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How Crystal International Uses Denim as a Force for Good

With sustainability rapidly evolving from an option to a requirement, the denim industry is not only looking to lessen its negative environmental impact, but also create a positive one in its place.

Having recently attained recognition from the WWF-HK’s Low Carbon Manufacturing Program for its intimates factory, Hong Kong-based apparel manufacturer Crystal International is showing that its commitment to carbon reduction is just one part of a multi-pronged approach to using business as a force for good. Its strategy for social and environmental improvement earned the company a spot on the SDG2000, a list of the most influential 2,000 companies for a sustainable future.

Through its focused efforts in circularity, employee training and disaster relief, the company is working to improve the environment and support its surrounding community.

Waste reduction

Crystal Denim, the company’s denim division, has become especially focused on closing the loop to promote a circular economy in recent years, and will soon release a sustainable collection designed in accordance with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation Jeans Redesign guidelines. By joining the initiative—which aims to improve product durability, material health, recyclability and traceability—Crystal underscores its focus on reducing its environmental impact through denim.

Following this notion, the company recently released its Second Life Denim collection, a line of 10 denim fabrics certified with Recycled Claim Standard (RCS) and comprised of sustainable materials like Lycra T400 fiber with EcoMade technology and Repreve recycled polyester. Samples are available in both physical and digital formats to meet the market’s growing demand for 3D virtual sampling. All cut waste from the collection is ultimately gathered and upcycled to further extend its lifecycle.

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Through a partnership with global development management consulting firm Social Impact, Crystal Denim launched the Denim Reimagined series. The fully traceable, upcycled collection was made using unsewn and unstitched denim fabric from a customer’s aged inventory and irregular or leftover samples. To promote transparency, products were embedded with scannable labels that provided detailed information on their sourcing history.

In its newly published sustainability report, Crystal International shared that 70 percent of denim samples were produced digitally in 2020, and it expects to eliminate 75 percent of physical samples across all product categories moving forward. The launch of its digital showroom, which presented its ultra-sustainable 4Zero collection, also provided a virtual opportunity for customers to view detailed product information and, in turn, mitigate waste. By replacing potassium permanganate with eco-friendly chemicals as oxidizing agents in wet processing and replacing stone wash with an enzyme wash and advanced washing machines, the collection helped the company reduce water and chemical usage by 90 percent and 70 percent, respectively.

Employee assistance

In addition to circularity efforts, the company heavily invested in its employees in 2020. Its Crystal Advocates Respect and Engagement (CARE) program, a women-focused skills-building initiative, reached 44,000 women since conception and exceeded its target of 40,000. Separately, the manufacturer worked with the United Nations Women China chapter to survey female employees on how to put more women in leadership positions within the company. Crystal International also provided HIV prevention education and tetanus vaccinations to its female employees to ensure that they are “educated, promoted and more actively managed” within the company.

Its focus on women empowerment comes at a time when the demographic is most vulnerable, as pandemic-related cuts are severely threatening the livelihood of garment workers, a field predominantly made up of women.

The Harvard ManageMentor training program, offered to Crystal’s entire employee base, provides on-demand leadership and management skills development. Through its combined development efforts, the manufacturer was able to train more than 1,400 employees online in 2020.

Disaster relief

Though challenging, the unprecedented events of last year offered the manufacturer an opportunity to support its community through disaster relief initiatives. The report noted that Crystal International distributed more than 4 million masks to employees and communities to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Internally, the company established a Crisis Management Committee to help protect workers and navigate the pandemic, and adopted preventative measures such as stringent visitor control and social distancing requirements.

But the Covid-19 pandemic wasn’t the only challenge facing the company’s surrounding communities. Between August and October 2020, severe, widespread floods swept through central Vietnam, flooding crops and destroying villages. The company’s Vietnam factories responded with dedicated support to affected families and residents, and provided more than 1 billion VND (about $43,000) in food and necessities.

Crystal International’s 2020 sustainability report details the ways in which it uses its denim business as a force for good.
Since 2007, Crystal International planted 2.88 million trees to combat climate change. Courtesy

Environmental improvements

Last year, the company earned the award for Best ESG Report and Excellence in Environmental Positive Impact Commendation at the Hong Kong ESG Reporting Awards (HERA) 2020 Forum cum Awards Presentation in December. The recognition celebrated the company’s environmental focus. Between 2018 and 2020, the company reduced 53 percent of its fresh water intensity and cut 12 percent of its carbon intensity compared to 2017. The achievement was due in part to Crystal’s investment in rooftop solar photovoltaic arrays, which it installed in two Vietnam factories. According to the report, the project helped reduce more than 4,000 tons of CO2e annually.

To maintain this momentum, the company signed the United Nations Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action and committed to reducing 30 percent aggregate greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and setting up a decarbonization strategy. Since 2007, it planted 2.88 million trees to combat climate change. Crystal plans to continue its decarbonization and circular efforts and adopt more automation and digitalization initiatives in the coming years.