Hong Kong Fashion Industry lacks sustainable cotton clothing WWF urges increase in supply and transparency of information to promote sustainable development in apparel market
This survey was conducted from the winter season 2019 to the spring season 2020, covering 39 local and international fashion brands. Background research investigated the brands’ corporate communication materials, ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) reports, and online stores. Onsite visits were also made to 140 brick-and-mortar shops across seven shopping districts, including Central, Causeway Bay, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kwun Tong, Sha Tin, Tsuen Wan, and Tuen Mun.
Christine Cheng, Project Officer, Sustainability at WWF-Hong Kong, points out “The availability of apparel made from sustainable cotton is low. More than 80% of the brands surveyed do not offer or only offer a limited range of sustainable cotton clothing. Transparent information, which will enable consumers to make informed shopping choices, is not provided either.” The report also indicates that out of the 39 brands surveyed, only 6 brands, which include H&M Baby, M&S Baby, M&S, Muji, Tommy Hilfiger, and Tommy Jeans, have declared to use sustainable cotton while designated areas for sustainable cotton apparel can be found in stores. The rest of the brands surveyed used sustainable cotton for less than a quarter of their displayed products.
All international brands covered in the report have undertaken a time-bound commitment for the transition to full adoption of sustainable cotton. However, sustainable cotton clothing could only be found in the physical shops of 13 international brands. The relatively low in-store availability of sustainable cotton products is far from meeting the target. Christine Cheng adds “Sustainable cotton policy and labelling can only be found in international brands, whereas the application of sustainable materials among local brands is very limited. Local clothing brands and retailers are not well informed about sustainable cotton. Sustainability is yet to be the factor prioritised by local brands when sourcing raw materials.”
The survey reveals that local clothing brands and retailers are driven by pricing and production cost when selecting raw materials. The lack of a systems approach to sustainable resource management and the difficulty in identifying certified sustainable suppliers are challenges for local brands and start-ups to adopt sustainable materials.
Cotton is the most commonly used plant-based natural fiber, accounting for approximately 25.7% of global fiber production in 2019. Conventional cotton production requires extensive use of fresh water. The herbicides and pesticides used also contaminate the environment and accumulate in ecosystems overtime. WWF-Hong Kong encourages enterprises to switch to the use of sustainable cotton, including Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Organic cotton, Recycled cotton, and Fairtrade cotton, ensuring that humanity’s use of natural resources is within planetary boundaries. WWF-Hong Kong recommends ways for the Hong Kong apparel industry to increase the availability of sustainable cotton clothing, establish a standardised eco-labelling system, develop an eco-friendly shopping guide, set up a cotton recycling system, and provide more environmentally-friendly options for consumers.
Karen Ho, Head of Corporate and Community Sustainability remarks “Recycled cotton has a high market potential. The process of recycling diverts textile and apparel waste from ending up in landfill and supports the transition towards a circular economy. Hong Kong could be an industry leader and develop as a recycled cotton centre by investing more resources in post-consumer waste collection, material cleaning and cotton fiber recycling.”
WWF-Hong Kong urges the government and the clothing industry to act collectively to establish a smart, transparent, and standardized labelling system in Hong Kong. Karen Ho adds, “The clothing industry should shoulder the responsibility of providing more transparent information to allow consumers to make sustainable choices. At the same time, consumers need to shift their mindset from impulse buying to conscious consumption. They should also consider other sustainable alternatives, such as buying second-hand goods, renting, sharing, swapping and upcycling.”