Cotton Wins the Battle Against Polyester in Transparency

Editorial TeamEditorial Team
December 22nd, 2022
1:52 PM

According to Textile Exchange data, 61% of cotton could be traced back to its origin, as the primary fibers used in fashion, cotton is the most traced and doubles the results of polyester. 

Transparency remains one of the sector's main sticking points in terms of sustainability due to the difficulty of tracing the origin of many raw materials. In fact, by 2020, only 48% of the materials used in the fashion industry had a known origin.

The evolution of transparency in materials used in the fashion industry has progressed very slowly in recent years. In 2018, only 47% of materials had a known origin, while, in 2019, it dropped to 46%, according to the Textile Exchange Material Change Insights Report 2021.

Of the main fibers used in fashion, cotton is the most traced. According to Textile Exchange, 61% of this raw material, whose origin is now more in question following the Xinjiang controversy, was traceable from the source. India was the origin of 23% of the cotton used in the sector, followed by China, which accounted for 13%. The United States, meanwhile, grew 8% of the cotton used in the sector in 2020, while another 7% and another 5% came from Turkey and Pakistan, respectively.



Tracing Polyester is a Challenge

Polyester, on the other hand, is less transparent than cotton. According to Textile Exchange, only 30% of the raw material used in the sector in 2020 had a known origin. This share is low because defining the country of origin, or oil well, of virgin polyester, is a challenge.

The top five countries of origin for polyester in 2020 were China, which accounted for 13%; Turkey, with 7% of the original share of traceable polyester. Another 2% of polyester came from the United States, while Indonesia accounted for another 1%.

Polyamide has even less traceability share, with only 19% whose origin can be traced. Like polyester, "it is impossible to define the country of origin" down to the base, and the central countries of origin were China, Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand, and Colombia.

Raw materials vary according to their origin. In 2020, 45% of the wool used in the fashion industry was traceable, the share is still small because 75% of the wool used is conventional and not sustainable, according to Textil Exchange. Meanwhile, 91% of the feathers used in the sector come from China, while only 15% of the leather has a known origin.



What is the Role of Brands and Suppliers in Providing More Transparency?

The Brands

From luxury to high street, the fashion industry is dominated by conglomerates. In fact, just 10 groups, including Richemont, PVH, LVMH, Kering, Boohoo Group, Gap, Inditex, Fast Retailing, H&M, and VFCorp, own more than 100 of the world's leading fashion brands. Brands have the greatest power in the fashion supply chain.

Not only do they dictate trends, prices, and payment terms, but it is common practice for them to change suppliers frequently in search of the most competitive prices, creating a lack of security for suppliers.

Brands are responsible for implementing positive change within their supply chain and influencing the rest of the industry to follow suit.


Suppliers are the cogs that keep the fashion machine running. A supplier is any company that produces or assembles a component of a product, including fabrics, finishes, threads, packaging, and garment labels.

Major fashion brands may have thousands of suppliers working within their supply chain. While an estimated majority of brands publish their direct suppliers, the factories that sew and finish their garments, further down the supply chain have a higher prevalence of subcontracting and therefore a higher likelihood of human and labor rights violations.