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Siddharth Lulla

Currently, the textile industry is estimated to be worth USD 103.4 billion and is expected to grow up to USD 190 billion by the year 2025-2026. As part of the Pro MFG Sustainable Circular Economy Series – Doing Well by Doing Good, powered by BiofuelCircle, Mr. Siddharth Lulla, Lead - Corporate Strategy for the Circular Apparel Innovation Factory (CAIF), IntelleCap, shares key insights on the need for stakeholders to come together towards bringing about circularity in the textile industry.

The Indian textile and apparel industry is one of the world’s largest, and is a major contributor to global textile and apparel production. Currently, the industry is estimated to be worth USD 103.4 billion and is expected to grow up to USD 190 billion by the year 2025-2026. Today, the Indian textile industry employs more than 45 million people, making it the second largest employer in India. It contributes to over 15 percent of the country’s export earnings, and almost 7 percent of the country’s industrial output (India Brand Equity Foundation, 2018).

Although the industry exhibits a positive trend in terms of growth, the question of sustainability looms large. The Indian textile and apparel industry has two broad issues related to sustainability. First, it is one the most polluting industries in the world. Secondly, it is plagued by social inequities.

More than 80% of textile waste generated is sent to landfills or incinerated instead of being recycled or reprocessed. At the same time, India is increasingly facing the pressure to match supply and demand due to resource constraints in core areas like cotton production. There is, therefore, a critical need to ‘self-disrupt’ existing practices and transition towards pathways, and Circular Economy (CE) is the ideal model to be followed.

Aligning with the principles of the CE entails adopting a more strategic and future-oriented mindset to the entire lifecycle of products from material production, manufacturing, use, and closing the loop on waste. A CE is an emerging phenomenon with the potential to completely change the textile & apparel system.

Products in such a system are designed to be used more; made to be made again and made from safe and recycled or renewable inputs. While prioritizing the rights and equity of everyone involved are not highlighted in the CE literature, this is another critical area that needs attention in the journey to ‘going circular’.

The need for transformational leadership

Companies and manufacturers at the forefront need to lead this transformation. With increasing awareness of environmental and social issues, global brands have started implementing sustainable strategies, which include adoption of sustainable materials, reduced use and wastage of resources across the manufacturing process, etc.

On the other hand, individual designers, small companies and grassroot initiatives are demonstrating alternative ways to more sustainable businesses. There exist several examples of how to design, manufacture and do business in the context of the circular economy, the scaled adoption of which would need a systemic perspective and collaboration between different stakeholders, i.e, designers, producers, manufacturers, suppliers, business owners and even the consumers. This, in turn, would lead to new perspectives and networks that open different business and design opportunities.

Key challenges involved

The transition to a circular economy clearly requires significant changes in both production and consumption models. Some of the factors that impede stakeholders in this transition include:

● Lack of knowledge, awareness of the range of solutions and best practices, capabilities to deliver circular business models that can seamlessly integrate with current systems
● Risks associated with adopting circular solutions and models such as technology risk, high capital investments, high transition costs in order to switch to new solutions
● Capturing value requires both recyclability and durability. Refurbishing products can be an expensive process, if done reliably. Similarly, most garments are composed of a mix of materials (e.g. cotton, viscose, polyester), which makes recycling difficult
● Enabling circularity involves a complex and expensive network of logistics both in terms of: o collection and recycling waste (textile, apparel, packaging, etc.)
o establishing customer-facing retail models like rental, e-commerce, subscription, etc.
● Consumers too, are required to overcome stigmas in using upcycled, repaired and refurbished products
● Lack of reskilling and up-skilling initiatives to make workers future ready

Given these risks, despite a rise of innovation by new startups/ innovators leveraging technologies and processes to create sustainable solutions, a very limited number of them have been able to scale and thereafter mainstream their solutions.

There is a need to work collaboratively so as to bridge the gap between innovators and manufacturers to promote large-scale uptake of green solutions, not only by leading brands and manufacturers but also by small and medium enterprises to move towards sustainable practices.

Given the fragmented nature of the industry, standardized solutions are unlikely to emerge anytime soon. Hence, we are more likely to see a diverse range of strategies centered around the following fundamentals:

1. Embracing sustainable design:

● Train and reskill design teams on the principles of circular design
● Invest in, incubate and experiment with alternative materials and fibers
● Reduce leakage in the system by concentrating on material recovery at both a pre and post consumer level
● Develop efficient supply chains with reduced demand of resources (energy, water) and packaging

2. Optimize waste-to-value processes:

● Adopt new technologies and solutions that use waste to manufacture new input materials such as fibers and yarns.
● Adopt innovative solutions to optimize sorting and recycling technologies.
● Partner with logistics partners and solution providers to collect and recycle waste (textile, plastics) generated in the supply chain.
● Develop collection points and home pick-ups to improve accessibility.
● Eliminate single-use packaging by using sustainable / recycled alternatives.

3. Drive Customer Adoption:

● Project sustainability and circular practices at the center of branding decisions
● Offer alternative business models such as rental and subscription
● Provide traceability information about the products to build customer awareness and buy-in
● Enable strategies and systems to encourage returns and recycling
● Use data analytics and tools to help customers make informed decisions and reduce waste

Given the ambitious sustainability goals set by brands globally, circularity is likely to be one of the key business trends of the next decade. The onus is on global brands to encourage action and behavioral change of their suppliers and customers. Today, more than ever, a collective effort of brands, the government and consumers is required to scale circularity in the textile industry, which is the key to a more sustainable future.

About Siddharth Lulla

Siddharth Lulla is an impact industry professional with 14 years of business building and consulting experience. He leads corporate strategy and enterprise engagement for the Circular Apparel Innovation Factory (CAIF), an industry-led initiative driven by Intellecap to transition to a circular textile & apparel industry in India and South Asia. His core skill sets include management consulting, business planning and new business development.

As an integral part of this initiative, Mr Lulla works closely with key stakeholders within the industry to understand their sustainability agendas and propose suitable solution directions, leads planning and execution of key on-ground circularity and sustainability initiatives, engages with innovative enterprises across the circular value chain, conducts investor showcases and facilitates strategic partnerships.

He holds an MBA from Indian School of Business, Hyderabad (India). He has also been very active in the start-up ecosystem to provide mentorship and fund raising support.