Learn about the work of UNEP and its partners in this area, and get engaged.
1 August 2019
Coloured fabric tied in a knot, blue background

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The textiles industry has grown to become one of the largest global industries, with a sales value estimated at over $2.5 trillion in 2016. A significant and growing portion of this amount is consumed and produced in Asia Pacific and South Asia. Annually, the industry produces approximately 80 billion garments and directly employs 60 to 75 million people worldwide, a considerable part of which are women. Environmental and social impacts associated with the textile value chain are significant and therefore of increasing concern to the global community. In the current, mostly linear, system for producing, distributing, and using clothing more than $500 billion in value is lost from the system every year due to under-utilized clothes and the lack of recycling. It is estimated that eliminating today's negative environmental and health impacts emanating from poor chemicals and facilities management in the textile industry would have an economic benefit of $8 billion annually in 2030. 

Deeper knowledge to lever action in the value chain – about its actors, the environmental and social impacts, and associated intervention strategies for a more sustainable and circular value chain – is required. Generally, sustainability considerations in the production of textiles have gained traction, particularly for labour issues. However, the global textile value chain is still far from closing loops and reducing its impacts. With sales expected to grow further, accelerated through ever increasing demand for fast fashion, actions for a sustainable textile value chain, including new business models, are indispensable. Hazardous substances are a barrier to achieving more sustainable and circular value chains. Transparency on products’ chemical content, production history, and properties for use and after use is fundamental. The global growing fashion appetite has also a potential to be a highly visible engine for lifestyle change and consumer education.

UNEP aims to provide leadership and convene partners to develop knowledge and solutions to advance on sustainable and more circular textile value chains. This website collects materials and informs on events of UNEP and its partners around the topic.

What happened so far:

  • UNEP's Economy Division works on Sustainable Consumption and Production, including through circularity, and sound chemicals management in different sectors, including the textile sector. An overview of the work, as well as supportive methodologies and approaches provided by UNEP's Economy Division to advance circularity in textile value chains is available here.
  • In January 2019, UNEP convened an expert consultation workshop with representatives from the fashion and textile industry, governments, international organisations, advocacy groups and fashion institutes, to discuss and reach a common understanding on the textile value chain, its key impact drivers, as well as intervention strategies for a more sustainable and circular textile value chain. A report, published on the 20th October 2020, has captured the consultation outcomes. You can download it here
  • In March 2019, a panel session on 'Accelerating Circularity Actions for a Sustainable Textile Value Chain' was held at the 2019 Sustainable Innovation Expo at the fourth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-4). The key outcomes are summarized here (pages 28-30).
  • In June 2019, UNEP and the Ministry of Environment of Finland, with the participation of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the European Environmental Bureau, organized a side session at the World Circular Economy Forum 2019: "Closing the Loop in Textiles - How to boost more sustainable and circular textiles value chain". The WCEF 2019 summary is available here.
  • In November 2019, a masterclass for African fashion entrepreneurs was held at the outsets of the Global Gender Summit 2019. The Fashionomics Africa Masterclass was organized by the African Development Bank, in partnership with UNEP and other 6 organizations.

Relevant reports:

Relevant initiatives:

  • The UNEP InTex project, funded by the European Union
  • The UNEP Circularity Platform, provided by UNEP
  • Anatomy of Action challenge campaign, run by UNEP under the One Planet network SLE programme
  • Collection of projects that the Nordic Council of Ministers has commissioned to green the fashion and textile sector
  • Corporate Fibers & Materials Benchmark, provided by TextileExchange
  • Fashionomics Africa Digital Marketplace and Mobile App, provided by the African Development Bank
  • Make Fashion Circular, led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation
  • Traceability of Sustainability Value Chains: Enhancing transparency in the garment and footwear sector for informed and responsible choices, implemented by UNECE
  • Policy Hub, launched by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition in collaboration with the Federation of the European Sporting Goods Industry, and Global Fashion Agenda
  • Wardrobe Change campaign, run by the European Environmental Bureau
  • List of sharing platforms in the textile sector in Spain, provided by OCU
  • 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment, developed by the Global Fashion Agenda
  • Dutch Policy Programme for Circular Textile 2020-2025, put forward by Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management
  • The UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, bringing together various UN agencies
  • Open letter on the COVID-19 recovery, issued by WWF and a coalition of brands, companies, organizations and associations
  • Designers for the Future Competition, UNEP West Asia Office, applications closed and under review, winner announced on June 28th
  • Fashion Values Challenge, deadline for application is September 6th

Webinars, podcasts and events:

  • Webinar recording: How global biodiversity data can help the fashion industry restore nature, run by IBAT
  • Documentary film: Textile Mountain, released by the Irish Environmental Network
  • Materials from UNECE's Multi-Stakeholder Policy Dialogue: Accelerating action for Sustainable and Circular Value Chains in Garment & Footwear
  • Materials from the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency’s seminar, Dialogue for a sustainable textile value chain focusing on environment and chemicals, 7 October 2020
  • UNEP/GGKP, Report launch - Sustainability and Circularity in the Textile Value Chain, 20 October 2020
  • UNEP/CEFAST, Accelerating action for Sustainable & Circular Value Chains in Garment & Footwear, 23&24 November, Geneva and online
  • World Circular Economy Forum 13-15 September 2021, Toronto, Canada
  • Podcast series from the Sustainable Fashion Academy, Big closets small planet
  • WRAP, Can we really do this? Achieving a 1.5 degree carbon trajectory in the UK textiles sector, 10 November 3pm-4pm GMT
  • ILO International Training Center (ITCILO), webinar, 'Promising practices in advancing equality and non-discrimination in the garment sector', 18 November, 2:30pm Bangkok Time
  • Global Fashion Agenda, Circular Fashion Event, 30 November, 3-5 p.m. CET
  • Textile Exchange, Round Tables Summit, 7-18 December
  • FashMash Pioneers, Talk on Fashion's Biodiversity Strategy with Dr Helen Crowley, recording available here
  • Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Fashion shows, watch the full recording of the five shows here
  • Univision interview, Biodiversity and Textile Industry, in Spanish, 11 February 2021
  • WRAP, Textiles 2030 virtual launch event, 26 April 2021, 1:30 p.m. GMT
  • CFP, Circular Fashion Partnership Event; 16th June 2021, for more info contact cfp@globalfashionagenda.com
  • Fashionomics Online Masterclass, for African entrepreneurs and industry experts, 30 April 2021, 12:00 - 2:00 p.m., sign up here
  • The Role of Media in Branding African Fashion, Fashionomics Africa Webinar Series, 31 May 2021 12:00 p.m. - 2 P.M.GMT, register here
  • UN Environment Management Group, in parterneship with the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, UNCTAD, UNEP, UNECE, UNESCO, UNFCCC, and ILO, Sustainable Recovery through Sustainable Fashion: A Focus on the Environmental Dimensions, 7 September 2021, more information here
  • UNEP, Accelerating sustainability in the textile value chain, inspiring action and behaviour change, 15 September 2021, more information here

COVID-19 analysis and responses:

Case study
Consumer goods, Natural Resources, Textiles, Value chain