June 23, 2021

‘Sustainable fashion cannot just be a niche product’

4 min read

In fall 2021, the fashion chain C&A will open C&A’s FIT, its new Factory for Innovation in Textiles in Mönchengladbach, Germany. The new production hub will incorporate some new digitalized processes and technology and will manufacture new sustainable products.

To achieve this result C&A has collaborated with the Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences, the Textile Academy NRW (North Rhine-Westphalia), RWTH Aachen University and various start-up companies, among others.

The new facility will initially produce jeans only according to an about 400,000-piece annual capacity and reach a 800,000 one at a later stage. The first trousers will be available in 2022.

C&A is interested in offering clothes that follow sustainable standards. In 2018 it developed what it claims to be the world’s first jeans with Cradle to Cradle (C2CTM) Gold-level certification and in 2020 achieved the Platinum certification with its Beluga jeans.

The company wants to continue on this track through its C&A’s FIT by integrating automated processes in sewing and laundering. C&A’s FIT aims to hire and train around 100 employees to work at this CO2-neutral site.

Martijn van der Zee, chief merchandise and sourcing officer of C&A Europe, explained how the company aims to achieve its targets.

Martijn van der Zee, chief merchandise and sourcing officer, C&A Europe

Martijn van der Zee, chief merchandise and sourcing officer, C&A Europe

Why has C&A decided to open FIT?
At FIT, we are implementing a unique holistic approach: we want to combine digital progress, renewables and a regional mode of production and sourcing to create even more sustainable clothes. We want to do so on a larger scale than just samples, and we want to create a factory, not only a “laboratory.” C&A’s FIT will be more than just a lab for prototypes. It’s about producing in larger quantities as sustainable fashion cannot just be a niche product. At the same time, this factory is a place to learn and research. Innovation is the result of trial and error. That is why we want to constantly challenge the status quo to set new standards.

Will C&A offer more sustainable and higher-quality products in the future? Does the group also aim to enter a new and higher market segment?
At C&A we have had a focus on sustainable fashion for a long time. One example is the continuous use of “more sustainable” cotton, that means OCS (Organic Cotton Standard), GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard), BCI, recycled cotton and transitional cotton, that particular cotton produced by farmers during usually the three years that it takes them to transition to organic certification.

Our goal for 2020 was to source 100% “more sustainable” cotton, though we only reached 96% of our ambitious goal, and we did so during an unprecedented year.

More generally, our strengths have recently been highlighted by the global NGO Textile Exchange. By establishing FIT, we ultimately aim to make long-lasting sustainable fashion available for everyone on an even larger scale. It is important that sustainable fashion does not remain a niche product. For this reason, in Mönchengladbach we will not only produce at the highest degree of quality and sustainability but also offer jeans at reasonable prices.

Overall by C&A made with Tencel

Overall by C&A made with Tencel

C&A is specialized in producing jeans and FIT will focus on these products. Will this productive hub also produce other product categories? If so, when might that start?
C&A is one of the European market leaders in denim. As such, we really can make a difference. Once we have gained experience with manufacturing jeans at FIT, we will evaluate the potential for other products. At this point, I am thrilled to see the first results next year.

What standards and certifications will this new hub reach? Will any third party entities test or analyze how the company operates?
Our plan is to have a carbon neutral production at FIT from the beginning. This also applies to the laundry. We will rely solely on green energy, a good recycling infrastructure and experts who will constantly optimize our new site. In addition, by involving our trusted partners, we ensure that all materials are of European origin and processed the closest possible to the point of sales. Once we start producing in Mönchengladbach we are happy to invite experts from different fields to exchange views and evaluate our progress.

Could C&A eventually open new additional productive hubs in the future in other areas of Germany or Europe? Could C&A offer only made in Europe products in the future?
At the moment, we are focusing on our new site, but I am sure its impact will go far beyond than the factory’s walls. We will share our experiences with other sites so that FIT can have a global impact on more sustainable production.

Will FIT focus on new productive techniques, new materials and similar other R&D aspects, in addition to sustainable standards?
For the time being, we are in planning stage on that.

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