A focus on products is key to a more sustainable apparel industry

A growing global population. Rapidly expanding middle class in the developing world. Fast fashion trends. These and other factors are increasing the demand for clothing across the world. At the same time, clothing production is resource intensive. Throughout the value chain, from growing and transporting raw materials like cotton - which we use more than any other raw material - to the inputs needed to finish a garment, clothing production requires a lot of water and energy and contributes to climate change. When the garments reach the end of their practical use, only one-third of the used clothes are recycled1. Of course, at the heart of our sustainable products ambition is HER, our customer. We want to help HER look and feel good because she expects that HER clothes have been sourced and made in a way that respects our environment, employees, and future generations.

The apparel industry is on an unsustainable path

Global Clothing Demand (2000-2014)2/typo3/#_ftn1Global Projected Environmental Impacts (2025)3
  • 5% average annual increase, with most of the growth in the developing world.
  • 55% average increase in number of clothing items purchased, per person.
  • 67% rise in carbon dioxide emissions.
  • 14% increase in water use.
  • 5% increase in land use.


Our Ambition: Fashion with a positive impact

Together, this increased demand for clothing and projected environmental impacts is not sustainable. The way forward is clear: we must provide more sustainable products by changing the life cycle of clothes - from how they’re produced to how they’re handled at end of life.

But this change won’t happen overnight. And although we’re just one player, we can make a contribution to help the fashion industry improve. That’s why our long-term ambition is to help move the industry from a linear approach - sometimes characterised as ‘take, make, waste’ - to a circular model where materials become part of a closed loop and are recycled into new products. At the same time, we aim to reduce the impacts that come from producing raw materials.

Our Approach: Partner with others to change ourselves and the industry

To achieve this ambition, we’re using a two-part approach:

1. Raw materials - Focus on reducing the impacts of raw material production on the environment and people. We want to help create positive change in the way raw materials are produced. This includes working with C&A Foundation and with other companies and non-profit organisations to increase the availability of organic and more sustainable cotton.

2. Circular economy - Look at the whole value chain to determine how we can transition to a circular economy and drive innovation.  Partner with the C&A Foundation to incubate and accelerate circular technology in the apparel industry.

Our 2020 goals: Use more sustainable raw materials

  • 100% of our cotton is more sustainable.
  • 67% of raw materials are more sustainable.


In the short term - by the end of 2016 - we will:

  • Develop an approach to sourcing viscose and polyester more sustainably.
  • In partnership with C&A Foundation, we are launching a hub focused on incubating and accelerating circular technologies in the apparel industry—aiming to create endless flows of fibres and clothing.
  • Implement our redefined cotton strategy.
  • Increase our focus on animal welfare.

Our 2015 progress

We have more to do, but we’re making good strides towards these goals through responsible purchasing, scientific research, and partnerships with industry and non-profit organisations. During 2015, we:

  • For the third time, named the world’s largest buyer of organic cotton by the Textile Exchange.
  • 40% of our cotton collection that is more sustainable, including organic cotton and cotton grown under the Better Cotton Initiative.
  • In partnership with C&A Foundation, we are launching a hub focused on incubating and accelerating circular technologies in the apparel industry—aiming to create endless flows of fibres and clothing.
  • Became a founding member of the Organic Cotton Accelerator, together with C&A Foundation.
  • Expanded our range of products made from more sustainable materials, such as recycled polyester and products made with less water.
  • Conducted the first cradle-to-grave carbon and water footprints of C&A’s global operations.
  • 100% of our down will be RDS certified, we continues to purchase wool from recycled sources.
  • Key programs launched in recycled polyester and sustainable viscose.
  • Joined BCI and Canopy to enable sustainable cotton and viscose.
  • Partnered with National Geographic to explore more sustainable cotton production in the documentary, For the Love of Fashion.

Sustainable materials

 Our vision of fashion with a positive impact begins with raw materials—the cotton, polyester, viscose, and other items that go into our clothing. How they are grown or manufactured goes a long way towards creating a sustainable future in our supply chain and beyond.

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Highlights 2015

40% of all our cotton collections are made with organic or BCI cotton. 

25% of all our collections are made from more sustainable materials.

Circular economy

Our vision for the global apparel industry is based on a circular economy—on where we can close the loop on fibers and our clothing in a fair and restorative fashion. In 2016, in partnership with the C&A Foundation we will launch a Centre solely focused on incubating and accelerating circular technologies for the apparel industry.

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Highlights 2015


tonnes of clothing were recycled by our partner Vökotex.

In partnership with the C&A Foundation we will create hub for circular economy in apparel production.

Customers in the Netherlands who return used clothing for recycling get shopping vouchers.

Product quality and safety

Every piece of clothing or accessory we sell must not only meet regulatory requirements, but our own strict quality standards down to the very last detail. And it must be made in environments that safeguard worker health and wellbeing. Ensuring this level of safety and quality is a multi-part process that includes detailed checks during production and in our stores—as well as initiatives to increase safety and quality throughout the garment industry.

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Highlights 2015


of our collections in Europe comply with Oeko-tex® standard 100 for products worn close to the skin.

Zero PFCs are used in C&A Products.

C&A Europe launched its first GOTS labelled baby collection in 2015.

1 McKinsey press research commissioned for C&A, 2015.
2 Euromonitor research on apparel market size, World Bank, 2015.
3 McKinsey modeling for C&A, World Bank, 2015.


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