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Is VF Becoming a Leader in Supply Chain Traceability?

The North Face, Vans and Timberland owner VF Corp says traceability is a company imperative in its latest sustainability report.

Titled “Seizing the Momentum,” the footwear and apparel firm’s memo on social and environmental performance details advancements in product mapping and material innovation, as well as circularity measures. Over the past year, VF published traceability maps for 100 of its brands’ best-selling products—on track toward its goal of tracing five key materials through its supply chain by 2028.

“We are devoting significant resources to trace our global supply chain so we can better understand the origins of the key materials used in our products and the way they are assembled and manufactured,” VF president, chairman and CEO Steve Rendle wrote. This brings VF closer to meeting the “important goal to publicly share deep insights about our supply chain.”

VF aims to trace the provenance of cotton, leather, natural rubber, wool and synthetics like recycled and virgin polyester and nylon, from Tier 1 through Tier 5 suppliers. So far, it has traced these materials through about two-thirds of its Tier 1 and Tier 2 production volume. “This achievement illustrates the value created through full supply chain traceability,” the company wrote.

The traceability program pulls together commodity volume data, country-level risk maps, supplier surveys and other metrics related to environmental and social risk. Vf overlays these data sets to home in on potential human rights abuses, deforestation, water scarcity, pollution and other issues across the supply chain. The actionable information this yields helps VF comply with trade regulations and local laws, and assures stakeholder that the company knows what’s happening in its supply chain.

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“After completing our initial pilot to map 10 iconic products across different VF brands in 2018, we set out to scale this work across our global supply chain by fully tracing 100 VF brand products and publishing traceability maps for each,” responsible materials and traceability director Shanel Orton wrote. “We know the greatest impacts occur at raw material cultivation, extraction and processing stages in the supply chain. Therefore, the more data we have on suppliers operating at these levels, the more opportunity we have to improve the lives of workers and impacts on the environment.”

Through its data gathering, VF says 36 percent of its polyester originated from recycled materials in fiscal year 2021, meaning that the company has achieved 72 percent of its goal of sourcing 50 percent of its polyester from recycled sources by 2026. It has also removed over 300 metric tons of non-preferred chemicals from its supply chain since 2020 through its CHEM-IQSM program, a proprietary methodology developed to identify potentially harmful substances in the supply chain. VF said that the program has often pinpointed these chemicals at the point of origin, before they’re used on products or they face regulatory restriction. Flagged chemicals are swapped out for safer alternatives.

Circular progress continues on the brand level. Earlier this year, Timberland launched its Timberloop take-back program. The project refurbishes used goods, sells them on the Timberloop microsite or disassembles them for recycling into new materials through a partnership with ReCircled. “Our brands are working across the value chain to develop innovative strategies for product disassembly and advocating for enhanced recycling and upcycling infrastructure,” VF wrote.

Vans launched a digital Sustainability Hub where shoppers can learn about its products, materials, and sustainability goals and commitments. It also launched its VR3 line of more sustainable products. Footwear and apparel bearing the VR3 checkerboard globe logo are made with at least 30 percent regenerative, responsibly sourced, renewable or  recycled materials. “This launch represents a major step forward in the brand’s pursuit of creating sustainability-minded products and increased transparency for consumers on how, where and what Vans products are made from,” VF said.

“VF is acting with urgency in this important moment for social and environmental progress,” VF vice president of global sustainability, responsibility and trade Sean Cady said. “In the face of global uncertainty, we are continuing to push forward the programs we’ve been building for years on climate action, product traceability, materials, human rights, and diversity, equity and inclusion.”