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Report: Kontoor Brands Sustainably Sourced Half of Its Cotton in 2020

With more than 14,000 employees around the world and 120 million units of apparel and accessories produced each year, Wrangler and Lee’s parent company, Kontoor Brands, has the potential to make significant change by utilizing more sustainable manufacturing methods.

The Greensboro, N.C.-based company outlined the progress it achieved in the 2020 calendar year in its second sustainability report. Prepared according to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Sustainability Reporting Standards Core Option and the SASB Apparel, Accessories and Footwear Industry Standard to ensure transparency, the report focused on three areas of sustainability: planet, product and people.

“Although our industry faced substantial uncertainty over the last two years, we have used this time to strengthen our resolve to meet our goals and set new ones—for our people, products and the planet,” said Jeff Frye, Kontoor Brands vice president of procurement, product development, innovation and sustainability. “We’re incredibly proud of the progress we have made during this period and have rallied as a team and continue to focus on building a more resilient future.”

Responsible sourcing

Kontoor made some of its greatest progress in responsible fiber sourcing, water savings and workplace safety initiatives.

In 2020, the company sustainably sourced 50 percent of its cotton, which it defines as cotton grown in the U.S. or Australia, recycled cotton from validated post-consumer and post-industrial sources, or cotton certified under sustainable cotton frameworks.

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Wrangler works with farmers to ensure cotton is sustainably sourced through the Wrangler Science and Conservation Program, an alliance of industry experts, farmers and nonprofit partners that sponsors research, farmer workshops and promotes soil health farming practices. It found that the right farming practices can drive three times the amount of carbon into soil than conventional farming, and can increase yields and decrease the needs for inputs like water and fertilizer.

The Wrangler Rooted Collection can be used as inspiration for future sustainable collections. It features jeans made with traceable cotton grown with regenerative agriculture practices and Kontoor’s Indigood Foam Dye process that eliminates water in the dyeing process.

While the company pledges to have all of its cotton sourced sustainably by 2025, it’s also shifting its sights to alternative fibers, including synthetics, animal-derived materials, and forest-derived materials. Its goal is to sustainably source all fibers by 2030.

In April, Kontoor Brands expanded its collaboration with Dallas-based Panda Biotech, an emerging leader in the industrial hemp fiber industry. The partnership aimed to bring traceability and scale to the textile-grade cottonized hemp grown and processed domestically.

Water savings

One of the top initiatives in Kontoor Brands’ wheelhouse is its water-saving manufacturing program, Indigood. In March, the company updated the program to include any water savings technology in apparel fabric production that uses at least 90 percent less water than conventional fabric production. Months later, it debuted a certification that textile manufacturing facilities consuming 90 percent less freshwater versus conventional fabric production can apply for.

Water savings were also a focus at the company’s Mexican manufacturing facility, Torreon Internal Manufacturing. In 2020, the complex recycled 80 percent of its wash process water, and aims to eventually eliminate the use of freshwater in its processes entirely.

By deploying these types of initiatives, Kontoor Brands consumed 8 billion fewer liters of water since 2008, putting it on track to achieve its goal of saving 10 billion liters by 2025.

Workplace safety

In 2020, Kontoor Brands carried out 458 audits to ensure suppliers adhered to global compliance principles and human rights standards. The company conducts audits at every manufacturing facility, including cutting facilities, sewing plants, screen printers, embroiderers, laundries and packaging locations. New suppliers are not permitted to produce for the company until a successful factory audit has taken place.

The report also highlighted the company’s creation of community development programs in select factories in Bangladesh to provide clean water, hygiene facilities and education for 1,200 local workers. Kontoor also launched its Critical Life Safety (CLS) assessment training program, which provided facility guidelines for worker safety and was delivered to all vendors in the Eastern Hemisphere. The report estimates that around 700 attendees from 349 factories attended both trainings.

In 2019, Kontoor Brands’ responsible sourcing teams partnered with BSR’s HERhealth, a women’s health-focused initiative within HERproject that empowers low-income women working in global supply chains. As women comprise more than 65 percent of the garment industry workforce in Bangladesh, the project is critical for its workers’ wellbeing. Since forming the partnership, the organization has brought healthcare information, critical health services and women’s products to 4,244 women working across three factories in Bangladesh and around 9,098 women at four factories in Kenya producing on behalf of Kontoor Brands.

Looking ahead

By 2025, the company plans to power 100 percent of owned and operated facilities with renewable energy, and will use 100 percent preferred chemistry, meaning it will employ advanced chemical screening procedures and require strict supplier compliance with the global restricted substance list. By that same year, it will work only with factories that support a worker well-being program or community development initiative.

Next year, it pledges to establish a science-based climate target.

“While we are pleased with our initial progress outlined in the report, we recognize there is more that we can do,” said Scott Baxter, Kontoor Brands president, CEO and board chair. “As we move ahead, we are committed to using our scale and purpose-led approach to drive meaningful environmental and social advancements for all of our stakeholders.”