08 January 2021 LESSONS Fashion

Making data on fashion industry chemicals more accessible

The goal of the initiative was to increase accessibility to high-quality, actionable data on chemicals, to enable positive decision-making early in product design processes in a wider effort to shift the fashion industry towards using and reusing safe materials and a circular economy.


The key objective was to launch three pilot programmes laying the foundation for a globally harmonised database of chemical hazard assessments (CHAs) to enable brands and manufacturers to make informed, data-driven decisions about chemicals at the start of the design process, leading to safer end products.


Partner: MaterialWise (now ChemForward)

Investment: EUR 400,000

Duration: December 2017 - August 2019

Geographic region: USA


Although MaterialWise performed efficiently, some outcomes were not achieved due to several challenges

The initiative delivered the underpinning elements of its new model for a harmonised input approach for generating CHA profiles. It also developed the cloud-based platform, creation of a harmonised input methodology with multiple outputs (for roll-up scores for chemical formulation), development and testing of an external verification and peer review process, engagement of data suppliers and a pricing arrangement for users and assessors

However, the pilots didn’t achieve their intended results. The first pilot (Alternatives to Ortho-Phthalates Plasticisers) ran smoothly but alternative assessments generated were unpublished. The second pilot initiative (PFAS-free and Zero Discharge of Hazard Chemicals (ZDHC) Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) compliant Durable Water Repellents) brought in a lower portfolio volume than planned due to chemical suppliers dropping out from participation. The third pilot (Alternatives to the use of Dimethyl Formamide in the manufacture of synthetic leather) is ongoing and findings were unavailable. The intended result of enabling harmonisation of different assessment tools in use was reported as a significant achievement 

There were several challenges in the latter two successful pilot initiatives. These projects took longer and required more effort than envisioned to bring suppliers on board; it also was difficult to engage suppliers and the number of alternative assessments generated for portfolios was less than anticipated and resulted in a lack of support to the value proposition in terms of affordability

The initiative missed the mark due to, recent work on brand-led scored chemistry but helped in sharing knowledge and systems thinking as well as promoting the use of alternative assessments

MaterialWise was born as a tool to support scalability of the Cradle to Cradle (C2C) certification and evolved to potentially respond to a gap in developing assessments of chemicals, particularly their management and optimisation and the link to sustainable development

However, apparel brands were less interested as a result of recent work on brand-led scored chemistry. The relevance of MaterialWise’s value proposition to some sectors has the potential to promote the use of alternative assessments for chemicals of concern. Co-design partners in other sectors such as electronics, retail and personal care appear keen to move beyond Restricted Substances Lists (RSLs) and toward safer chemistry 

Adoption of a user-centred design that was co-created by users led to positive results providing MaterialWise with insider info that helped orient the work towards actual market needs (e.g. alternative chemicals). Because co-design partners saw representation from different sectors that informed the process, the initiative was conducive to both sharing knowledge and systems thinking

What did we learn?

C&A Foundation

It is important to design grant-making within portfolios to achieve shared goals either through complementary or divergent initiatives that disallow competitive approaches

Recruitment and bringing brands and suppliers on board takes time that requires longer-term initiatives

For Partners & Others

Developing an alternative portfolio for a product (versus a single chemical) is time intensive due to the recruitment and disclosure processes

Ensuring clarity of expectations for participating co-design partners to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the process 

It is vital to include the green chemistry community in other regions such as Europe and Asia where the potential to scale is high