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Apparel Retailers Endeavor to Make Fashion Sustainable and Low Cost

Apparel Retailers Endeavor to Make Fashion Sustainable and Low Cost

Sustainability isn't just en vogue anymore, it's something brands and retailers increasingly know they must commit to, and many are making multifold efforts to do so. 

From committing to more responsible sourcing, like buying down that hasn’t been live-plucked, to using closed-loop recycled yarn that would have ended up in dumps, to reducing carbon emissions and water use, companies are finding ways to have a smaller impact on the environment.

What’s more, companies are starting to spend less on chief sustainability officers as sustainability programs mature and responsibilities meld into the daily doings of VPs of environment, health and safety or directors of corporate responsibility, according to a new study by consulting firm Verdantix.

Either way, the progress spells good news for consumers who are increasingly eager to buy from brands that are about more than making money, brands that use their clout for good and look to leave the Earth in better shape.

Sustainability Targets

In an effort to show plans and progress in sustainability, brands have been publishing targets and reports outlining what they’ve done to help lessen the apparel industry’s impact.

At Kering, the luxury holding company that owns brands like Alexander McQueen, Gucci and Puma, leather is the raw material that drives most of its environmental impact, and as such the retailer is working toward more sustainable sourcing of the product.

When it comes to raw materials, Kering said 100 percent of the leather from livestock used in its brands’ products will come from responsible, verified sources that don’t weigh on the environment.

The company’s brands have also started implementing internal traceability systems in collaboration with their suppliers to be able to track and trace the responsible sourcing. Kering has also outlined standards in an internal leather sourcing policy and in its sourcing guidelines.

“These address a broad range of issues such as non-conversion of natural ecosystems (deforestation-free), traceability, certification, origin of livestock feed, ecological sustainability and animal welfare,” Kering said in its recently released sustainability report. “Next, we set up an Idea Lab on leather with our brands as a way to share knowledge, build awareness and promote more sustainable sourcing and traceability solutions.”

Textile Exchange is also working to keep animal welfare top of mind.

Last month, the global nonprofit aimed at accelerating sustainable practices in the textile sector, updated its Responsible Wool Standard to include the ban of mulesing, a process by which a small patch of skin is removed from the backs of sheep to prevent wool growth and blowfly infestation, which has been said to be painful for the animals.

While the elimination of mulesing won’t happen overnight, in place initiatives mean the practice could likely be phased out.

When it comes to things like carbon emissions, Nike’s were down 18 percent in 2015, according to its sustainable business report out in May. The company also increased its water efficiency by double digits in apparel materials, dyeing, finishing and footwear manufacturing.

“We’ve set a moonshot challenge to double our business with half the impact,” Nike chief sustainability officer and vice president of its innovation accelerator Hannah Jones, said. “It’s a bold ambition that’s going to take much more than incremental efficiency—it’s going to take innovation on a scale we’ve never seen before.”

Sustainable Fiber Development

While innovation is vital, not only to sustainability, but survival in today’s challenging retail market, companies are struggling to figure out how to innovate while keeping costs and environmental impact in check.

In Bangladesh, Simco Spinning and Textiles decided that instead of letting waste from ready made garment products in its own factory get dumped into landfills, it could turn the scraps and shreds into reusable recycled yarn.

The closed loop yarns, called Cyclo, are made from cotton fabric waste, gathered and sorted by color, then shredded and turned into fiber. Because the scraps have already been dyed and processed, no additional dyes, chemicals or water are used to make the regenerated yarns.

Beyond reducing waste and chemical additions, those savings mean Cyclo yarns are cost-effective. Buyers using the yarns save as much as 30 percent on Cyclo compared to the cost of standard yarns.

The Need for Knowledge in Apparel Sustainability

As knowledge of apparel’s at times adverse effects on the environment increases, more companies are tapping into better ways to do business, but sustainability awareness remains limited.

According to a State of Reuse Report released last month, global thrift retailer Savers said 26 billion pounds of clothing go to landfills each year as consumers toss more than 8 bags of clothing that could have been recycled or reused.

Most are throwing the clothes away once they no longer need them simply because it’s more convenient.

“The insights garnered from the Savers State of Reuse Report point to the growing opportunity for the public and the private sectors to work together to educate people about reducing clothing’s environmental footprint and drive the adoption of reuse,” Savers CEO Ken Alterman said when the report was released.

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