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The Power of Partnerships for Sustainable Progress

When it comes to sustainability, fashion companies will have more success if they join forces with their peers.

The motivations for collaboration are both external and internal. Coming together could make the fashion industry as a whole better, but it can also help individual companies boost their own sustainability by enabling innovation.

“There are certain things you need the industry to do to further your own goals and support what you’re doing,” said Jill Dumain, CEO of Bluesign Technologies. “Because if you’re one company alone in there, you’re not going to sustain a shift to organic cotton or shift to more responsible chemicals.”

In a recent conversation with Sourcing Journal president Edward Hertzman, Dumain explained that giving vendors a broader pool of customers for a particular innovation allows for shared risk. For instance, as an individual company, there is the worry that a vendor might be left in the lurch if the brand’s order volumes suddenly drop. If that supplier is working with many customers, this is less of a concern since others can help make up the difference.

Collaboration can also enable creativity. When Dumain was working on the brand side at Patagonia, she had to develop strong partnerships with her suppliers due to the demands of building performance materials. Creating new innovations in breathability or waterproofing is expensive, so there had to be trust. She describes the result of these partnerships as “magical.”

“Most of my career has been in the sustainable part of this business, and often it can feel like a weight or a responsibility,” Dumain said. “But once you get into those kind of relationships, it’s so motivating and empowering and you remember why we all got into this industry at the beginning. It’s fun, it’s creative and it doesn’t have to be this weight of responsibility.”

Sourcing sustainably can sometimes be a hurdle, as companies need to consider everything from material composition to chemicals in textiles. Bluesign does the legwork for companies, allowing them to pull fabrics that have been vetted and are safe. This frees up designers to spend their time creating rather than worrying about the responsibility of their material choices. Going upstream in the supply chain, Bluesign lets mills find the brands interested in their products, and helps chemical companies connect with sustainable mills.

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“We have these system partners that very much trust us as an expert voice, and the combined experience in Bluesign, with all of our colleagues added up in the industry, is hundreds and hundreds of years,” said Dumain.

There is room for everybody in the push for sustainability, and the more scale the better. “You start to have the sort of friends that you can call to talk to about these things,” she said. But even though the power of community is strong, single companies or employees can still make an impact. Dumain used the analogy of a single tiny mosquito in a bedroom being highly effective at keeping people awake. “Never underestimate the power of an individual that is really motivated to do something.”

Click the image above to watch the video to hear how Bluesign is connecting apparel companies with sustainable suppliers and how partnerships—even among competitors—can quickly scale change.