For companies that produce and source goods outside the U.S., insuring eco-friendly production processes requires a lot of oversight.
When apparel and textile factories release dangerous chemicals and greenhouse gases into the environment, the pollution eventually finds its way to the corner offices of Seventh Avenue.
That's where fashion's top players, who use their brand names and M.B.A.'s to market and steer sprawling multinational operations, have to get their hands around the problem and a firmer grip on their supply chains. They're often the ones whom customers hold responsible, but also the ones best placed to bring about change.
"A lot of people talk a lot about it, do a lot of marketing without substantive measurements and controls," said Manfred Wentz, head of Oeko-Tex's U.S. certification board, which helps insure factories meet certain standards.
Fashion companies are beginning to take a closer look at the science behind eco-conscious manufacturing. Having a handle on the entire supply chain is essential, especially since it is the upstream producers, the textile mills and yarn facilities — which are contractors for fashion brands and not generally owned operations — that are prone to pollution problems like dumping dyes into local waterways.
"There is a lack of good information about potential suppliers around the world," said Josh Green, chief executive officer of Panjiva, a New York-based company that helps fashion brands evaluate factories with a database on more than 40,000 apparel suppliers around the globe.
A sample reading from the Panjiva database found that only 10 percent of apparel suppliers are backed up by any kind of certification and only 3 percent carry environmental certification, such as the stamp of approval provided by Oeko-Tex.
"The factories are not leading the charge," said Green. "They're not getting signals from the buyers that it is of critical importance to be certified as being environmentally responsible."
According to Marsha Dickson, chair of the University of Delaware's fashion and apparel studies department, "Environmental laws and regulations vary greatly in producing countries. [For example], China has some of the strictest regulations, but they're not enforced. It's a matter of whether there has been an importing brand that really pushed it. That's going to be the difference and it's going to be more on a factory-by-factory level."
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