The textile industry has a long, complex and non-transparent supply chain and faces many sustainability challenges: water and energy consumption, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as human rights violations. As a purchaser, you can give an important push in the direction of a circular textile chain, with respect for people and the environment. Unfortunately, there is no ready-made solution (yet). That is why it is important to create space for innovation within and with the supply chain. A strategy with clear and realistic priorities for your organization makes it easier to make choices for your specifications. On this page we offer some guidelines and examples for the circular purchase of work and company clothing, PPE and linen.
Circulair Strategies for Textile Procurement
Provide an optimal number (and type) of garments per employee, based on their actual needs. By having the supplier take digital measurements, you avoid the use of fitting models and incorrect orders.
With a good monitoring process you always know where the clothing is, what condition it is in, and how long it will last. Moreover, you can systematically recover clothing from departing employees.
Renting or leasing is not necessarily circular. Transparency about reuse and/or processing are crucial for closing the cycle.
Minimal use of materials and types of materials in the design to achieve the intended functionality and the necessary comfort.
Less production waste by focusing on efficient cutting of the patterns and high-quality use of the cutting waste
It is not easy to choose the most durable fiber for textiles. In addition to the environmental impact of the production of the fiber, this choice also affects the performance, maintenance and lifespan of the textile. You can read more about this in the Motiv purchase guide. That is why it is important to have dialogue with the supply chain partner and to set priorities tailored to your organization.
Insight into the share of recycled, biobased and virgin materials: the EU requires that all textile products have a mark or label with the fiber composition. However, it is not stated whether it is organic or recycled fiber. Alternatively, you can ask for a materials passport.
Increase the share of recycled content: enter into a dialogue with the market to avoid making unrealistic demands in your specifications. The possibilities and the offer differ per fiber type. Also make a distinction between post-consumer or post-production material. Recycled content is difficult to verify, a certification system like BQA's can help with this.
Increasing the share of biobased content: in the Guide to circular industrial textiles and the EU GPP criteria you will find more information about biobased fiber types and their environmental impact. Do you want to ask for organic cotton? Then definitely have a market consultation beforehand.
Reduce the logistical impact: Opt for local purchase, maintenance and recycling and perhaps include criteria for transport. Limit packaging to a strict minimum, taking into account the risks of damage and soiling. When hanging transport is necessary, you can, for example, ask to take back the clothes hangers for reuse.
Contractual agreements for maintenance and repair: install a contract with an (industrial) laundry or make agreements with an internal service provider, rather than having the employees wash at home. Correct maintenance and timely small repairs, make the textile last much longer.
Design for longevity: Include criteria for shape and color fastness, tensile strength and seam strength (see EU GPP criteria). Limit the number of parts in the design and keep them simple, so you reduce the chance of defects. Additional protection or reinforcement can reduce material stress. Only opt for additional treatments is they extend the lifetime and do not hamper recycling.
Repairability and maintainability: Demand that spare parts and haberdashery remain available for at least 2 years and ask for a price list. The maintenance intensity and resistance to washing have an impact on the lifespan of the products, as well as the running costs of the textile ( see TCO). You could include a minimum number of washes that the product must withstand in your tender specifications. When choosing fibertypes, also consider the energy consumption it requires for washing, drying and ironing.
Modular/change-oriented design: Make it easy to replace the parts that wear quickly, such as knee and elbow pads.
Advice on usage optimization by supplier: ask for instructions for optimal maintenance processes, also when employees wash the clothing at home.
Design for Dissasembly: Make sure that haberdashery, striping, personalization and branding can be easily removed (or printed over).
Contractual arrangements for return and reuse: You can include in your specifications that the supplier or producer takes back the products and facilitates reuse. Ask for guarantees and transparency so that the chain is actually closed. Dry and hygienic (temporary) storage and a guarantee on removal of branding and personalization are crucial here. It is important that you can set up a good system internally (or externally) for collecting and storing the return flows.
Stimulate circular revenue models: Consider signing a contract with specialized recycling centers or thrift shops. They are allowed to take what is still usable after a visual inspection, for the other products you engage an authorized collector.
Design for recycling: Make sure that haberdashery, striping, personalization and branding can be easily removed. Choose mono materials (1 fiber type) and group parts into uniform material clusters. Mono material allows fibre-to-fibre recycling, so that it can be used to make clothing again. This is a higher quality destination than, for example, insulation material. Use of certain chemicals (such as dyes in cotton) can hinder recycling.
Understanding materials: Identification of materials and chemicals used allows the parts to be separated into separate material streams for recycling. This can be done by asking for a technical specification sheet or materials passport in your tender. A dialogue with the processor can help you draw up these specifications.
Contractual agreements on take-back and recycling: You can include in your specifications that the supplier or producer will take back the products at the end of their life. You can also conclude a contract with a recognized textile collector or processor. Request guarantees for high-quality recycling so that the loop is effectively closed. It is important to set up a good collection and storing system internally (or externally) for the return flows.
Reducing toxicity: The use of toxic and environmentally hazardous substances prevents recycling. You can avoid this by including restrictions on their use in your specifications. After all, the REACH regulations only apply to the use of chemicals within the European Union (see EU GPP criteria).
For work materials, there are guidelines and standards on general product safety (2001/95/EC) and personal protective equipment (EU 2016/425) which naturally take precedence over circularity. Include these in your specifications and, if necessary, discuss this with your prevention advisor first.
A good monitoring process follows the textile product from purchase to end of life and provides insight into, among other things, the number of washes, repairs, lifespan and user experience. Set clear criteria for when a product may be discarded. Based on this data, specifications can be adjusted for a next purchase or in the context of a growth trajectory with your current supplier.
For personalized clothing, it is important to prevent abuse and damage to company image. Through your monitoring process, you recover clothing from employees who leave the organization. But also take into account the (industrial) removability of logos in the design or ask the processor for guarantees of destruction by overprinting or recycling.
Involve users in identifying needs, testing product options and getting their feedback on usage. Communicate clearly about the circular choices that are made. Also ensure a simple logistics system, so that it is easy for the user to use the foreseen flows correctly and the textiles are used optimally.
Circular textiles are still in full development. That is why it is important to work together with the supply chain and to stimulate innovation. You can do this by launching an RFI or market dialogue in due time. In addition, leave sufficient freedom in the choice of materials in your tender and describe your needs more functionally. The suppliers, processors and laundries can provide information on recent developments and the advantages and disadvantages of certain fiber choices. The placement procedure you choose and the term of the contract are also important.
Labels and standards
There are dozens of labels and standards for textile products and washing and return services, an overview can be found on this website, and in the EU GPP criteria. The value and credibility of a label or certificate depends on the level of independence and the checks that are carried out. You can include labels in your specifications as a technical condition, if you mention 'or an equivalent quality mark'. This means that a supplier can demonstrate that he can also guarantee the criteria of the label through a dossier. Be selective in the labels and/or standards you include and base yourself on the priorities of your organization. The advantage of using labels is that the purchaser is sure that the conditions are complied with. The disadvantage is that it excludes smaller companies and innovative solutions, because obtaining a label is often expensive and time-consuming. You can overcome this by allowing the certification to be obtained only after the contract has been awarded, possibly with a penalty clause to guarantee compliance.
Forced labor and human rights violations are unfortunately a real problem in the textile sector. This is obviously an ethical issue for the purchasing organization, but it can also cause image damage if abuses in the supply chain are exposed. Adress this by using due diligence clauses in your tenders.
Life Cycle Cost - LCC
Ppublic procurement law obliges to award to the most economically advantageous bidder (MEAT). The cost price may be calculated on the basis of the life cycle cost of the product. In addition to the acquisition cost, the operating and disposal costs are taken into account (Total Cost of Ownership). But also the external costs for the environment and society. For textiles, maintenance is a very large part of the total cost of ownership. This includes washing and repair, but also specialized services such as sterilization, water-repellent treatments and distribution. So it is definitely worth including this in the comparison. The Higg index offers a series of tools that allow to measure the sustainability impact throughout the value chain and thus to compare the external costs.