Redefining Preferred Materials: Textile Exchange's New Definition

critical debate education materials sustainable fashion Feb 23, 2023

What do you think of when you hear “preferred materials”? Maybe the image of recycled polyester flashes across your mind or maybe Organic cotton is your go-to example. Normally, you’d be right, but Textile Exchange (TE) is offering a new perspective on what preferred materials can and should be.

In their latest Preferred Fibers and Materials position paper, Textile Exchange provides us a new definition of what preferred materials should be: 

"A fiber or raw material that delivers consistently reduced impacts and increased benefits for climate, nature, and people against the conventional equivalent, through a holistic approach to transforming production systems.”

This may not seem that different from the original definition - “A fiber or raw material which results in improved environmental and/or social sustainability outcomes and impacts compared to conventional production.” - but there are a few key distinctions.

In large part, TE felt that the previous definition of preferred just wasn’t holistic enough. It left a lot of loopholes for environmental and social impacts to slip through “undetected.” To combat this and create a more interconnected system, TE has put forward thirteen principles that the apparel and textile industries should strive for including natural ecosystems and species are protected and restored, no natural ecosystems are converted or deforested, and supply chains are transparent and accountable.

These may seem a little vague, but thankfully, TE has listed a more simplified five criteria areas that must be met for preferred materials:

  1. Climate
  2. Nature
  3. Animals
  4. People
  5. Governance

To read through each criteria point, please refer to page 7 of the paper.

As we’ve gone through the paper and reviewed the new definition of preferred materials, we have two questions - 1) how will this impact the cost of raw materials at the brand level? And 2) How does this impact how we communicate preferred materials and sustainability with consumers?

The world of preferred materials is already fairly complicated and we see many brands struggling to communicate the value of preferred materials to customers, so it's possible that the new definition could further complicate the space. Conversely, the new definition could also open the door for consumers to ask more questions and get more involved in the conversation.

Overall, this development has left us with more questions than answers, but TE plans on expanding on the new preferred materials throughout 2023. We’re hoping for more details, examples of actions to take, and guidance on how this transition will help the apparel and textiles industries.

If you would like to read our full breakdown of TE's new preferred materials definition, join our membership! Stay connected to all things The Underswell by following us on Instagram and subscribing to our YouTube.

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