Consumer power is literally changing our world. There’s been a shift in the way consumers purchase products and support brands that align with their vision of sustainability and human rights, especially among Gen Zers and Millennials.
As climate change and safe working conditions have become increasingly important issues around the world, brands have been taking the initiative to improve and change their methods of creation through sustainable practices and improved labour standards. They’ve been reducing the amount of plastic waste that ends up in our oceans and doing their part to decrease water pollution and consumption.
On the human rights front, the Rana Plaza collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 2013 and recent revelations of forced labour camps in Xinjiang, China, captured a lot of attention and the world became more focused on the working conditions and safety of fashion industry employees. Consumers now hold North American and European brands more accountable for ensuring the safety of the people who make their products.
As far as consumers are concerned, brands are no longer just about the clothes they sell – corporate culture is now a big part of brand identities. Below, we explain how some brands that S&S Canada distributes have embraced this sustainable, human rights–focused era.
adidas has been practicing sustainability for over 20 years, and as one of the industry’s staunch environmental advocates, it uses a Three-Loop Strategy to create its products. The goal is to help rid the world of plastic waste and use the discarded materials to fabricate clothing and accessories. By 2024, the brand wants to commit to using only 100% recycled polyester, and it plans to reach climate neutrality by 2050.
adidas is aware of the social responsibility it has to the communities where its products are made, and aims to fulfill its obligations as a global business by ensuring performance, transparency, and fairness in its value chain.
Our adidas collection includes 16 eco-friendly pieces made from recycled polyester.
Brands whose factories function safely, responsibly, and ethically can apply for WRAP certification. Factories are audited based on 12 principles, and they can obtain one of three levels of certification: Silver, Gold, or Platinum.
Bella+Canvas is committed to reducing the carbon footprint of both its factories and office spaces with skylights and insulation that allow minimal use of energy. At its factories, it ensures safety with onsite quality control and daily monitoring, and it’s achieved a Platinum-level WRAP certification.
“Any means possible within our supply chain to, in fact, save and help the environment is always the choice we’re gonna go with,” said Danny Harris, co-founder and co-owner.
Water reduction is a big part of Bella+Canvas’s factory-operation strategy, with its dye machines using seven times less water than those of your average clothing manufacturer. Also, their water filtration system allows for the water they do use to be recycled.
The company has also reduced its energy usage by using solar energy in its sewing and cutting facilities, and all its buildings contain skylights and LED motion sensors. It’s also set up electric car charging stations, further reducing CO2 emissions associated with its operations.
Not stopping there, it recycles everything it can, including fabric from the cutting-room floor, which it repurposes to create other items.
Finally, the brand uses dyes that are bluesign certified, which guarantees that its garments are eco-friendly.
Alternative uses upcycled cotton to fabricate its clothing, and most of its factories are WRAP certified and abide by Fair Labor Association guidelines. It uses oxo-degradable mailing bags and reuses and recycles all the materials it receives.
Every year, the brand uses 75,000 lbs of organic cotton and 1.8 million recycled bottles to create its Alternative Eco® fabrics.
Using only organic and recycled materials and low-impact dyes, it’s also reduced its water consumption by 60%. Alternative not only makes soft and sustainable clothing, it’s also pledged to replace all the virgin polyester it uses by the end of this year.
Champion aims to reduce its carbon footprint by reducing its water usage by 50% and its carbon emissions and energy consumption by 40%. It also plans to only use renewable energy to meet 40% of its energy needs, and it’ll steer its supply chain waste away from landfills. For example, it keeps plastic bottles out of landfills by putting them into its eco-friendly clothing, including its Double Dry Eco® Sweatshirts.
Champion also uses sustainable materials for its products and packaging, and it aims to make clothing out of 100% recycled polyester by 2025.
Gildan’s operations are inspired by Genuine Responsibility, its social, environmental, and governance program, and it owns and operates facilities that produce the vast majority of the products it sells.
“That’s a key component of our ability to ensure that responsible, sustainable practices are deployed throughout our supply chain,” said Claudia Sandoval, Vice President of Corporate Citizenship.
“As part of our vision of Making Apparel Better®, we’re committed to constantly looking for ways to reduce our footprint. Over the years, we’ve invested in innovative technologies and solutions to help optimize our use of natural resources, minimize waste, and maximize reuse and recycling.”
Gildan also purchases the majority of its cotton in the United States, regulated as a food-crop under strict U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines that protect workers, consumers and the environment.
How Brands Take Initiative on a Global Scale
In 2019, the Fashion Pact was presented at the G7 Summit in Biarritz, France, to curb the global effects of climate change. The fashion industry recognized its part in the problem and committed to work toward a more sustainable and ecological approach. Targeting three key environmental goals, the pact aims to stop global warming, restore biodiversity, and protect our oceans.
“The entire fashion industry has a responsibility to reduce its impact on the planet, and the choice of materials is a key area of focus,” said Karl Lagerfeld CEO Pier Paolo Righi. “There is an increasing demand to introduce sustainable alternatives — which is an essential step — and The Fashion Pact will play a vital role in making this shift happen on a global scale.”
Read the 2020 Fashion Pact Progress Report.
Some retail brands are even aiming to only use recycled and upcycled materials in the next couple of years, including H&M, which was scrutinized for its old fast fashion approach. The brand shifted its focus and launched its Conscious Collection, which was manufactured with organic cotton, recycled polyester, and sustainable production methods, and the company aims to use only sustainable materials by 2030. It also took things a step further and offered consumers the opportunity to recycle their clothing and receive discounts as a reward.
Meanwhile, The Aldo Group, a Canadian-owned company, is the global fashion industry’s first footwear and accessories manufacturer to be certified as climate neutral. From its zero-waste philosophy to its sustainable packaging and the diversity of its workplaces, it’s made great strides in helping both people and the planet.
Brands are now held accountable for their business models and are quickly scrutinized when they lack transparency.
Consumers aren’t just purchasing a brand’s clothing anymore – they’re purchasing its culture and beliefs as well, and they’re highly conscious of how it treats its workers and the planet. Brands have understood that if they don’t adjust, their customers will simply buy products elsewhere.
Sustainability is most definitely a consumer-led movement, with the fashion industry adapting to changing demand. There’s a long road ahead, but it’s encouraging to see how many brands are already incorporating new methods of production, distribution, packaging, and transparency into their business models.