The EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles, or EU Textiles Strategy for short, was announced on 30 March. It has been both welcomed and also criticised for alleged loopholes. What, however, most agree on is that it is a good starting point, and also that the cascading effects are going to be felt beyond the borders of the European Union (EU).
Now, what can that possibly mean for denim.
But before doing a deep blue dive, let’s quickly look at the EU only from denim angle. According to the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI), Europe is a significant importer of denim. “In 2020, the value of denim imports to Europe, including Intra-EU imports, amounted to €7.4 billion, down from €7.7 billion in 2015. This corresponds to roughly 675 million units of clothing in 2020 (down from 718 million in 2015). Over the last five years, the value of Europe’s denim imports has decreased at an average of 0.8% annually.” The EU denim import market has stabilised at €7.4 billion since the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, it is a huge and attractive market. In 2019, the EU exported €61 billion of textiles and apparel and imported €109 billion. The EU imported over €80 billion of clothes, mainly from China, Bangladesh and Turkey.
The data of the CBI (under the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs) are from a study the findings of which were published in August 2021. It had noticed many trends, set already in motion by the pandemic. The study, carried out on behalf of CBI by M-Brain GmbH, remarked: “As the consumers’ awareness on sustainability and eco-friendliness is growing, they are more interested in production procedures and sources for materials. This supports the positive development of the (current) niche market of denim products that have been produced based with recycled materials, discarded clothes, organic cotton, and materials that have been not treated by hazardous chemicals. Most of these products are sold by smaller brands that distribute their products mainly online, but larger fashion brands have also started to include “sustainable” products in their product lines.”
This bit now gets amplified by the EU Textile Strategy, but no one is unduly worried.
Says Francesca Polato, who is with the marketing department of Berto Industria Tessile: “Since we are Italian producers and already comply with the stringent rules of our State, we are at a great advantage. In addition, it has always been very important for the company and especially for the Berto family, which has still been running the company since 1887, to produce in a sustainable way, even going beyond the rules already imposed by the Italian State.” Especially, regulations in terms of fabrics waste management. “We look for a partner to recycle waste fabrics, put them back into production, and create new fabrics in order to be more circular,” she adds.
Armand Galobart, Chief Executive of Barcelona’s Tintes Egara, quips: “I like that you ask me this. We find that the measures that have been adopted are a bit soft—we had already imposed much more restrictive measures in terms of water and energy consumption and much higher limitations in terms of the limit parameters of wastewater. We also recycle everything that is recyclable (cardboard, plastics bags, etc)”. In other words, Galobart and his company are ahead of the curve.
Even Turkish major Iskur Denim’s Chief Executive, İsmail Kurtul, feels the same. He points out: “Iskur Denim fits the needs of the EU Textile strategy. Iskur Denim has a zero-carbon footprint and zero-waste strategy together with waterless production through renewable energy that also uses our own in-house recycling facility.” All that covers the immediate requirements.
But others are setting their house in order. Says Carlo Parisatto, Chief Marketing Officer of the Cadica Group, “We are strengthening our production sites in Italy and (elsewhere in) Europe and aligning them all to the new regulations. So, we will have a coordinated Group with same process and standards.”