Sourcing Journal

Fashion’s Steady Path Toward Sustainability

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by Catherine Salfino

Clothes drying on clothesline on a summer day
Clothes drying on clothesline on a summer day

The global apparel industry is a $1.7 trillion business that employs several million people worldwide. It’s a giant that provides the basics and the aspirational. But in the last decade especially, whether from complaints about waste due to “throwaway” fast fashion or concern for Mother Earth, companies began taking their roles as partners in sustainability very seriously. While no one claims the job of going totally green is complete, there is a sense that apparel manufacturers are making strides in closing the sustainability loop.

Timo Rissanen, assistant professor of Fashion Design and Sustainability at Parsons The New School for Design, says he’s seen a dramatic change since he started his PhD in 2004.

“The fact that we can now engage in conversations about a circular economy rather than a growth-based one is a considerable shift in the mindset,” Rissanen says.

Rissanen points out that even fast fashion players have switched gears and made eco-conscious strides in the last decade. This makes sense as consumer concern for socially responsible causes has risen. While the top issues at retail are increasing prices (86 percent) and food safety (84 percent), 82 percent of consumers worry about air quality, followed by water quality/scarcity (80 percent), and child labor practices (79 percent), according to the Cotton Incorporated 2014 Environment Survey.

In the vein of environmental concerns, nearly 7 of 10 consumers (69 percent) would be bothered if they found out an item they purchased was not environmentally friendly, according to the Environment Survey data. And 39 percent would blame the manufacturer, followed by the brand (15 percent) and then themselves (12 percent).

Such concerns have led to positive changes throughout the apparel industry. H&M now offers its Conscious Collection, which includes cotton produced through the Better Cotton Initiative, in a move toward “making fashion sustainable and sustainability fashionable.”

Meanwhile, earlier this year Walmart introduced its online Sustainability Leaders Shop. Using data provided by The Sustainability Consortium, for which it was a founding member (Cotton Incorporated is a Tier 1 member), Walmart is promoting nearly 3,000 items from more than 100 companies labeled as “Made by a Sustainability Leader.” These badges aim to make it easier for customers who are looking for both affordable and sustainable products by identifying those that score best in class in Walmart’s Sustainability Index, which measures efficiency, waste and social and environmental impacts across each product’s supply chain.

In the U.S., consumers look to manufacturers and retailers to help them when it comes to making greener choices. For example, the Environment Survey shows nearly half of all consumers (49 percent) plan to purchase apparel or textile products in the coming year that are labeled as “environmentally friendly,” as well as “sustainable” (43 percent) and “recycled” (38 percent).

Juan Diego Gerscovich, co-founder of Industry of All Nations (IOAN), a Los Angeles-based brand, says it’s fair that consumers would hold companies responsible, as well as look to them for help in making responsible purchases.

“People are trying to be more thoughtful, and moving away from being purely just consumers in every way,” Gerscovich says. His company sources natural materials to makes apparel, shoes, accessories and home goods and colors its products using all-natural dyes from lac beetle secretions (for purple shades), leaves, and minerals. “[Consumers] know something is wrong. As an industry, we could be doing a lot more, but I think we’re on the right track.”

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When it comes to terms that are influential to consumers’ apparel purchases, more than three in four consumers (77 percent) say the claim of 100 percent cotton is most influential, followed by Made in the USA (68 percent), natural (61 percent), and sustainable (57 percent), according to the Environment Survey.

As companies “do good,” they increase the goodwill shoppers have toward them. A Nielsen study showed more than half (52 percent) of all shoppers check product packaging to ensure its sustainable impact. And 52 percent have purchased at least one product or service in the previous six months from a socially responsible company.

Rissanen says the industry itself has helped make it easier for companies to do the right thing.

“On a concrete level we have a lot more good quality information readily available, alongside useful tools, thanks to initiatives such as the Higg Index, Clean by Design, and many others,” he says. “Current efforts to recycle cotton fibers from blends such as cotton/polyester are promising. This wasn’t the case in 2004. Ten years ago, the only solution was to compost the cotton and then recycle the polyester, or recycle the blend together into a lesser quality product.”

Rissanen says the recycling of post-industrial and post-consumer wastes by companies such as Pure Waste Textiles in Finland and Recover in Spain is very promising.

Cotton Incorporated also has a program aimed at giving recycled cotton a new life. It’s Blue Jeans Go Green denim recycling program collects used jeans and recycles them into UltraTouch Denim Insulation, a portion of which is distributed each year to communities in need. So far, more than 600 tons of denim has been diverted from U.S. landfills and over 1,000 homes have been insulated. The program’s partners have included American Eagle Outfitters, Abercrombie & Fitch, J. Crew, Neiman Marcus, and Madewell.

Gerscovich maintains that social and environmental sustainability equals a sustainable economy.

“I have a lot of faith in humans,” he says. “We’re smart and we know how to take care of ourselves. And we know a change is needed in the way our world works—economically and politically. It’s super important because the changes are beneficial for everyone on the planet.”

This article is one in a series that appears weekly on sourcingjournalonline.com. The data contained are based on findings from the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor Survey, a consumer attitudinal study, as well as upon other of the company’s industrial indicators, including its Retail Monitor and Supply Chain Insights analyses. Additional relevant information can be found at CottonLifestyleMonitor.com.

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HSBC to Honor Leading Bangladesh Exporters for Sustainable Growth

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HSBC Bangladesh is set to honor leading exporters for their contribution to the country’s sustainable economic growth at the sixth HSBC Export Excellence Awards in November.

Exports are a major driver of economic growth in the country, accounting for 20 percent of the gross domestic product. Bangladesh surpassed $31.2 billion in exports in the last fiscal year.

The excellence awards are given out in four categories: garments and textiles, enterprises in export processing zones, traditional and emerging sectors and small and medium enterprises.

According to The Daily Star, garment exporters with an annual export turnover of $50 million or higher are in Group A, while those below $50 million are in Group B. Companies in the export processing zones will be awarded in a separate category. Non-garment or textile companies with an annual export turnover of $5 million or more will be awarded under the traditional and emerging sectors category.

The small and medium enterprises category will award non-ready-made garment or textile companies that have an annual export turnover below $5 million.

This year, a jury will have the option to choose more than one winner from the categories to accept the Special Achievement Award, in an effort to encourage exporters.

The awards were announced at a press conference at the Sonargaon Hotel in the country’s capital, Dhaka, by the Chief Executive of HSBC Bangladesh, Francois de Maricourt, reported the Daily Star.

“We are pleased to provide a platform for Bangladeshi exporters to showcase their capabilities. Our efforts in promoting excellence in this field will continue,” Maricourt added.

The Country Head of Commercial Banking at HSBC Bangladesh, Bhuvnesh Khanna, said the excellence of entrepreneurs in Bangladesh is often best displayed by exporters.

They make Bangladesh more international, Khanna said, adding that the award ceremony is a way of recognizing contribution and showcasing their excellence.

The interested exporters must fill out a form and submit it to the Bangladesh Brand Forum by September 17. Applicants are not required to be a client of HSBC to be eligible for the awards.

Past award winners include, DBL Group, Epyllion Textiles, Pacific Jeans Group and Picard Bangladesh.

HSBC is the only international bank in Bangladesh with presence in all eight export processing zones, accelerating exports and has helped local exporters ship products to 120 countries in 2013 and 2014.

**This story first appeared on Sourcing Journal Online here.

Patagonia Debuts “World’s Most Advanced Baselayer” Made from Sustainable Wool

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Eco-conscious outdoor retailer Patagonia has developed what it dubbed “The World’s Most Advanced Baselayer” made with responsibly sourced wool.

Merino Air, as the innovative baselayer will be better known, offers warmth, greater breathability and better fit than other baselayers, and still has wool’s natural odor-fighting abilities.

The wool for Patagonia’s new product was sourced straight from the grasslands of its namesake region using regenerative agricultural practices the company says actually reverse damage done to the environment (the practice involves managing sheep herds so their grazing activity helps build the soil, transport seeds and deepen plant roots).

Wool for each garment is treated using an innovative air-jet process that creates yarn with greater loft and insulation value than that of the conventionally spun kind.

Then, a computerized knitting machine knits the lofted wool plus 100 percent polyester yarns into a “seamless performance fit garment with minimal waste,” according to the company.

“The result is a perfect blend of technical product with best in-class performance and sustainable sourcing,” Jenna Johnson, senior director of technical outdoor, explained. “Merino Air’s high-loft, efficient wool construction and excellent fit will keep you warm outdoors no matter what you’re up to. It’s the most unique baselayer on the planet, made with responsibly sourced merino wool.”

Merino Air top and bottom baselayers are available for men and women in Patagonia stores and online. Prices range from $129 for long-sleeve crew to $149 for a hoodie. The company will also launch a redesigned overall baselayer collection available for retail and wholesale with exclusive fabrics, a new line structure and a new fit this fall.

**This post first appeared on Sourcing Journal Online here.

Watch how it is made

Textile Recycling Company Brings 500 New Jobs to Texas

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Ryze Renewables, a newly-formed manufacturing company that recycles textile waste to produce new products is setting up shop in Port Arthur, Texas, creating 500 new full-time jobs.

The company is investing $200 million into two different businesses, according to Port Arthur News. One will use scraps from the textile industry to make medical and personal care products as well as luxury garments and product packaging. The second facility, which manufactures floor tiles, will take the textile waste left from production to be recycled yet again.

Joy Nunn, managing partner and the creator behind the patented process told Port Arthur News she has been working on the project for a year and a half.

“What we are doing is rejuvenating fiber, taking scraps and putting it through a patented process for people all over the world to use,” Nunn said. “The process is 100 percent green technology.”

Port Arthur’s easy access to both the railroad and the ocean make it a desirable locale for bringing in raw materials from Asia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Caribbean, Nunn explained.

To encourage the company to do business in Port Arthur, the Port Arthur Economic Development Corporation (EDC) agreed to provide a $1.5 million incentive. $750,000 will be given upfront to help the company pay for equipment and the retrofitting of its facilities. The remaining half will be based upon payroll and employment, Floyd Batiste, EDC director told the Port Arthur News.

Ryze will lease two existing buildings at the port, which will be retrofitted. The first shipment of equipment is expected to arrive in January of next year, with operations beginning by July or August. The company plans to manufacture 10 product lines extending from cotton to polyester, and Nunn said seven of the lines have already been sold.

According to Port Arthur News, Ryze is required to hire 260 of the city’s residents and over the course of three years the payroll for these residents should meet $16 million.

The company does not plan on bringing along many of its own workers; instead it will train its employees through a partnership with local Lamar State College, Lamar Institute of Technology, Lamar University and the Texas Workforce Commission.

Job offers vary from maintenance to engineers, to accounting personnel and machinery operators, among others, with an average pay of roughly $42,000.

Port Arthur’s mayor, Deloris “Bobbie” Prince is excited about how this company could affect the city’s future.

“To have a manufacturing facility in the city of Port Arthur is much welcomed. We are hoping this will inspire more manufacturing in Port Arthur,” she told Port Arthur News.

**This article first appeared on Sourcing Journal here.

Activists Slam Ralph Lauren at CFDA Awards for Contributing to Deforestation

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By Lainie Lamicella

This year’s Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Fashion Awards in New York City Monday, not only recognized fashion designers, journalists and influencers, but activists who interrupted the event shed some light on one of the biggest names in fashion reportedly contributing to forest destruction.

Dressed in formal wear for the event, activists from Rainforest Action Network’s (RAN) Out of Fashion campaign, displayed a large banner and handed out balloons and business cards printed with a parody logo of the demonstration’s target, Ralph Lauren. The logo features the brand’s name in its iconic navy and tan but positioned on a circular saw. RAN is accusing the luxury brand of making clothes at the expense of deforestation and human rights abuse and is urging it to adopt new policies that commit to using only forest-friendly fabrics in its products.

“Every year, millions of trees are turned into clothing through the use of forest fabrics like rayon and viscose,” Brihannala Morgan, RAN’s senior forest campaigner, said. “This scandal has been hidden in plain sight for too long, but no more. The time has come for the fashion industry, and in particular Ralph Lauren, to take responsibility for its impacts on people and the planet and to publicly adopt binding policies that prevent deforestation, human rights abuses and climate pollution from being woven into the fabrics Americans wear everyday.”

Morgan added, “There are some brands that are taking action on this issue, like H&M and Stella McCartney, but Ralph Lauren isn’t one of them, and there’s just no excuse. As one of the biggest fashion brands in the world, Ralph Lauren has the ability and resources to ensure that human rights abuses and forest destruction won’t be a part of their next collection.”

In addition to their live protest at the awards, RAN also called out Ralph Lauren over Twitter.Screen-Shot-2015-06-02-at-12.55.11-PM Many supporters of the organization’s campaign chimed in as well.

Screen-Shot-2015-06-02-at-12.55.31-PMRalph Lauren is just one of the brands among the “Fashion 15” group of companies RAN is urging to take responsibility for their supply chains, including Prada, LVMH, Tory Burch, Michael Kors, Vince, Guess, Velvet, L Brands, Forever 21, Under Armour, Footlocker, Abercrombie and Fitch, GAIAM and Beyond Yoga. RAN said it wants the brands to identify negative manufacturing components and develop commitments to protecting forests and human rights.

** This post first appeared on Sourcing Journal here.

From Remembering Rana Plaza to the New Fashion Revolution

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** This article by Michael Lavergne first appeared in the Sourcing Journal here.

In recent weeks I had the pleasure of being asked to address two equally important groups of Canadian fashion industry leaders; both the Master’s and aspiring undergraduate classes at Toronto’s Ryerson University School of Fashion. (Where New York is represented by Parsons and London claims Saint Martin, the Ryerson School represents the leading edge of industry education in Canada, and so receiving such an invitation was, for me, a humbling opportunity to influence young thinkers.)

I was specifically invited to speak about social sustainability issues in our industry and while preparing, the question came to mind, “What could I tell these emerging generations of industry hopefuls that could both open their minds to the challenges and leave them with a sense of hope for what lies ahead for the apparel trade?” Three themes came to mind.

Importantly, I wanted students to understand that the school’s efforts at embedding sustainable thinking and responsible industry practices into curriculum are in itself a significant step. Major gaps exist in industry education across North America but the past few years have seen a building momentum toward both recognizing and addressing ethical challenges in the garment trade.

The Rana Plaza tragedy nearly two years ago on April 24, 2013, brought that message home to many Canadian industry hopefuls and veterans alike when Joe Fresh, a leading Canadian brand was identified in the factory rubble. But at many institutions, the creative forces of fashion and those of business and entrepreneurship are still struggling to agree on what exactly the industry wants to become.

This set up my second point as I called my audience’s attention to the critical juncture our industry is at as a reflection of our larger society’s struggle to identify the role of business we want to see today. We are arguably the best educated, prepared, equipped and financed generation ever to tackle the human and environmental ills which the global apparel trade has wrought in its wake. In the battle of philosophies, either the ‘profit at all costs’ school will win out or the ‘forces for change’ camp will. Do today’s designers, merchants and entrepreneurs have the tools, training and skills for what is coming?

I concluded on a final point which I believe is key to the re-engineering of fashion trades as a set of local, sustainable systems: that it is wholly in the hands of each student to choose between the two paths ahead of them. They can choose to engage, challenge and energize fashion while shaping it to be an active participant in a sustainable world.

If not, the other road leads to conformity, mass efficiency, standardization, brand versus product and financial returns above all else. It was, I told students, for them to choose the future of the industry they wanted to be a part of. Luckily for us all, some exciting new outliers and efforts are now helping to point the way forward but it won’t be an easy path.

Today’s $1.1 trillion global apparel markets will reach $2 trillion by the year 2025 with Canada representing only 2 percent of the spending pie while China becomes the largest global consumer of apparel. We bought nearly 28 billion Canadian dollars ($22.45 billion) in fashion and apparel in 2014 with women’s wear accounting for half that total spend.

To feed the demand for fashion at more accessible prices, the two dozen Canadian and American retailers who control our market imported 10 billion Canadian dollars ($8 billion) worth of apparel in 2013, an increase of 2 billion Canadian dollars ($1.6 billion) over the previous five years while population growth was essentially flat.

China, Cambodia, Bangladesh and Vietnam account for 60 percent of the origin of those goods where monthly manufacturing wages range from $60–$165 per month…per month…for an average 65-hour work week.

Meanwhile, Canadian manufacturers shed nearly 100,000 apparel factory jobs over the past decade which supported another estimated 200,000 jobs in local communities while most consumers only celebrated reduced clothing bills while filing local landfills with discarded fast-fashion.

What was not abundantly clear to consumers was the price that more low-cost fashion would have on local manufacturing communities, on worker’s health and human rights, on the physical environment and ecosystems with which our industry intersects at so many points. With our educational institutes only recently bringing these issues into the classroom, one couldn’t expect the average shopper to know any better.

While organizations like Toronto-based Fashion Takes Action offers classroom experiences and awareness education in consumption, Fair Trade and sustainability, few other resources seem to have invested time or effort into public civics education for the world of today, the world of living wages, ethical consumption, individual rights and, above all, in an interconnected global society, the right to know.

Now the same communications innovations of the Internet age, which facilitate globalized manufacturing, have enabled citizens, interest groups, investors and the media to take a closer look at what those manufacturing supply chains look like in ever-greater detail. This was not what businesses bargained for when it pushed offshore beyond domestic stakeholder’s eyes into low-cost developing countries, and many have been understandably nervous with calls for change.

It has taken 20 years for marketplace stakeholders to gain even a glimpse into apparel supply chains still riddled with risk and uncertainty. Over the same time, our understanding of the fallout of toxins in supply chains on our health and well-being has evolved.

The outcry at the human toll from factory fires and accidents at sub-par facilities around the world has slowly but surely pushed industry leaders onto the bandwagon of change. This comes amidst renewed calls for greater levels of regulatory transparency into consumer product supply chains. The prospects look promising.

Across the country last month, Worldvision Canada sought to call attention to the fact that Canadians know little about the risks of child labour embedded in the clothes and food we consume on a daily basis. Many in the ethics field argue that this stems from our expectation that business and government have dealt effectively with these issues, managing risks and unsavory origins from the market. We expect that companies earn the public’s trust and a ‘license to operate’ in good faith simply by being here in our markets, administered by order and good government, beholden to the public and the law.

More often than not however, the law has been turned to serve the interests of those who are least interested in transparency to silence critics or withhold information from the marketplace. Organizations seek, on the one hand, to hold themselves up as examples of corporate responsibility while on the other applying legal force to shut out transparency, the sunlight which U.S. Justice Louise Brandeis called “the best of all disinfectants.” And the laws we respect here at home hold little if any power over the actions of homegrown firms as they operate overseas.

As we again approach April 24, it is rewarding to know that there are thousands of individuals working at brands, retailers, auditing firms, NGOs, unions and government bodies across the world to make creative consumer industries more responsible, or “less bad” in terminology borrowed from the cradle-to-cradle crowd. These are laudable efforts but for the most part we are tinkering with the current system.

A true Fashion Revolution is what is needed and what has been called for. This call has come most vocally to date from across the Atlantic. U.K. ethical industry pioneers like Carry Somers, Orsola de Castro and Safia Minney, journalist Lucy Siegle, activist Tansy Hoskins and designers from Katharine Hamnett to Vivienne Westwood have challenged industry, consumers and government alike to re-think and re-imagine the business of fashion.

An industry struggle to identify and align with outliers is now underway at many brands. Others in the media have already tilted toward applauding a wholesale industry conversion to a sustainable future as a sure thing. But having spent 20 years working at brands and retailers on the business side of sourcing and procurement I am somewhat more cynical. Cost and commercial considerations still rule 95 percent of all decisions and few brands have yet successfully embedded sustainability and ethical practices deep into their strategic business plans and buying practices.

The wealth of information coming to light with regards to how global apparel supply chains negatively impact people and the planet also confronts us with compelling moral questions. Near everything we consume as individuals is tied to the exploitation of other people, of nature, or of both.

Certainly some forms of it are near-benign or might be called voluntary, but far too much of what happens in the offshore apparel world remains out of sight and beyond the ability of most people to make an informed decision. If they were aware or not, the end result is the same. We have all been converted into fully culpable participants of globalized, systemic exploitation for the benefit of maintaining our standards of living and social safety nets while generating multibillion dollar profits for a small minority of the millions of industry stakeholders who bring us our clothing every day.

Deconstructing and re-engineering such a system requires more than simply the vision to do so, it requires extraordinary leadership. Who exactly might take up the cause of ethical, sustainable fashion in this country is anyone’s guess at the moment but few from industry institutions would seem to have their hands up. With any luck, we won’t have to look much further than the next generation of aspiring industry professionals like those from Ryerson, eager to challenge the status quo and to re-prioritize the intrinsic values which textiles and apparel can offer us.

Michael Lavergne is a Responsible Supply Chain professional with 20 years of multinational experience at organizations from Sara Lee/Champion to Joe Fresh and WRAP. His new book, “FIXING FASHION; Rethinking the way we make, market and buy our clothes,” is out in the U.S. and Canada this September with New Society Publishers.