Nearly all the stakeholders of the textile and apparel industry across the globe, irrespective of their scale and nature of the operation, are involved in sustainable activities. Dedicated to Environmental, Social, & Governance (ESG), these various initiatives have involvement of latest technology for transparency and monitoring as well as traditional ways like use of herbal dyes, minimum use of natural resources, least carbon emission and much more. In the majority of manufacturing hubs, these initiatives are majorly buyer-driven. Retailers and brands are either supporting sustainable activities, motivating, directing their supply chain partners for such activities. With an analysis of 5 big companies, Apparel Resources tries to find out the common thread in the sustainable directions of the buyers.
At the global level, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. Most of the companies keep these SDGs in their focus to strategise their sustainability vision and policy. Retailers and brands are covering a wide spectrum, in fact not missing any area. Some of such focused areas are:
- People first: Ensuring human rights (wage, health safety, upliftment)
- Transparency: Disclosing the name of garment suppliers as well as raw material supply chain companies
- Collaboration: With plenty of organisations across the globe, local NGOs to United Nations
- Design innovations to reduce waste, increase durability and improve recyclability, reducing the number of samples per product line to a minimum
- Energy from renewable sources, minimum use of light and water
- Reuse, recycle: Product-to-product recycling, use of recycled material as well as recycling own garments – maximum use of such material at all levels
- No to plastic, reduced use of corrugated cardboard
- Women welfare
- Diversity & Inclusion (Comfortable working environment for LGBTQ+, support minorities)
- Donations across various segments
- Awareness across the globe: Customers to the local community in production countries, local to global issues of sustainability
Though the above-mentioned areas are prime concerns for many retailers and brands, some of the areas are their top priority.
A stronger sense of responsibility throughout the entire operations is one of the major focuses for brands and retailers and sustainable material is a key concern in this regard. Leading fashion chain in the Nordic region KappAhl’s 70 per cent products are made using more sustainable materials. And in 2025, it shall be 100 per cent. Uniqlo uses recycled polyester material made from post-consumer PET bottles to support the more efficient use of resources. Its recycled polyester comprises 32 per cent to 75 per cent of the high-performance, quick-drying DRY-EX Polo Shirt, and 30 per cent of the Fluffy Yarn Fleece Full-Zip Jacket and Fluffy Yarn Fleece Pullover Shirt.
Last calendar year, H&M also used 64.5 per cent of materials from recycled or more sustainable sources and there was 14 per cent reduction in packaging, including 24 per cent less plastic packaging. 100 per cent of its cotton was organic, recycled or sourced in a more sustainable way.
Similar is the focus of fashion e-commerce giant Boohoo also as its priorities include reducing the impact of the materials that it uses to make its products, working with its suppliers to improve standards and transparency in its supply chain. By 2025, all the polyester and cotton it uses will be recycled or be more sustainable.
These examples clearly show that from giant to medium-level bricks-and-mortar chain stores to the e-commerce companies, everyone is focusing on all types of sustainable materials and that too at all levels, from yarn to packaging material.
Respecting the human rights of customers, employees and people in their supply chain, ensuring their mental and physical health, security and safety is the most common target of retailers and brands.
Japanese apparel retail giant Fast Retailing (Uniqlo) places this as its top priority. The company established a Human Rights Committee to offer advice and supervision, to ensure that respect for human rights is guaranteed based on its policy and that business is performed appropriately. All this is in accordance with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
KappAhl also believes that being transparent with its supply chains leads to creating better conditions for the people who work in the fashion industry’s factories. KappAhl is therefore one of the companies that has joined Transparency Pledge, an initiative that works for increased transparency in the fashion industry’s supply chains.
Pushing supply chain partners
Apart from publishing the name of suppliers, brands and retailers are motivating, pushing their supply chain partners to be active on many fronts. Like Target, US is raising expectations of its suppliers regarding wastewater and it has set a goal that all its own-brand apparel textile facilities will comply with the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) Progressive level wastewater standard by 2025, and it will start reporting on their progress in 2022. The company mapped all apparel-owned-brand wet-processing suppliers (Tier-1 and Tier-2) on their wastewater performance with regard to ZDHC and will continue the work in 2021. Similar is the strategy of many other retailers though their focus is different.
Interesting and not common
With the recent turmoil in few countries, refugees are growing and it is good to see that brand like Fast Retailing is a global partner of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. It works toward comprehensive solutions to the challenges faced by refugees and displaced people around the world. The company provides clothing, employment opportunities and emergency assistance, as well as support for the independence of refugees. It has also employed 121 refugees in Uniqlo stores globally.
Many companies align with Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), following Global Reporting Initiative. The area of focus may be the same or different for apparel industry leaders, but all agree that there is a lot to do and the good thing is that they are passionate and very well know that sustainability is central to the world’s future. No doubt, in the future, these and many more initiatives will be there on the ground.
At the global level, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. Most of the companies keep these SDGs in their focus to strategise their sustainability vision and policy.