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Champion Has Ambitions for Sustainable and Circular Streetwear

The first thing a consumer may notice about a Champion garment is its heavy weight, smooth surface, brushed interior or its signature old English ‘C’ logo. But the heritage brand is taking steps to ensure that the next generation of T-shirt and hoodie wearing consumers will also recognize it as a brand with sustainability in mind.

At Project in Las Vegas earlier this month, Martiza Whittaker, a member of Champion’s creative team, explained how the ‘It’ brand would like to become a vehicle for sustainable change in streetwear.

Echoing a sentiment that’s widely expressed across the apparel industry, Whittaker said the future of sustainability relies on compelling storytelling.

“I understand what it means to achieve zero carbon emission, but how can I get consumers to know what it means if they buy the Eco Fleece hoodie,” she said. “We need to make sustainability the ‘It’ thing. A lot of kids want to be sustainable and they want to live a healthy lifestyle, but they just don’t know exactly what that entails.”

A part of the Hanesbrands portfolio, Whittaker said Champion has benefited from many of the sustainable lessons learned over the company’s 118-year history. The basics manufacturer is committed to the responsible management of energy, carbon emissions, water, wastewater, chemicals, solid waste and recycled materials in all of its facilities worldwide. The company is also committed to increasing its use of energy from renewable sources, such as biomass, hydro and geothermal.

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In 2012, after meeting significant five-year goals to reduce energy usage and carbon emissions, Hanesbrands set even more ambitious goals for 2020. The company aims to reduce energy and carbon emissions by 40 percent and use 50 percent less water by 2020. Additionally, Hanesbrands has committed to increasing renewable energy by 40 percent and diverting 86 percent of its waste from landfills.

As a brand known for high quality basics, Whittaker says Champion is perceived by consumers as an item with longevity.

“Our clothes have a [strong] second life in the vintage world,” she said. “People don’t really get rid of Champion. They either keep it or give it away to someone, so a lot of our products do not end up in the landfill.”

And with the brand using sustainably grown cotton from the U.S., and items like the Eco Fleece Hoodie incorporating 5 percent recycled polyester fibers, Whittaker said Champion is moving in the right direction—though more work lies ahead.

“My biggest goal is just for us to start using more recycled materials…and how we can start collecting items, breaking them down to create new fabric.”

“It’s still about figuring out where that waste is going and how we can create a full circular economy,” she said, adding that one day she would like to see Champion implement a system where it can collect old Champion garments. “And that’s not just a Champion problem, that’s an industry problem.”