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Textile industry: sustainable consumption and production

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Cambodia's textile industry stands as a cornerstone of the nation’s economic framework, accounting for about 70% of total exports, as reported by Trading Economics. The garment sector, historically driven by demand for cost-efficient production, is, however, witnessing a transformative wave of eco-friendly practices, aligning with global shifts towards sustainable clothing and ethical fashion.

The green shift in Cambodia’s textile sector

Research and Markets highlight the ethical fashion space's rapid expansion, projecting its growth from US$7,548.2 million in 2022 to US$16,819 million by 2032. This burgeoning sector underscores a significant industry shift that Cambodia is eager to partake in, propelled by a series of impactful government initiatives and regulatory frameworks aimed at fostering a more sustainable textile sector.

Government initiatives and regulatory frameworks

In a decisive move towards sustainability, Cambodia has embarked on collaborations with international entities to promote eco-friendly practices within its textile industry. The Circular Fashion Partnership Cambodia, a segment of the Global Circular Fashion Forum (GCFF), exemplifies such initiatives. This project seeks to expedite the recycling of post-industrial textile waste, addressing the approximately 140,000 tonnes generated annually by Cambodia's garment sector.

This initiative's pilot phase focuses on refining textile sorting processes and fostering business models that benefit all stakeholders, significantly reducing reliance on landfilling and incineration. Beyond waste management, Cambodia’s commitment to greener practices is evident in the broader Industrial Transformation Map for the Textile and Apparel Industry 2023-2027. This roadmap aims to pivot the country’s skill-based resources towards building a globally competitive and environmentally sustainable industry, attracting investments to implement the Cambodia Garment, Footwear and Travel Goods (GFT) Sector Development Strategy 2022-2027.

The strategic measures within this roadmap include upgrading Cambodia’s apparel production models, diversifying raw material sourcing, expanding exports to diverse markets, and bolstering skill development and productivity. It emphasises the adoption of technology, upholding environmental, social, and governance standards, and elevating Cambodia’s position in the global textile and apparel value chains.

How trade relations and market dynamics may be impacted

This pivot towards sustainability can reshape Cambodia's trade dynamics, especially with key international partners like the United States (US), United Kingdom (UK), and Australia. These countries are witnessing a surge in consumer demand for sustainably and ethically produced goods, ranking within the top 15 countries interested in sustainable fashion, as stated in research conducted by online retailer JewelleryBox. The transition towards sustainable production can be more than a compliance measure; it can be a strategic move to enhance competitiveness in the global textile market.

Garment export businesses in Cambodia thus face a dual challenge and opportunity: on the one hand, aligning with sustainability standards can require substantial investment and an overhaul of existing practices; on the other, it opens new avenues in markets that prioritise ethical fashion, offering a competitive edge to those who adapt swiftly.

Navigating challenges and seizing opportunities

Sustainable clothing brands are gaining prominence, and businesses in Cambodia’s apparel export sector stand to benefit significantly from navigating entailed challenges and seizing available opportunities. Manufacturers can tap into a rapidly growing segment of the global textile market by keeping these best practices in mind:

  1. Use of sustainable materials: A cornerstone of sustainable production is the shift towards using sustainable materials in textile manufacturing. This entails a transition from conventional cotton and synthetic fibres, which are resource-intensive and often linked to environmental degradation, to more eco-friendly alternatives such as organic cotton, recycled polyester, and Tencel. These materials not only require less water and energy to produce but also minimise the harmful impacts on ecosystems. For example, organic cotton is grown without the use of toxic pesticides or synthetic fertilisers, significantly reducing soil and water pollution. By prioritising these materials, Cambodian manufacturers can significantly reduce the environmental footprint of their products while meeting the growing consumer demand for sustainable fashion. This strategic choice not only helps in conserving natural resources but also enhances the brand value of Cambodian textiles in the global market, where sustainability is increasingly becoming a critical purchasing criterion.
  2. Investment in sustainable technologies: Adopting eco-friendly technologies for dyeing, printing, and finishing can significantly reduce water and energy consumption. Although the initial investment may be high, the long-term savings in resource costs, coupled with the growing market demand for sustainable products, can offer a substantial return on investment. For instance, water recycling systems can reduce water usage by up to 50%, making a compelling case for their adoption despite upfront costs.
  3. Training and skilling workforce: As new technologies and processes are introduced, the workforce must be skilled accordingly. This involves not only technical training but also awareness sessions on the importance of sustainable practices. Investing in the workforce's education ensures that the shift towards green manufacturing is both effective and sustainable.
  4. Certification and compliance: Acquiring certifications such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) or the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) can help Cambodian textile manufacturers validate their sustainable practices. These certifications are often sought after by international buyers and can serve as a marketing tool to attract new business.
  5. Collaboration for circular economy: Engaging in partnerships for textile recycling and waste management is vital for transitioning to a circular economy. Collaborative efforts, like the Circular Fashion Partnership Cambodia, help in establishing systems for post-industrial waste recycling, thereby reducing environmental impact and creating additional revenue streams from waste materials.
  6. Market diversification: Exploring new markets that value sustainability is essential. With increasing consumer awareness, there's a growing demand for sustainable fashion in regions not traditionally targeted by Cambodian exporters. Identifying and penetrating these markets can provide new growth avenues.
  7. Sustainable shipping practices: Finally, integrating sustainable shipping methods is a critical component of the eco-friendly supply chain. This can include optimising shipment routes to reduce carbon emissions, using packaging made from recycled materials, and partnering with shipping companies committed to sustainability. DHL Express’ GoGreen service, for example, offers carbon-neutral shipping options, aligning with the global shift towards reducing the carbon footprint of logistics.

Envisioning a sustainable future for Cambodia’s garment exports

The sustainable transformation of Cambodia’s textile industry is not just a matter of regulatory compliance or environmental stewardship. It represents a strategic repositioning of Cambodian textiles on the global stage, promising enhanced competitiveness, access to new markets, and alignment with the evolving demands of international consumers and partners. This green shift, while challenging, offers a path toward a resilient, profitable, and environmentally responsible garment sector that can serve as a model for sustainable development worldwide.

In this transformative journey, the role of efficient green logistics cannot be overstated. DHL Express, with its commitment to sustainability and extensive global network, emerges as a pivotal ally for Cambodian businesses navigating the complexities of sustainable exports. The GoGreen service, in particular, exemplifies our dedication to reducing logistics' carbon footprint, offering textile businesses a way to ensure their products are not only made sustainably but also shipped with minimal environmental impact.

Open a business account with DHL Express today.