Act as an industry leader in increasing the use of sustainable materials
Our fashion is made from a variety of materials, including cotton, polyester, viscose, nylon, wool, cashmere, linen, and leather. For years, C&A has been committed to increasing use of sustainable raw materials, which we define as those sourced under credible third-party certifications. These include, but are not limited to, certified organic and in-conversion cotton (OCS or GOTS), cotton placed as orders sourced under the Better Cotton Initiative, viscose sourced under the CanopyStyle Initiative and from suppliers committed to the Changing Markets Foundation roadmap, certified recycled polyester and nylon (GRS, RCS, or equivalent), and others. Working closely with others in the industry, we continue working to develop innovative, sustainable materials with the potential to reduce C&A’s carbon and water footprints, while also promoting circular fashion.
FUTURE ACTIONS in C&A Europe will include:
- Raw materials: C&A is working to continually increase the share of more sustainable materials.
- Knowledge and innovation: we also focus on innovation to identify new sustainable raw materials and building supplier capacity through training.
- Collaboration: we will continue joining forces with fashion industry peers and suppliers to find industry-wide solutions for innovative materials and state-of-the-art fibres that support sustainability.
Continue reading for more about how we are increasing the use of sustainable materials.
Driving change through Fashion for Good
Fashion for Good is our key partner for driving sustainable fashion, promoting circularity, and eliminating plastic pollution from the apparel industry. When Fashion for Good was launched by Laudes Foundation, C&A was one of its ﬁrst brand partners. Fashion for Good’s single focus is to transform the apparel sector, making ‘good fashion’ the norm by convening brands, producers, retailers, suppliers, non-proﬁt organisations, innovators, and funders to make this happen. Today, we continue our work with Fashion for Good to help transform the apparel sector by supporting numerous innovative pilot programmes as well as:
- The Fashion for Good Accelerator Programme to help start-ups grow
- The Scaling Programme to scale up innovations and encourage their widespread adoption
- Foundational projects around key challenge areas such as raw materials, chemical recycling, sorting, traceability & transparency, and plastics
- The development of the open-source Cradle to Cradle toolkit to help guide companies in developing Cradle to Cradle Certiﬁed® apparel
- The Fashion for Good Experience, the world’s ﬁrst interactive museum for sustainable fashion innovation
More sustainable cotton
We have been working to ensure that all of our cotton is more sustainable—either sourced as certified organic cotton (Organic Content Standard, OCS, or Global Organic Textile Standard, GOTS), Better Cotton, recycled cotton, or transitional cotton. And even though we came very close to reaching our 2020 goal to source 100% more sustainable cotton, our work doesn’t end. We continue addressing new challenges in sourcing more sustainable cotton, such as a decrease in the global organic cotton supply due to sourcing issues in China and India, increased global demand for organic cotton and higher prices, changes in ﬁbre mixes due to changing fashion trends, identifying safe sources of recycled cotton, and other issues. Maintaining our high rate of sourcing more sustainable cotton on an ongoing basis will require constant effort from C&A sourcing and commercial teams.
Certiﬁed organic cotton
C&A has been world's leading buyer of organic cotton for years. From the grower to the garment maker, our organic cotton supply chain is certiﬁed to the Organic Content Standard (OCS) or Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and never blended with conventional cotton. This means that any C&A product in the store labelled with our BIO COTTON seal is guaranteed and certiﬁed by OCS and GOTS that the supply chain of the cotton has been thoroughly monitored from source to the ﬁnal product. This is important because organic cotton protects soil quality, biodiversity, as well as water supply and quality. It’s also safer for farmers and their communities’ health.
The Better Cotton Initiative
The Better Cotton Initiative, which C&A joined in 2015, trains farmers to produce cotton in ways that respect the environment, boost their incomes, and strengthen the industry. While it does not replace organic cotton, sourcing Better Cotton is a smart approach to mitigate impacts where organic cotton is not feasible or available. It works via a mass balance system, meaning that each unit of Better Cotton we buy supports the production of a unit of Better Cotton somewhere in the world. It also means that the costly segregation process is not necessary, making Better Cotton easier to adopt in the supply chain, and as a result, more scalable. Read more about Better Cotton
Other sustainably sourced materials
While cotton is our most used material, we make clothing from a variety of other raw materials. We have been a leader in using innovation for supply chain traceability, we are recognised for our consistent sourcing of responsible manmade cellulosics, and we are making significant strides in sourcing recycled materials. Ensuring our raw materials are more sustainable means they are grown and manufactured in ways that use fewer natural resources, respect nature and people, and ensure the welfare of animals throughout the supply chain—and are certified to credible and well-respected external standards. Our goal is for 100% of our core materials to be more sustainable by 2028.
Because polyester is an important material in our collections and we are committed to reducing our impact from fossil fuels, we continue to increase our use of certiﬁed recycled sources over time. We have substantially increased recycled polyester content in our products, reflecting our significant commitment to source more recycled fibres. Despite this increase, we continue to face challenges to achieving our sustainable material goals for polyester:
- Finding cost-eﬀective sources of recycled polyester which is 10 to 20 percent more expensive than virgin polyester.
- Addressing contamination: Polyester source material can become contaminated with unknown substances. We continue looking for sources and solutions to help ensure recycled polyester is free of unwanted contaminants.
- Identifying scalable recycling technologies for mixed ﬁbre fabrics. For instance, with cotton and polyester blends, no scalable or cost-eﬀective chemical recycling technologies are available.
We work closely with Fashion for Good, as well as promising start-ups, to identify and develop procedures and technologies to help us meet these challenges so we can source much more recycled polyester and other fibres.
Responsible manmade cellulosics
Viscose (also known as rayon), modal, and lyocell, comes from cellulose made of the dissolved wood pulp of trees that too often affects Ancient and Endangered Forests. Our rigorous chain of custody and traceability in manmade cellulosics ensures we are only sourcing from Birla and Lenzing, suppliers of sustainable, responsible cellulose verified to be low risk of sourcing from Ancient and Endangered Forests and achieving the highest ranking in Canopy’s 2020 Hot Button Report. The Changing Markets Foundation Report recognises C&A as leading the industry in efforts to source sustainable cellulosics. We continue our work with the CanopyStyle Initiative and continue to avoid the sourcing of cellulose-based ﬁbres and fabrics made of pulp from Ancient and Endangered Forests, and other controversial sources, while advancing innovative next generation solutions and collaborating on lasting conservation solutions.
Innovate and connect circularity principles to our business and products
Circular products are designed for the next use. Made with pure materials and safe chemicals, there is a focus on recyclability and durability, along with fibres that can be reclaimed at the end of the garment’s use to be reused or recycled into new items. C&A’s leadership in circularity includes a wide range of Cradle to Cradle Certified™ products and recycling innovations and partnerships, paired with a robust in-store take-back programme. We continually increase the number of Cradle to Cradle Certified™ products we offer to our customers and remain committed to working with suppliers and the industry to innovate future circular products.
FUTURE ACTIONS in C&A Europe will include:
- Value chain: we aim to foster an environment that incorporates circular innovation into the complete value chain.
- New business models: we are experimenting with circular business models and initiatives, such as in-store services and other customer engagement activities.
- Products: we are working to ensure ongoing availability and innovation in Cradle to Cradle Certified™ products at C&A, increase product options made with recycled materials, and further expand our successful clothing take-back programme, already available in hundreds of stores and online.
Continue reading for more about how we are innovating for circularity in our business and products.
Our circular vision
Our vision is one of a restorative circular economy, where nothing is wasted in the creation or disposal of our clothing. We strive to continually increase the percentage of our products designed with the principles of circularity. This means constantly innovating our Cradle to Cradle Certified products, identifying closed-loop products and processes, supporting development of advanced materials, offering customers in-store repair or rental services, and other initiatives. Several other steps will support our sustainability objective and create an environment which increases circular innovation throughout the value chain:
- Circular Fashion Partnership - Participating in the Circular Fashion Partnership, which is advancing the circular fashion industry through projects with fashion brands, manufacturers, and recyclers that transform fashion waste into new fashion products.
- Launch new collections of Cradle to Cradle Certified products, such as our new Cradle to Cradle Certified woven tops for Ladies.
- Continue bringing new products to market as part of the Jeans Redesign project, including an additional 100,000 pieces in 2021.
- Continue to increase our use of recycled material, particularly polyester.
- Further develop our garment collection scheme in all countries where we operate to make sure garments can be collected, sorted, and eventually recycled at scale.
- Support partnerships that accelerate the transition to a circular economy and support innovations to enable industry-wide circularity.
- Design innovative products according to circular economy principles to allow us to phase out substances of concern.
Helping customers recycle and reuse
A key element of circular fashion is that clothes need to stay in the cycle and not go to waste. At C&A we introduced the ‘we take it back’ used clothing collection initiative in 2018 to address this. The ‘we take it back' programme has grown to include over 500 hundred stores in C&A retail markets around the world, allowing customers to return clothing to retail locations for recycling. Customers who drop off clothing or textiles (or return it by mail in France and Germany) receive a discount voucher for 15% off their next purchase from C&A. Customers can drop off C&A apparel or that of other brands. As of May 2021, we have given new life to more than 3000 tonnes of unwanted garments and textiles through the programme, and our customers are supporting us on the journey to closing the circular fashion loop. We are also expanding our efforts to offer product repair services in retail locations. These are available in Europe and some C&A Brazil stores. In Europe, we are also expanding our efforts to offer product repair services in retail locations.
Designed for circularity
Our continued development of innovative Cradle to Cradle Certiﬁed products is an important way we support circular fashion. The Cradle to Cradle Certiﬁed Product Standard is the only comprehensive one-standard solution that enables the responsible, holistic design, production and third-party certification of circular products. It veriﬁes and certiﬁes all aspects of product manufacturing, from sourcing of raw materials through the chemicals, water, or energy used in manufacturing and how the product is designed for material reutilisation, to social conditions in the value chain.
At C&A, overall Gold level certiﬁcation for a product often means its performance exceeds the standard’s minimum requirements. Our products frequently receive a Platinum rating for some of the Cradle to Cradle Certified categories. Gold level certification also means products are made with100% optimized safe materials and chemicals, 100% renewable energy, 100% recycled water (or discharge of drinking water quality), and the highest levels of social fairness.
Industry’s first-ever certified Platinum fabric
Our innovative denim collection is made with the first fabric ever to be Cradle to Cradle Certiﬁed at the Platinum level. Made with 100% rapidly renewable resources and fully recyclable, this small collection includes denim jackets, trousers, and shirts. We have also developed woven tops made with 100% Cradle to Cradle Certiﬁed fabric. In addition, our Gold level Cradle to Cradle Certiﬁed products include T-shirts and jeans, as well as a wide array of additional Cradle to Cradle Certiﬁed products in Men’s, Ladies’, Teens’, and Kids’ options in Europe and Brazil.
C&A Brazil is also the first company in the Americas to launch Gold level Cradle to Cradle Certified products made in Brazil. The C&A Ciclos (or ‘Cycles’ in English) collection revolutionizes the Brazilian fashion retail market with its socially and environmentally responsible production process. C&A Brazil worked with two suppliers to produce denim items and knitwear materials for the Ciclos collection at the Gold level in a variety of styles consumers love, including a mix of ‘destroyed’ style clothes in mom and skinny jeans, high-waisted shorts, skirts, and jackets.
Read more about the Cradle to Cradle Certiﬁed Product Standard
Read more about the C&A Brazil Ciclos collection
Piloting fashion innovations
Jeans Redesign project: C&A worked with other members of the fashion industry to develop jeans redesign guidelines that represent a new level of ambition and offers products developed under the guidelines in our stores in Europe.
Reverse Resources: We partnered with Reverse Resources, which sets up transparent tracking and trading platforms for textile waste from textile manufacturers to recycling plants. This helps to maintain the highest market value and best waste quality for recyclers and best price return for the supplier.
Organic Cotton Traceability Pilot (OCTP): This groundbreaking Fashion for Good/Laudes Foundation pilot tested and validated on-product markers in combination with blockchain technology as a traceability solution in real-world practice. We leveraged our supply chain to fully explore production from ﬁbre to garment. Read more about the OCTP
SMARTEX: This innovative system aims to reduce textile defects to 0% using machine vision algorithms and machine learning to improve defect detection rates in knitted fabrics. We are collaborating with SMARTEX to help our suppliers decrease defects and eliminate waste during fabric production.
Promoting circular economy policy
Both within the European Union and in EU member states, C&A has been active in shaping policy around the circular economy. We will continue our eﬀorts as work on the European Green Deal and Product Environmental Footprint progresses, including member state actions. The EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan targets highly resource-intensive sectors like textiles with policies in sustainable products, empowering consumers, waste, due diligence, waste, and others. We mapped our 2028 Sustainability Strategy against the EU Textile Strategy and determined that the majority of our new sustainability goals touch at least one element of the EU strategy. We have also identified areas where we can influence further policy developments and promote more sustainable textiles, such as encouraging sustainability labelling for consumers, incentivizing use of safer chemicals and alternatives, harmonizing waste collection schemes across regions, and ensuring recyclability of product plastic packaging, among many others.
Further innovation to create good fashion
We will continue our close involvement with Fashion for Good and other partners, supporting various pilots to develop proof of concept, including:
- Participating in the Circular Fashion Partnership, a project led by Global Fashion Agenda to accelerate the transition to a circular fashion industry by demonstrating its business case in Bangladesh. The Partnership facilitates collaborations among global fashion brands, textile and garment manufacturers, and recyclers for new systems to capture and direct post-production fashion waste back into new fashion products.
- Supporting the Fashion for Good Accelerator Programme to help start-ups working on chemical recycling, rental, leasing, and repair.
- Developing a portfolio of suppliers seeking ﬁnancial support to implement circular technologies through the Good Fashion Fund in India, Bangladesh, and Vietnam.
- Continuing collaborating in Fashion for Good’s Circular Polybag Pilot with other brands and innovators.
Product quality and safety
Providing customers with products that are durable and long-lasting is key to circular fashion. When a garment can be worn longer, it helps to eliminate the need for a replacement, and its fibres are more likely to be reusable. As well, our customers’ health, safety, and enjoyment of our products is fundamental. We work hard to ensure product quality and safety, aiming to meet or exceed industry standards, legal requirements, and our customers’ expectations. We also collaborate with others in our industry to raise standards across the apparel sector.
Our Quality, Assurance and Development teams in head offices, sourcing hubs, and at suppliers oversee every aspect of product safety and quality. They examine our goods to determine their physical, chemical, and mechanical properties as well as measurements and workmanship. For babies’ and children’s clothing, safety criteria receive specific attention. Product testing is carried out by C&A and in cooperation with external laboratories like SGS, Intertek, and Bureau Veritas, to ensure our collections meet the latest legal, chemical, and safety standards. The team also helps our suppliers, factories, and colleagues understand safety risks and coordinates with legal bodies and industry associations.
Quality down to the last detail
Our commitment to quality extends throughout the manufacturing chain, beginning with fabric manufacture and continuing through production to the ﬁnal random sampling of individual products in our stores.
Product sample inspection
Whether a certain product can be sold at C&A is determined after a sample of the item has been examined according to stringent criteria, such as workmanship and physical properties (resistance to tearing, shrinkage, colour fastness), chemicals, and various legal safety requirements (for example, small parts or restrictions on the use of cords that could pose a danger to babies or children). Once these and other criteria have been met, an item may be manufactured for C&A.
Quality and conformity inspection
These inspections take place during and after production so we can determine whether the product matches our requirements. Workmanship, measurements, and safety checks must be passed before items are allowed into C&A stores.
Structured quality and due diligence checks
To provide the greatest possible safety for our customers, C&A also performs random due diligence checks on products to ensure they meet our expectations.
Restricted substances list
To support the development of safe clothing with no hazardous chemicals present, we have implemented a restricted substances policy. We are also active members of voluntary industry groups such as the Apparel & Footwear International RSL Management (AFIRM) Group and Cooperation Against Dangerous Substances in Shoes (CADS).
In addition, approximately 25% of our collections in Europe achieved the OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 rating, an independent testing and certification system for textile raw materials, components, and end products. This confirms that our fabrics, yarns, components, and trims have undergone a rigorous test for harmful chemicals.
Garment manufacturers apply poly-fluorinated compounds (PFCs) to garments to repel liquids and stains. However, research by organisations like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has indicated a link between PFCs and damage to human health and wildlife. Globally, we eliminated PFCs from all products as of 2015.
Moving towards chrome-free leather
We don’t use a lot of leather in our products. But when we do, we want to make sure it is produced responsibly. One way we do this is by striving to buy leather for our clothing that is chrome-free tanned.
Ban of Polyvinylchloride (PVC)
PVC is a plastic sometimes used in prints or as synthetic leather. Due to its negative environmental profile, C&A Europe has forbidden the use of PVC for all products.
Eliminate Plastic Pollution
Pursue the elimination of plastic pollution
Plastic waste is linked to numerous environmental and human health issues. In some regions — such as Europe, where the European Commission has developed a strategy to address microplastics, packaging, and packaging waste as part of its circular economy commitment — the elimination of single-use plastics and plastic pollution is beginning to be mandated. Eliminating plastic pollution and significantly reducing our use of virgin, petroleum-based plastics not only requires an innovative approach, but collaboration across the fashion industry with peers and suppliers as well. We are taking stock of plastic use at every level, from marketing materials inside the store and packaging at the distribution centres, to buttons on our products and polybags used by suppliers, with the aim of identifying more sustainable alternatives and eliminating plastic waste wherever possible.
FUTURE ACTIONS in C&A Europe will include:
- Products and our own operations: we are identifying more sustainable alternatives to eliminate virgin plastic from packaging, such as hooks, size tapes, and polybags, as well as opportunities for used plastics recovery, such as recycling, and reuse.
- Marketing: we will define goals to reduce virgin plastic in marketing materials like giveaways and name cards.
- Supply chain: we will continue collaborating with Fashion for Good, a platform for sustainable innovation and a long-time C&A partner, as well as others on innovative pilots, and will examine plastic use throughout the supply chain.
Continue reading for more about our work to eliminate plastic pollution.
Reducing the use of virgin plastics
Eliminating virgin, petroleum-based plastics means attacking the problem from all sides. This includes eliminating single-use plastics in C&A stores, partnering with Fashion for Good — a platform for sustainable innovation and a long-time C&A partner — and others on innovative pilots, and examining plastic use throughout the supply chain. From small hooks, clips, and collar supports in shirts, to marketing materials such as balloons and displays, to polybags, C&A is dedicated to avoiding the use of virgin plastics and increasing the use of non-plastic materials and recycled plastics.
Circular Polybag Pilot: Polybags are the clear plastic bags commonly used in the fashion industry to store, transport, and protect garments, footwear, and accessories. Hundreds of billions of polybags are estimated to be produced for the industry every year and only a small percentage are collected for recycling. C&A has joined the Circular Polybag Pilot initiated by Fashion for Good. This is the ﬁrst fashion industry project of its kind focused on scalable solutions to plastics. The polybag being evaluated in this pilot uses 100% recycled Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE), including polybag waste from which ink and adhesive contaminants have been removed through a patented process. The pilot validated and further implemented this new waste supply for future recycled content polybag production, returning the bags into the supply chain. C&A has supplied polybag waste from distribution centres and retail stores for de-inking and recycling into LDPE pellets, which are then made into new polybags which close the loop to create a circular solution. C&A is also identifying suppliers which could provide the required quantity of these circular polybags for widespread use.
Read more about this innovative Fashion for Good project
The end of single-use plastic shopping bags: C&A Europe eliminated the single-use plastic shopping bags in all of its stores across 18 countries. They also use a durable ‘bag-for-life’ made of 80% recycled PET, which can withstand many shopping trips. When worn out, it can be returned to any C&A store and exchanged for a new one free of charge.
Avoiding plastic in transport and product packaging: To fully eliminate plastic pollution, C&A is working to foster greater transparency about plastic in all kinds of packaging, from suppliers, to distribution centres, to stores. A C&A task force will continue to analyse our use of plastic in transport and product packaging and explore alternative solutions, including increasing the amount of recycled plastic and replacements such as paper or bio-based plastics. Together with Fashion for Good we began to explore bio-based packaging, where the feedstock is a biological material such as corn or sugarcane, in a Bio-Based/ Compostable Polybag Pilot. The task force is also considering supplier guidelines for use of plastic in product shipping.
SeaChange for microplastics: The SeaChange process is designed to address the challenges of concentrated industrial waste and oxidise the chemically resistant, non-biodegradable organic materials and microplastics in apparel wastewater. The process allows 100% of wastewater to be treated while eliminating sludge production and mitigating GHG emissions. Initiated and coordinated by Fashion for Good, the project included C&A and other partners.