Why Circularity? How We’re Making Fashion More Sustainable

Gap Inc.

At Gap Inc., we know that the way we do business can change the world. Which is why we’ve set some ambitious goals, all in an effort to lessen the environmental impact of the clothes we make. It’s not just the right thing for the planet, it’s also central to our company’s future.

This week, we’re taking some important steps forward in Gap Inc.’s sustainability journey by making a 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment, an initiative led by the Global Fashion Agenda. Beyond that, we’re becoming a core partner of the Make Fashion Circular initiative, led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.  Additionally, our Athleta brand recently became a member of the Fashion Positive PLUS initiative – supporting the organization’s goal of fashion without waste or compromise.

But what does circularity really mean, how does it fit into sustainability, and why does it matter to our customers and our employees? Melissa Fifield,Gap Inc.’s Senior Director of Sustainable Innovation, spoke with Michele Sizemore, Senior Vice President of Product Operations at Athleta, to share some insight into how we’re starting to tackle some of the next big challenges in product sustainability.

Melissa Fifield: Athleta has set some ambitious product sustainability goals. What progress are you making?

Michele Sizemore: At Athleta, we want to use our business as a force for good, so we’re focusing our efforts where we have direct influence – namely where and how we source our raw materials, fabric development, garment production and finishing. We’ve set an aggressive goal to use sustainable fibers – including recycled polyester, recycled nylon, Lenzing Tencel & Modal, and organic cotton – in 80% of our product materials by 2020. And we’re already halfway there! Through important partnerships across the business with our sourcing and supply chain partners, today, 40% of Athleta materials are made of recycled and more sustainable materials.  With these efforts we’ve diverted the equivalent of more than 25 million plastic bottles from landfills since 2015.

What I’m most excited about is that using a material like recycled polyesteris not only better for the environment, but it’s also top of the line when it comes to the performance our customers are looking for. We’ve created a sleek and stretchy fabric that’s wicking, breathable and rated UPF 50+. It’s super-lightweight and soft. It’s becoming a key component in many of our products.   

Melissa: Can you take me behind the scenes and share how Athleta is driving this important work forward?

Michele: We know that 80% of a product’s environmental impact is tied to decisions made in design and development. So we’re building awareness and providing education for our talented brand designers, merchants, product development and sourcing teams to help them learn how to best design using more sustainable fibers, fabrics and manufacturing techniques that save water. And beyond that, how to source more sustainable materials from the very beginning. We’ve also created a passionate, knowledgeable, cross-functional team focused on pursuing technology and product innovation that will help us to make more informed decisions. All of this work is allowing us to continually deliver great products that look good, delight our customers wear after wear, and most importantly, reduce our impact on people and the planet.

Melissa: Athleta recently became a PLUS member of the Fashion Positive initiative. What does this mean for Athleta when it comes to sustainable fibers?

Michele:  We expect the best from our fabrics, and we know our customers do, too. That’s why we’re constantly working with our team of internal athletes, fitpros, brand ambassadors and customers to design exclusive performance fabrics, technologies and solutions. By joining the Fashion Positive PLUS initiative, we’re able to work alongside industry leading partners to collaboratively identify more innovative solutions for sustainable and blended fibers. In the end, this helps us drive toward a more closed loop system, where we can perpetually circulate our products in a way that reduces waste throughout the entire product lifecycle.  

Melissa:  We know that apparel manufacturing typically requires a lot of water. How is Athleta helping to reduce the water impact of its products?

Michele: We’re working closely with the vendors that make products for Athleta and other Gap Inc. brands to reduce water used in the manufacturing process – in fact, since 2014, these vendors have saved nearly 3 billion liters of water. We’ve set a goal across our Gap Inc. brands to conserve a total of 10 billion liters by 2020. It’s just one of the ways we’re working to reduce waste and conserve water across a product’s lifecycle.

Head here to learn more about how Athleta is using its business as a force for good.

Head here to read about the other ways Gap Inc. is making business more sustainable—within our own company and across our industry.

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