LONDON – A series of spirited and often contentious debates on key issues including closed loop textile recycling, Greenpeace’s Detox campaign and the Higg Index underlined this year’s RITE Group conference as one of the most challenging, inventive events on the sustainable textiles calendar. More than 200 delegates attended this year’s show – this in a week, which also saw simultaneous events taking place in Hong Kong (Sustainable Apparel Coalition), Switzerland (ICAC Cotton Conference) and on a date the week after the Planet Textiles/Textile Exchange joint conference.
The overriding tone of this year’s conference was that industry is at a watershed moment – factors such as rising raw materials costs, increasing labour rights in countries like China and growing media exposure of polluting supply chains mean that sustainable textile processing is also increasingly being driven by commercial necessity.
Mike Barry, Head of Sustainable Business, Marks & Spencer talked of how, going forward, brands won't be able to “hide behind opaque supply chains” in an era where social media is widespread and negative news travels like wildfire.
Praising RITE’s independent, non-corporate nature, he said: "People are here because they want to be here - not because they are told to attend by their companies. RITE is a grassroots movement for change...but the challenge moving forward is taking something from these grassroots that can influence industry.”
Breakout groups proved to be a major triumph at this year’s RITE show and posed some stimulating challenges. In the closed loop textile recycling session, delegates got a feel for how the future of the industry might look in a world where extended producer responsibility may take hold, but struggled to come up with a definition of what closed loop actually is. The breakout session on textile dyeing, saw Lord Peter Melchett – who had earlier presented the Soil Association’s Have You Cottoned On Yet campaign – step in to defend Greenpeace against several delegates who had suggested that Greenpeace’s Detox Campaign could prove counter-productive for sustainability by “setting the bar too high.”
And in Cotton Futures, Baroness Lola Young examined the importance of sustainable cotton and delegates were encouraged to imagine how the world of textiles might look in 2025.
The most recent announcement of a closer cooperation agreement between RITE and NICE went down well with delegates and is sure to kick-start a new set of joint initiatives from the two influential not-for-profit organisations.