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The AAFA’s New Guidelines for Denim Finishing Puts the Worker First

The American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), through its Safety in Denim Finishing Working Group, collaborated with industry professionals and outside consultants to release a new set of guidelines and best practices for denim finishing facilities in December that it hopes will create a better industry for both workers and the brands they represent.

“At the end of the day, this is all about worker safety,” AAFA’s senior vice president of the supply chain, Nate Herman, told Sourcing Journal. “That’s what we’re really trying to do. Many of our members, that’s why they invested their time, to make worker safety a reality.”

The guide is specifically designed for denim finishing facilities, giving facility managers—most of which are independent and contracted out by brands, Herman says—a resource specific to their industry. It includes safety protocols for common techniques in denim finishing, like bleaching or creating wear marks, that a more general understanding of workplace safety might not properly cover.

The guidelines aren’t meant to be a substitute for local laws and regulations, rather, the guidelines are an addendum, a way forward for facilities to increase worker safety and, in the end, production, AAFA said.

Those tapping into the denim safety guideline will find several indicators for success, the least of which is an increased level of production and return on investment for brands that should come as a result of fewer production accidents and employee illnesses. Not to mention, brands have the added benefit of attracting better workers and better press.

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“The idea is that it would be denim brands and denim retailers who would adopt this and implement it into their supply chain,” Herman said. “Our members don’t typically own the denim finishing facilities. But, of course, if they get a reputation that they have better facilities to work in that will attract better workers and benefit them that way.”

The resource, itself, is divided into three sections covering the creation of a “culture of safety, processes and work task hazard identification and general hazard identification and control. Each new guideline follows the same strategy laid out at the beginning of the manual. The AAFA provides a description of a common work process and a summary of all hazards that could come as a result, each time paired with a host of recommended controls, practices and examples of proper implementation.

“The industry is always criticized for individual brands doing what’s best for them but not looking at the industry as a whole,” Herman said. “This [project] is brands coming together, working together over a very long period of time, to benefit the industry—and, obviously, the workers who work in that industry. Something that we’ve been pushing hard in the industry is collaboration, to move the ball forward for the industry or whatever it is. But, we don’t see it that often.”

Adding to that, Herman said it was AAFA’s role to spur on initiatives like this and October’s AAFA-FLA effort to fight forced labor and that he was inspired by the collaborative nature of the product.

“We’re proud to facilitate these types of initiatives and we hope we see more initiatives like this in the future,” Herman concluded.

As far as implementation, Herman said the AAFA will spend the early part of the year promoting the guideline to its members and that he expects “dozens” of brands to adopt it in the early going.