ESG Outlook is Sourcing Journal’s discussion series with industry executives to get their take on their company’s latest environmental, social and governance initiatives and their own personal efforts toward sustainability. In this Q&A, Gary Simmons, interim CEO at non-profit organization Delivering Good, discusses turning the negative aspect of excess fashion inventory in a social positive.
Name: Gary Simmons
Title: Interim CEO
Company: Delivering Good
What do you consider to be your company’s best ESG-related achievement over the last 5 years?
From an environmental standpoint, this is at the core of our mission at Delivering Good—taking clothing and other retail products that might otherwise be sent to landfills and instead giving them to people in need. We help people dealing with poverty, disaster and other tragedies and do it in a sustainable way. In 2020, we were able to distribute almost double the amount of product we have in the past, and in 2021, we received and distributed nearly $60 million more than an average year. Delivering Good helped the industry during Covid supply chain interruptions by turning a negative situation into a positive—one for both people in need and for companies seeking a sustainable solution for excess inventory.
What is your personal philosophy on shopping and caring for your clothes? How do you try to minimize the environmental impact of the clothes you buy? Either on the purchasing side and/or end-of-use angle?
I personally believe in buying higher-quality clothing, but less of it, and using it over a longer period of time. Since I’m a frugal person, this strategy has the added benefit of saving money.
How much do you look into a brand’s social or environmental practices before shopping?
I do look into a brand’s social or environmental practices because I have a knowledge of the industry. I will only buy product that I believe is legitimately recycled, like Repreve polyester which uses plastic bottles, or verifiable organic cotton, verified by a reputable brand or agency that I trust.
Anything new you are doing to boost sustainability beyond the fashion industry?
In accepting this role as an Interim CEO, I’ve boosted my own sustainability because that’s what Delivering Good does. We also accept donations of home, beauty and other products, so personally and professionally we’ve been able to boost sustainability beyond fashion.
What would you say is the biggest misconception consumers have about sustainability in fashion? And since you work in this industry, do you find yourself trying to help clarify such misconceptions?
The biggest misconception about the fashion industry is that because you can grow cotton and recycle polyester, it’s a pretty sustainable business. Yet fashion is one of the least sustainable industries. In fact, the chemicals and high volumes of water used in the dyeing process, and the amount that is not recycled, cause more sustainability problems than other industries. The industry is moving in the right direction but has a long way to go.
What was your company’s biggest takeaway from the Covid crisis?
We saw a glut of product due to supply chain issues and now businesses are getting smarter about what they are producing. There is a big shift in terms of people buying apparel online and returning more items than they would in stores, which results in additional excess product. Retailers and manufacturers were in crisis, and we were able to provide them with a simple, sustainable option that allowed them to divert excess product to those in need, and avoid any drastic action they might have otherwise taken. Delivering Good is an essential product solution for manufacturers and retailers.
What is your company’s latest sustainability-related initiative?
Delivering Good has been focused on sustainability from day one. Looking forward, we will explore manufacturing product with excess fabric, trim and findings to put scraps to use that could otherwise be considered garbage for the landfill.
What do you consider to be the apparel industry’s biggest missed opportunity related to securing meaningful change?
The biggest missed opportunity is not working with partners like Delivering Good to help people in need by better utilizing excess product. That has been our mission for 36 years. Sustainability won’t be “solved”— it’s an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed. The answer is working with the right community partners that can verify they get product to those in need. That’s what Delivering Good does. We make sure the product gets to the right people in a cost-effective and efficient way.