It’s been a busy year on the sustainability and corporate social responsibility front with retailers, brands and suppliers doubling down on efforts not only to cut waste and reduce water use, but also taking a linear product development and end-use model and transforming it into a “closed-loop system.”
And while environmental watchdog groups praised efforts to date, they note that more needs to be done to create a more sustainable fashion industry, which is being driven by consumer preferences.
One of the more ambitious efforts is from Kering, which revealed the second phase of its sustainability strategy earlier this year. Set to run through 2025, the program involves a three-pillar plan involving an environmental impact as well as social aspects and a focus on innovation. François-Henri Pinault, chairman and chief executive officer of Kering, said at the time of the announcement that “sustainability can redefine business value and drive future growth. As business leaders, we all have a crucial role to play and I worked with the ceo’s of our luxury maisons to embed sustainability across our activities while developing this next important phase of our sustainability strategy.”
Kering’s program centers on reducing the company’s environmental footprint by 40 percent by 2025 — from a 2015 base.
Meanwhile, last month apparel and denim brand Guess Inc. released its second sustainability report, which spotlights the firm’s sustainability goals for improved “social and environmental performance.” To that end, the company aligned with the Global Reporting Initiative to identify and implement strategic sustainability opportunities in the industry. The firm is a member of the GRI’s Standards Pioneers Program, and it is one of the first fashion brands to implement GRI’s demanding sustainability reporting standards.
In 2017, Guess “assessed the water footprint of its denim and mapped its denim production by global water availability” and is actively creating a water action management plan that will be released next year. The brand joined a global industry pledge to help develop a “circular fashion system,” which is a business model that posits the concept of fashion lasting longer to be continuously repurposed, reused and recycled, the company said.
Guess reduced its carbon footprint across its stores, distribution centers and Los Angeles-based headquarters, as well as pledged an effort to improve store energy efficiencies by installing more efficient LED lighting. These initiatives stemmed from the firm’s sustainability strategy it developed in 2015, which outlined a five-year plan to meet sustainable business goals for its global operations and local communities and encourage consumers to shop sustainably. Guess released its first sustainable denim capsule collection in 2016.
Victor Herrero, chief executive officer of Guess Inc., said, “Through my experience leading this truly global company, I see one constant across borders: people, particularly the younger generation, are deeply concerned about the future of this planet. At Guess, we understand that we must continue to grow and contribute to the global community with increasing care for people and the environment; we aim to embrace existing solutions as well as try new ones to address the social and environmental challenges of our time.”
That consumer demand is also driving companies such as U.S. Denim, based in Lahore, Pakistan, and also known as U.S. Apparel, to leverage new technologies to improve efficiencies, quality and sustainability. This includes “e-flow technology,” which conserves water and energy through the use of nano-bubbles for application of washes, dyes and treatments. The company’s factory uses the latest G2 and G3 machines for ozone-based 100 percent waterless sustainable washing and a range of laser machines from Jeanologia and Vav Turkey, that expedite production of “dry effects” such as printing or ripping with repeatability and minimal dust output, all according to the company.
To further its sustainability efforts, this year U.S. Denim targeted the budding trend of authenticity and relaunched its own heritage looks that originally debuted in the Seventies. Its range of “fundamental denim fashions,” which include selvage and “rigid” styles, have been retrofitted into updated vintage styles manufactured with advanced fibers and weaves. Other sustainability innovations under development include yarn creation from coffee beans and plastic bottles and post-consumer denim recycling.
Some brands are making headway with implementing a closed-loop product system. Eileen Fisher is considered an innovator and pioneer in its adoption of sustainable manufacturing throughout its supply chain, and includes the use of sustainable fibers such as Tencel (celebrating 25 years in the market), recycled fibers and its own scientifically tested chlorine free wool. The brand also integrates organic cotton and organic linen into its collections, as well as undyed and naturally dyed materials. Its bags and belts are manufactured in Manhattan, and its denim is cut and sewn in Los Angeles, accounting for 25 percent of its garments.
Amy Hall, director of social consciousness at Eileen Fisher, told WWD, “As a company, we don’t see sustainability as an edge, rather a practice that needs to be universal. The fashion industry is a significant polluter and we’re up against some big issues — extreme weather events, excess waste and supporting community resilience for supply chain partners. These are all complex issues. Fortunately, we believe business can be a movement and by partnering with other brands the industry will shift.”
The brand’s approach include Eileen Fisher Renew, which Hall said is “a collection where each garment made is considered through its entire life cycle. Our customers bring back their old garments and we find them another home — or turn them into entirely new designs. Since its inception, we have taken back more than 800,000 garments. While there are not solutions for all of the garments returned, we aim to use everything because where others see waste, we see possibility.”
Hall said to bring this concept to life, “we created an exhibit ‘Circular by Design’ to give a peek into our process and showcased DesignWork, a collection of one-of-a-kind wall hangings and clothing felted from returned garments. We’re coupling innovative technology with post-consumer materials and finding solutions to ensure our garments do not end up in landfills.”
For Cotton Inc., limiting textiles headed to landfills is the goal of “Blue Jeans Go Green” initiative limits. The program collects denim and upcycles it into UltraTouch Denim Insulation, which is a natural cotton fiber insulation. Since its beginnings in 2006, Blue Jeans Go Green has recycled 600-plus tons of denim and diverted more than one million pieces of denim from landfills.
The firm also participates in the Cotton Leads program, which ensures the production of responsibly produced cotton. And via its Cotton Today platform, the organization continuously develops new technologies and methods for cotton manufacturing, production and new uses for the cotton plant that foster sustainability.
Recycling denim is also top of mind for Adriano Goldschmied, the “godfather of denim” and pioneer of premium denim. “Technically we are trying to make [denim] in a more friendly and sustainable way,” Goldschmied said. “Cotton itself is taking a lot of water, a lot of chemicals, a lot of work [and] a lot of energy. And so recycling existing garments is also very important and we can honestly create a generation of denim that is more sustainable.”
But more can be done in the industry, Goldschmied said. He said larger denim firms, in particular, “need really to make serious investment in this segment, [which] means they must be influenced by a sustainable manager that is giving direction to the company. You cannot be floating [or] waiting to have direction. You have to make your own decision. If you are a leader, you have to do it and then the others, probably, are going to follow you.”
Milan-based CLASS, or Creativity Lifestyle and Sustainable Synergy, is working with brands and retailers to help shift the mind-set toward more sustainable thinking as well as practices. And that includes making sure the messaging gets to the consumer. A spokesperson from the organization said more fast-fashion brands today “are doing a good job in becoming more responsible from different perspectives.” But the organization acknowledged that implementing sustainable practices is a process.
The spokesperson told WWD that the questions to ask as part of the implementation includes: “How the consumer can be informed in an appropriate way? Is the current communication throughout the supply chain down to consumer aligned with the new values consumers are looking for? How can the fashion brands extend their target market implementing eco-technologies?”
CLASS said it starts with “the hangtags, promotional material, direct information from employees provided in the store.” And it should be founded in transparency across the supply chain.
Certifications can also help. Oeko-Tex, for example, “provides manufacturers, brands and retailers with a broad array of certifications and labels that helps companies throughout the apparel supply chain confirm and communicate that their products are compliant, harmless to health, and responsibly made.”
A spokesperson for the organization told WWD that for consumers, the Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex certification “tells them that products have been tested for harmful substances, the critical first step in the sustainability framework.” They also noted that the Made in Green by Oeko-Tex consumer label “is available for sustainable products that meet the Standard 100 criteria and were also made in facilities that follow ‘STeP’ by Oeko-Tex production guidelines for environmental and social responsibility.” The Made in Green label is traceable, the organization said with a “unique product ID on the garment that permits consumers to quickly verify the claim and view the garment’s path to the store. ”
For fashion apparel, there are challenges to implementation of sustainable practices. “Many companies are deploying more sustainable practices, especially those that deal with brands, retailers and consumers,” the spokesperson told WWD. “But to date, the bulk of discussion has been B2B within a compliance, risk management, quality and CSR arena. [But] the increasing market demands for textile sustainability will soon encourage that conversation to embrace consumers as well, just as in the food industry. Cost can be a factor, but often companies can reap great sustainability benefits with process improvements in chemical management, effluent handling, quality control and workplace conditions.”
Cara Smyth, vice president, executive board member and founding director of Glasgow Caledonian University’s Fair Fashion Center, said “as fashion takes on sort of its new shape and form for the future, we are actually in the process of redesigning it from the inside out.”
“I think there are many, many good stories that don’t get linked together, but I think fashion is actually the industry that already hardwired for change that can set the trend also on sustainability and really create the intersection between social good, environmental sustainability and profitability,” Smyth said. “So as we redesign our industry, they become the ingredients and the lens at which everybody is looking at everything, and I think actually it would be more fashion than any other industry that can force the change that’s coming.”
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