‘a better way’ programme criteria #5: Product life cycle and end-of-life

For nearly 50 years Première Vision has served as the central hub of the upstream fashion industry, a catalyst fostering connections, exchanges, and discoveries. With the introduction of its innovative “a better way” programme, the show is committing to driving the sector’s transformation by sharing key analyses of the environmental and social performance of its exhibitors.

The program is based on 5 criteria: Social initiatives, Impact of production sites, Traceability, Composition, and Product life cycle and end-of-life. Five questions are used to assess how robustly each of these key areas is managed.

Now let’s look at the issues covered by the pillar dealing with Product Life Cycle and End-of-Life.

1. Recyclability / biodegradability / compostability

Recyclability is one of the principle driving factors activated at the end of a product’s life. There are two recycling options: an open loop, where materials can be reused in other industries, for example to make soundproofing or composite materials; or a closed loop, where fibers/new materials can be made from pre- or post-consumer textiles.

To facilitate textile-to-textile recyclability, several good design practices should be kept in mind. Opting for a single-material composition is one of your best bets. Elastane, which is the main obstacle to recycling, should be limited to 2% to facilitate mechanical recycling.

When blending fibers, prefer a bi-material of the same nature (wool + cashmere for protein fibers / cotton + lyocell for cellulosic fibers). Avoid complex fabrics such as jacquard, warp knits and multi-layers; refrain from anti-crease finishings, coatings and flockings. In the case of leathers, certain tanning or finishing choices can improve the decomposition of skins at the end of their lives. A leather is considered biodegradable when it can decompose under the action of living organisms, with no harmful effect on the environment. A raw hide is naturally biodegradable. Leather, on the other hand, which has been rendered rot-proof by various treatments, is not necessarily biodegradable. During the processing stages, certain substances can alter its natural characteristics.This notion is governed by specific standardized criteria, in which the product’s biodegradability threshold and time, non-toxicity and absence of heavy metals are verified.

In France, under the AGEC law, it is now prohibited to make claims about a product’s biodegradability on either the product itself or its packaging. Certain developments now go so far as to attest to the compostability of skins, meaning that once degraded under certain conditions, these products can act as a soil improver, improving the structure and fertility of soils. Here too, tests are required to ensure compliance with current standards.

2. Durability

One of the essential criteria for minimizing a product’s environmental impact is to ensure its inherent durability. In one third of cases, clothing is replaced due to its poor quality. Good quality, meantime, increases a product’s lifespan and/or helps it to find a second life through second-hand channels.

Numerous physical-mechanical tests, governed by specific international standards, are used to measure a material’s strengths or weaknesses. The principal checks concern color resistance to rubbing, moisture or perspiration; pilling, tensile and bursting strengths, and resistance to abrasion. On the finished product, other tests are required to check that the product does not twist or shrink when washed, and to ensure the strength of components such as zips or the resistance of seams.

3. Reuse

The pandemic, accelerated collection cycles and cancelled orders have all led to an increase in stocks. Dormant, high-quality materials sit on shelves. In recent years, platforms for these ready-to-use materials have emerged. Rather than depleting natural resources, several players have now developed services to make these materials available.

This is a way to combat waste, allowing suppliers to free up their stocks and brands to access materials at reduced prices. In this scenario, collections are born by starting with the choice of materials, and thereafter defining the appropriate product.

Another way to exploit existing resources is to transform available unsold or second-hand products by embellishing them with embroidery, prints or over-dyes to give them a fresh new look.

In the leather industry, production offcuts and by- products can be recycled as part of a zero-waste approach. Processes are being developed to reuse chrome-tanned leather waste, by transforming these solid residues into a liquid solution in order to enable retanning without the need for additional chrome. Production offcuts are also increasingly used for their energy recovery.

4. On-demand production

Production on demand helps reduce the risk of excessively high stock levels. It’s also more resource-efficient, since only ordered products are produced. It requires good operational flexibility so that developments can be launched as soon as orders are placed. On the fashion manufacturing side, this approach relies on reserving workshop capacity, guaranteeing the garment manufacturer a certain volume of work, with only the article to be produced changing according to evolving demand or stock levels.

Moving from medium-term development to real- time on-demand production allows us to hew as closely as possible to demand, to keep pace with an increasingly volatile market.

5. Collaborative systems

Sustainability is ultimately about working together. By bringing together different players, we can share best practices and increase our effectiveness. Providing advice about which compositions to favor to improve an item’s strength or recyclability helps embed eco-design as a driving force in collaborative partnerships. Recycling requires a minimum quantity of materials before operations can begin. Thanks to in-store collection systems, brands can encourage their customers to take part in the recycling process, or they can supply their unsold merchandise so that recyclers have access to large enough volumes of cotton or wool, for example, to transform garments into new-generation fibers.

Given that the final stages of an article’s life cycle are crucial to a its circularity, a product’s durability and end-of-life must be considered right from the design stage, to make the optimal sourcing and manufacturing choices. Also critical is sharing information with consumers, to help them care for their garments or to guide them to voluntary collection sites for reuse or recycling.

Find out more about the ‘a better way’ program and discover the 5 criteria in detail:

Previous post ‘a better way’ programme criteria #4: Product composition/processes Next post [PV Talk] – Digital Transformation, creating New Possibilities Across The Fashion Ecosystem