good (2020) report outlined the importance of consortium projects in scaling innovation within the fashion industry. The report highlighted several key stakeholders within the consortium group; Orchestrators, Brands, Supply chain partners, Innovators, Investors and the public sector71. This sentiment was echoed within the MMCF industry; with Textile Exchange and Forum for the Future highlighting collaboration across the whole supply chain as a key enabler in the transition to a more sustainable and circular industry72.
The orchestrators play a pivotal role as no single stakeholder operating on their own can provide all the capabilities and expertise necessary to scale innovation. Moreover, orchestrators such as Fashion for Good ensure a structured and streamlined approach to innovation; providing ecosystem-level coordination across different stakeholders and micro-level support to specific innovators. Bringing structure to the innovation process between brands and innovators brings significant benefits, providing brands with predictability through clear gate-stages of technological innovation, as well as allowing greater comparability across innovators to assess the difference in technology and output. On the other hand, innovators are better able to understand the processes and competencies required to help bring new technology to market at scale.
Brands have an important role to play in overcoming the barriers to scale innovation, many of which can be prevailed through collaboration with innovators and other stakeholders. Through consortium projects, brands are able to share their invaluable industry and technological expertise and help innovators to develop, therefore maximising the chance of commercialisation. The co-development process is a win- win for both innovators and brands; brands position themselves at the forefront of innovation whilst innovators can optimise their technology to brand’s needs and thus catalyse their growth.
Given the importance of upstream manufacturers in the value chain, it is imperative that they are engaged in collaborative activities with brands and innovators alike. In doing so, manufacturers can share their technological and industry expertise and provide access to essential facilities to enable innovators to validate their product. This provides a unique opportunity to partner with and assist innovators through the challenging research and development phase on the path to commercialisation.
Through exposure to collaborative projects, innovators can better hone in on the use case of their technology – moving from the ideation phase to a marketable implementable plan. Industry exposure forces innovators to think more prudently about their business plans, refine their value proposition dependent on industry demand and more effectively partner with the established players in the industry.
Financiers and the investor community bring key expertise beyond the obvious financial support needed to scale innovation. Investors can play a role in advising and connecting entrepreneurs to the wider investment community – bringing with it a network of support, coaching and expertise that is essential to accelerating innovation. There are a variety of funding mechanisms available to innovators at different stages of maturity, including: venture capital, blended finance, traditional debt financing and philanthropic capital. It is crucial that this array of investors and lenders are engaged in the fashion innovation space, as no one segment will be able to provide the level of funding and expertise required to finance a more sustainable industry.
The public sector plays a significant role as both a means to empower systemic change as well as catalysing further investment. Establishing a policy framework consisting of regulations, standards and economic incentives that encourage more sustainable practices will put pressure on the industry to accelerate innovative solutions and transition to a more sustainable industry. Moreover, looking aside to other industries has shown that public sector investment in innovative SMEs helps to unlock greater levels of private sector capital – for example, each €1 that EU’s Horizon 2020 invested generated €1.6 of private investment73.
Addressing the problems presented in this report is no different from other innovation challenges – therefore a consortium group is an appropriate structure to tackle key issues and move the needle towards closed loop MMCF production. Fashion for Good have put this strategy to action with the launch and implementation of their consortium Full Circle Textiles Project. This consortium structure will allow participants to focus on their speciality, mitigate risks and benefit from shared learnings, thereby accelerating the transition to a more circular MMCF industry through increased rates of textile to textile recycling.