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First Chinese fashion brands join environmental nonprofit Canopy

By Simone Preuss


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Business |Interview

Happywool, Ellassay and Engine Bird join Canopy’s Pack4Good and CanopyStyle initiatives Credits: Canopy

Commemorating the Lunar New Year (Year of the Dragon) on 10th February 2024, three Chinese fashion brands have joined forces with environmental non-profit Canopy. As the first Chinese brands, multi-brand fashion company Ellassay Group, sports apparel brand Engine Bird and sock company Happywool have partnered with Canopy to keep climate- and biodiversity-critical forests out of their viscose and paper packaging supply chains and thus protect ancient and endangered forests. 

FashionUnited spoke with Canopy founder and executive director Nicole Rycroft about the biggest sustainability trends expected to shape China’s fashion industry in the coming decade and how other Chinese fashion brands can adapt amidst a global sustainability push. 

Could you tell us a little bit about the three companies that have joined CanopyStyle and Pack4Good?

Together, the three companies represent eight brands. Ellassay is already well established and includes the brands Ellassay, Laurel, Ed Hardy, Iro, Vivienne Tam and JeanPaul Knott. It is a well mapped company in terms of purchasing, machinery and communication. Happywool is a sock company that specialises in wool footwear and Engine Bird is an upcoming sports brand. 

Canopy founder Nicole Rycroft with conservation partners. Credits: Canopy

All three are very enthusiastic to lean in on this commitment and have conversations with their peers. Not only do they have their own commitments in place to stop sourcing packaging that endangers ancient forests but also to give preference to next-gen solutions and to advance conservation. They are the first brands in China to formally sign on but they join more than 550 global fashion brands and retailers that represent over a trillion US dollars in annual revenues. 

How is China currently positioned in terms of next-gen material production? 

What is so important about the first Chinese brands joining is that China is poised to be a leader in low-carbon, next-gen material production. China is also the largest textile and garment producer and exporter in the world. The country is also currently the biggest importer of ancient and endangered forest fibre – there are more than 300 billion trees that are cut down every year to make viscose textiles and more than 3 billion to make packaging.    

China is such an epicentre of production. There is so much high-carbon, high-biodiversity forests going into the value chain in China but one of the interesting things is that the country actually has a long-standing tradition of making packaging from straw. There are 11 billion tonnes of agri-residue straw that is produced in the world, with the vast majority currently produced in China. 

So they have a tradition of working with alternative feedstocks or inputs that are byproducts of other processes. This can be more open and surround how to make the quality products that the market needs.  

“There are more life forms in a handful of forest soil than there are people on the planet." Credits: Canopy

What are some of the environmental goals?

With the Chinese government leaning in significantly toward 2030 global targets - be it in terms of climate, in terms of biodiversity - they have five-year plans, for example   recycling 25 percent of Chineses textile waste, which translates to 2 million tonnes of new low-carbon, circular, next-gen fibres by 2025, which would really position China as an early next-gen production hub.

China could be a solutions provider to global brands that are looking for low-carbon alternatives. Especially brands that are selling into Europe or that are headquartered out of Europe. There is quite a bit of legislation and regulations coming out of Europe, for example the EU deforestation regulation, the ecodesign regulations, all of which are coming into effect either this year, next year or by 2026. That will a) prohibit goods made from the world’s ancient and endangered forests and b) will have minimum threshold requirements for recyclable content.  

So for China, the fact that there is a lot of textile waste and lots of agricultural residue and that there is a clear government commitment can help the country hit its climate and biodiversity targets but will also position it really competitively in the global marketplace to meet the demand that there is for these low-carbon materials

What are some of the advantages of these kinds of materials?

There are a myriad of advantages for using these materials: It takes five tonnes less carbon to produce a tonne of viscose that is made from recycled textiles, less chemicals, 60-90 percent less water depending on the technology, less energy, forests keep standing, there is less environmental pollution and you also offset all the secondary environmental pressures associated with being agricultural residues or waste textiles. 

Waste textiles are a significant source of the volumes that are in landfills globally. Landfills are the third largest source of anthropogenic methane or CO2. Agricultural residue such as straw that is leftover after harvest each year will be burned in the field by farmers, creating local public health crises as well as CO2 that is released. 

So by taking these materials that are currently thrown out as waste and putting them back into the production chain we create new jobs, value-added revenue streams for farming communities. At the production level, we are using 75 percent less energy, 60-90 percent less water, less chemicals and we are stabilising our climate through biodiversity. 

Will other companies in China’s fashion industry take suit? 

Things take time, of course, but we are confident that these three companies will be the first of a growing cadre of Chinese fashion and apparel brands that will be part of leading this next innovation for circular next gen sustainable materials. 

I think even for the domestic market, there is growing awareness of the pride and ability for China to really position itself as a global leader market for circular, sustainable next-gen material production. That in itself will influence domestic brands also to step into the space. Of the viscose producers that are on the market with next-gen products, not surprisingly a majority of them are Chinese fibre producers.

Shenzhen Ellassay Fashion