Circular fashion products Continually driving innovation

Building upon our successful and scaled launch of Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM products in 2017 and 2018, this year we accelerated our innovations and our reach into the supply chain to deliver the world's first Platinum level Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM denim fabric. We have also expanded production of our Gold and Bronze level products to Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Brazil. In addition, our 'we take it back' programme grew, providing our customers with even more opportunities to contribute to a circular economy.

Ingredients for circular fashion

As we have developed our circular fashion strategy, we have identified two important focus areas to create the right ecosystem for innovation. These two areas have guided our approach and allowed us to be more effective in our delivery:

First, we must have the right principles for action. Our key principles for collaboration and innovation are to ensure that the technologies we bring to our supply chain and the production of our clothing:

  1. Only use good materials
  2. Effectively use human and natural resources
  3. Ensure that renewable and recyclable inputs are used

Second, we must foster collaboration to accelerate and scale innovation. The partners we work with share C&A's values and have been effective catalysts for collaboration in the industry.

1.  Circular innovation principles

In the search for an approach to our circular innovation principles, we evaluated the universe of approaches to circular economy in the industry and identified that currently there is only one credible, peer-reviewed standard for circularity ⁠— the Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM Product Standard.

The Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM Product Standard is the only holistic, third-party standard able to certify circular products. It verifies and certifies all aspects of product manufacturing, from the sourcing of raw materials through the chemicals, water, or energy used in manufacturing and how the product is designed for material reutilisation, to the social conditions in the value chain.

The standard is organised around five criteria, each of which is assessed at a particular level:

  1. Material health
  2. Material reutilisation
  3. Renewable energy
  4. Water stewardship
  5. Social fairness

At C&A, a Gold level-certified product goes beyond the standard’s minimum requirement, as Platinum level is achieved for some criteria. As a result, our Gold level Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM products are made with:

  • 100% optimised safe materials and chemicals (mostly biological)
  • 100% renewable energy
  • 100% recycled water (or discharge of drinking water quality)
  • 100% social fairness

Read more about the Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM Standard 

To learn more about our Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM clothing, view this video.


2. Fostering collaboration

We also evaluated organisations that foster collaboration in the fashion industry around circularity. We identified four organisations that share C&A's values and understand the application of a circular economy in the apparel industry, while serving as an effective catalyst for collaboration:

  • Ellen MacArthur Foundation: In 2018, we joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Make Fashion Circular, which aims to accelerate the transition to circular fashion by driving collaboration between industry leaders and other key stakeholders. We contribute to the Make Fashion Circular initiative through working groups in which we share our knowledge and lessons learned implementing our circularity strategy, and where we also have opportunities to hear from others to inform our own strategy going forward. Additionally, C&A participates in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation CE100, a global platform that brings together companies from multiple sectors, innovators, and regions to advance the transition to a circular economy.
  • McDonough Innovation: McDonough Innovation supports product concepts and solutions that embed sustainable principles into product development. The organisation cofounded Fashion for Good with Laudes Foundation[1] and has advised C&A during development of our Cradle to Cradle Certified™ products.
  • Fashion for Good:Fashion for Good is the global initiative that aims to transform the fashion industry from the linear ‘take-make-waste’ model to a circular approach that is restorative and regenerative by design. Fashion for Good convenes apparel retailers such as C&A, as well as producers, suppliers, non-profit organisations, innovators, and funders. The initiative offers practical action in the form of support, funding, and roadmaps, and fosters the necessary sector-wide collaboration and action to make circular fashion a reality. C&A was one of the first corporate partners of Fashion for Good following the initiative’s launch by Laudes Foundation.[2] Since then, many other brands, including adidas, BESTSELLER, CHANEL, Galeries Lafayette, Kering, Otto Group, PVH Corp., Stella McCartney, Target, Zalando, and others have joined Fashion for Good.

Eco Intelligent Growth: This independent organisation is accredited to assess products against the Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM standard programme, and has verified alignment of our certified products with requirements of the Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM Product Standard.

[1] This work was started by C&A Foundation and continues under Laudes Foundation.

[2] This work was started by C&A Foundation and continues under Laudes Foundation.

Our 2019 performance

Advancing Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM

  • Expanded options: To date, we have brought more than 4 million pieces of Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM apparel to market. This includes T-shirts, jeans, and other items, and underscores the importance of sustainable fashion to our customers. Following our initial launch of certified T-shirts in 2017 and our certified jeans in 2018, we have worked with suppliers to source additional sustainable elements and finishings that allow designers to diversify our styles, colours, and cuts, providing customers with even more choice in certified items. This year we added three new Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM products: Gold level jeans with our partner Pacific Jeans in Pakistan, and Platinum level denim fabric with our partner Rajby in Pakistan. We are currently looking to expand to additional suppliers, both for denim and circular knit.
  • World's most sustainable denim fabric: In 2019, we developed the first-ever Platinum level Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM  denim fabric in the apparel industry. Manufactured with 100% rapidly renewable resources and fully recyclable, the fabric is the world's first textile to meet the highest Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM level. To create the world’s most sustainable denim fabric, C&A partnered with long-term supplier Rajby Textiles Ltd. and the circular economy advisor Eco Intelligent Growth (EIG). EIG collaborated with MBDC on the material health assessment component of the multi-faceted certification. The material properties and production process were carefully developed and rigorously tested to meet the highest-level requirements for all five Cradle to Cradle Certified™ categories: material health, material reutilisation, renewable energy, and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness. Rajby’s Beluga Denim for C&A is manufactured with 100% rapidly renewable resources and is fully recyclable. The new fabric is optimised for material health, from Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)-certified organic cotton fibre to the process chemicals. Additionally, the process water is kept in a closed loop devised specially for this project and the final manufacturing stage is 100% carbon neutral.



  • Developing additional Cradle to Cradle Certified fibres and trims: We also continue engaging producers and suppliers to grow our toolbox of other certified materials, which will allow us to further diversity our Cradle to Cradle Certified™ offerings in the future. We have continued working with partners to develop nearly 200 Cradle to Cradle Certified™ or assessed dyes, inks, and process chemicals; fibres such as modal, lyocell, or elastane; and trims and embellishments such as buttons, zippers, and rivets. With these components ready for commercial use, over the past few years we have been able to evolve our Cradle to Cradle Certified™ products from plain T-shirts to include:
    • Prints and embellishments that allow designers more liberty in designing fashion our customers want, and
    • Men's and Ladies’ Cradle to Cradle Certified™ jeans in which every component, from the cotton fibres and denim fabric to the buttons and zippers, are verified.

  • Sharing our learnings, open source: In order to scale our Cradle to Cradle Certified™ products, it is imperative that we offer our experiences, open source, so manufacturers and brands can avoid pitfalls and benefit from our learnings. Therefore, we have provided freely available resources for developing Cradle to Cradle Certified™ apparel for clothing manufacturers and fashion brands. They cover all the elements of the Cradle to Cradle Products Programme, from chemicals to social fairness, as well as a roadmap and a complete list of materials. Together, they can enable fashion brands, retailers, and manufacturers to get started on the development of truly circular products. To date we have worked with Fashion for Good to provide these useful resources:
    • Cradle to Cradle Certified™ How-To Guide, based on our experience creating certified T-shirts.
    • Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Assessed Materials Almanac, which specifies materials and ingredients that have been evaluated for Cradle to Cradle™ certification with regard to material health available for use in the fashion industry.
    • Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Denim Guide, which includes lessons learned by C&A and Fashion for Good while developing the first certified Gold jeans.

Expanding our in-store take-back programme

This year we expanded our in-store take-back programme to more stores and launched an online programme in France. Read more here.

Finding innovative ways to save water

In Europe and Mexico we’ve developed innovative denim collections made with less water. This year we continued our Saving Water Programme, which features waterless finishing for denim production, saving up to 65% of the water used in production.

Read more about our water footprint

Partnerships to advance circular fashion in 2019 and beyond

During the year we continued our ongoing collaborations with key organisations committed to circular fashion.

  • Ellen MacArthur Foundation: During the year we teamed with Ellen MacArthur Foundation and others in the fashion industry on a set of Jeans Redesign guidelines that promote further innovation in circularity and increase transparency, and we began selling the first products developed under the guidelines in our European stores.
  • McDonough Innovation: We collaborated to continue updating the C2C CertifiedTM Assessed Materials Almanac, developed in concert with McDonough Innovation, Fashion for Good, and others, to include even more materials, trims, components, and chemicals. Based on the Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM Product Standard, the manual provides an overview of materials and processes assessed for Cradle to CradleTM Material Health.
  • Fashion for Good: We've made significant progress in piloting Fashion for Good startups. Read more about these innovations in circular fashion
  • Eco Intelligent Growth: This organisation assessed our Platinum level Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM denim, an industry first. They also supported us in assessing local suppliers in Brazil for alignment with the Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM Product Standard, which enables us to launch additional certified products in Brazil.


Where next?

Evolving our Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM approach globally

We have delivered more than 4 million Cradle to Cradle Certified™ pieces to date, alongside campaigns showcasing the products. After the successful launch of our Cradle to Cradle Certified™ items, we are reviewing product positioning to determine where it is most commercially relevant and important to our customers. This includes looking at customer interest and scalability across our regions. In 2019, we continued monitoring our campaign results across markets to understand if and when we need to revisit and refine messaging to sustain enthusiasm and customer awareness.

We will also continue focusing on a number of new innovations in materials, trims, components, and chemicals to expand our portfolio of Cradle to Cradle Certified™ products.

Further innovation to create ‘good fashion’

We will continue our close involvement with Fashion for Good and other partners, participating in various pilots to develop proof of concept, including:

  • Participating in the Transparency Working Group to build upon the learnings of the Organic Cotton Traceability Pilot and expand into other fibre sources.
  • Supporting the Fashion for Good Accelerator Programme to help start-ups grow, with a number of new pilots in chemical recycling, rental, leasing, and repair. Developing a portfolio of suppliers seeking financial support to implement circular technologies through the Good Fashion Fund in India and Bangladesh.
  • Developing a portfolio of suppliers seeking financial support to implement circular technologies through the Good Fashion Fund in India and Bangladesh.
  • Collaborating in Fashion for Good’s Circular Polybag Pilot with other brands and innovators.

Delivering impact through our partnerships

Through our partnership with Ellen MacArthur Foundation, we plan to launch our Jeans Redesign Project collection in 2020 and continue to engage in the Make Fashion Circular action platform. In addition, we always seek inspiration from circular economy experts like Bill McDonough through our work with McDonough Innovation and their network of partners, such as Eco Intelligent Growth, MBDC, and EPEA.