The State of Circular Innovations in the Indian Fashion and Textile Industries
We believe that accelerated dynamism in the circular innovation landscape will drive efficiencies across the Indian fashion and textile supply chain, enabling the industry to leap-frog to sustainability. Innovators developing products, processes and service offerings or combinations thereof at critical points in the supply chain as well as systems level solutions, can usher in necessary disruptions through accelerated adoption and scale.
However, our research identified a variance in the level of innovation momentum observed in different phases of the industry supply chain. While significant innovation momentum is visible in the Retail and Use phase, given the relative ease of developing solutions and proving underlying business cases, there is very little innovation activity unfolding in the Cut-Make-Trim phase of the supply chain. On the other hand, while there are a number of innovations emerging in phases like Raw Material, they exhibit low maturity in terms of scalability and technology usage.
Key insights emerging from our analysis of the current state of innovations at different points in the Indian fashion and textile supply chain as well as opportunities and whitespaces at each of these points can be classified into following themes:
- The need for the region is to develop new feedstocks for the textile industry. New feedstocks sources could include alternative raw materials such as new natural fibres, regenerated fibres and cellulosics, or fibres from existing materials that have been recycled to create virgin grade output.
- The challenges around wet processing have been evident for a few decades. The country is buzzing with new research in this space, with many research institutions and innovators pursuing sustainable solutions around waterless dyeing, low impact pre-treatment and finishing processes. Research and development (R&D) needs further support to scale their research; this support can be enabled through involving industry stakeholders, government and funding institutions at the onset of these innovations.
- Cut-make-trim innovations pose a larger question to the ecosystem in India, impact for cut-make-trim innovations on the workers/livelihoods needs to be assessed. There needs to be a purposeful approach towards marrying technological innovations in cut-make-trim with worker wellbeing, upskilling and alternate job creation. This too needs a collaborative effort of the government, industry and innovations.
- Circular business models are making waves as SMEs are pushing forward to change the consumer mindset and create a viable business with rentals, recommerce and rework. Larger players have already started identifying this as an opportunity in the region and it’s only a matter of time until larger retail players in the industry will integrate the existing SMEs or create their own models.
- Disclosure in the supply chain in India has been another evident area of innovation, which has attracted multiple technological solutions. The focus needs to be on material transparency along with process transparency. It is essential to develop transparency for newer feedstocks, including transparency for recycled materials and potentially build a common industry standard for transparency. Currently transparency solutions appear to be optional solutions driven by the buyers, these solutions require standardisation and incentives for incorporation with buyer and supplier buy-in.
Here we highlight the key enablers that will enable the circular transition in the fashion industry in India.
- A sustained focus on R&D will be essential to promote upstream innovations. In case of Raw Materials, R&D efforts need to focus on developing new natural fibres, bio-synthetics, regenerated fibres and processes that consume fewer chemicals, less water and energy. Such efforts also need to be directed towards enhancing compatibility of such products with existing equipment and infrastructure available in India. This would temper the need for substantial investments towards complete infrastructure overhaul in the mid-stream phases, allowing for phased equipment upgrades. Similarly in the Wet and Dry Processing phase, significant focus on R&D is required to identify new alternative dyes and finishing products like biodegradable dyes that are free of halogens and hence, more sustainable. R&D is also required to develop new processes that reduce water usage and harmful effluent discharged during this phase.
- Public-private engagement and appropriate policy incentives will be necessary for establishing and strengthening local supply chains (supply side interventions) to ensure availability of, and access to, innovative circular products. This will be particularly relevant for ensuring production and seamless availability of alternative products, particularly in the Raw Material and Wet and Dry Processing phases of the supply chain. In case of Raw Materials, sufficient incentives for labs, farmers, manufacturers and entrepreneurs will need to be deployed to create a supply chain for large-scale production of new alternative materials. The same holds true in the ‘Dyeing and Finishing’ for ensuring production and distribution of products such as new sustainable dyes.
- Investing in innovations and simultaneously building supply chain capabilities will be critical for faster innovation adoption and scale-up. This requirement holds true across the supply chain phases to spur demand for innovative products and processes. In case of Raw Materials, this translates to the need for investing in new alternative material production and building capacities of supply chain players to adopt such alternative materials. Similar efforts are needed in ‘Dyeing and Finishing’ to drive adoption of alternative products like biodegradable dyes as well as processes like waterless dyeing. In Cut-Make-Trim, capacities need to be built for innovations around zero-waste manufacturing and optimised yarn and fabric production. In End-of-Use, investment is required in technologies for chemical recycling of polyester and blended fibres and for automated sorting. To tackle this issue, Fashion for Good created The Good Fashion Fund. It provides funding (in the form of debt financing) to the most promising high impact and disruptive technologies in the fashion industry. Its focus is on textile and apparel production in Asia (India, Bangladesh and Vietnam). There is a need for more such funding tools to enable the scale-up of these disruptive innovations.
- Up-skilling of workers in the supply chain will facilitate easier innovation adoption and job protection. This flows naturally from the earlier point on developing supply chain capabilities and is also applicable throughout the supply chain, especially in phases where innovation unfolds in the form of mechanisation. Efforts to accelerate circular transition through innovation adoption needs to factor in the human aspect of the fashion and textile supply chain. Most innovations will entail enhanced adoption of automation and/or a change in processes or mechanisms. Either way, this implies that innovations will make certain existing jobs/skills redundant and create new/altered jobs that call for new skills. This in turn, implies that up-skilling of workers will be crucial to ensure the availability of skilled resources and also to ensure protection of jobs and livelihoods of workers.
There is a perfect storm of innovation and opportunity brewing in the Indian fashion industry. With action and all industry actors coming together to capitalise on these innovations, India is positioned to transform the fashion industry towards circularity."Katrin Ley, Managing Director, Fashion for Good