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Is Sustainability Caught up in Marketing or Actually Making Strides?

Sustainability in the supply chain may never have had more momentum, but to really move that steam from mere marketing to actual action, it’s going to take turning the status quo for sourcing on its head.

“Today we are measuring our business based on the capacity of growing our business, how much more we are selling and what we have the capability to produce,” said Andreas Crespi, managing director of Italy’s Eurojersey Spa textile mill and president of the sustainability committee at Sistema Moda Italia.

But that modus operandi is out of sync with the key aspects of sustainability—the ones that hit at the world’s over consumption and depleting resources.

“We develop products not to be sustainable and not to last,” Crespi said speaking at the Textile Exchange Textile Sustainability Conference in Milan last week. “We are selling garments buy two get three. These are principles that have nothing to do with sustainability. If you really want to talk about change, the entire business model has to change.”

What’s more, along with that existing erred business ethos, some companies are more focused on the marketing side of sustainability than they are delivering on commitments for a cleaner future.

“Today, unfortunately, I believe there is too much marketing into sustainability…You go to the fair and everybody is producing something green,” Crespi said, adding that it’s a position Eurojersey has sought to avoid as greenwashing becomes rampant in the industry. “We want to stay away totally from the marketing, from telling how good we are with what we’re doing. We’re trying to share with our customer how much impact what we’re doing has.”

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Eurojersey started measuring the impacts of each thing in its process—an activity undoubtedly made easier by its vertical operation—scaling and adjusting where it found more sustainable ways of producing, and went transparent with everything in its supply chain. Even when it wasn’t perfect.

“We believe sustainability really is being transparent about what you’re able to do,” Crespi said.

The company even started telling its brand and retail partners that they’ll have to pay up for greener product—something many have hesitated to do in a market where the brand often dictates everything. And everything often includes paying lower prices.

“We need to step a little bit away from recycled/not recycled, but…start to declare to our customer who is buying Eurojersey, this is going to cost you more but, basically, this is the cost for the environment,” Crespi said.

It’s a position that is not only building trust with its brand partners, but also positively impacting Eurojersey’s bottom line.

“The biggest surprise that we got,” Crespi said, is that, “this is becoming a journey that is bringing our business more profitability not only from a cash point of view but from a sustainable point of view.”

Profitability has perhaps been the biggest hindrance for brands not yet sure of their position on sustainability and whether their consumer will spend their disposable dollars to get it. And some brands, while happy to market their sustainability efforts, still want the factories to foot the bulk of the bill to deliver it.

“The FOB prices that [factories’] buyers are willing to pay is not really meeting with the trend of increasing material, increasing labor, increase in regulatory requirements that increases the cost of manufacturing,” said Fukumi Hauser, project director for the Fung Academy.

And factories are already facing survival issues in light of a youth population not keen on that kind of work and accommodating sustainability demands without a budget, or brand breadth, to support it.

Adding a factory perspective, James Huang, president of Taiwanese manufacturer Kingwhale, said the aim for the company to survive amid the present industry pressures, is to look at how it can be sustainable, work on shorter lead times and improve quality, all in an efficient way that will ultimately be more cost effective for the factory.

The answer, Huang said, will lie in technology and innovation.

Kingwhale has so far taken to dyeing yarn during the spinning process to save on water, for one.

“Taiwan has one of the most advanced technical textiles…because we have a very strong petrochemical background and history of it,” Huang said. “I would develop a fabric or technology out of one place and we have computer systems or ERP systems, and whether you’re in Vietnam or U.S. you can log into a platform.”

It’s things like that, Huang said, that will help Kingwhale react to the market’s sustainability demands in the face of things like rising costs and tariffs.

Brands and retailers with their sights set on sustainability, however, will have to recognize efforts and investments like this at the factory level and be prepared to pay more—and work differently with their supply chain partners.

“When we talk about circular economy, we can no longer think that we are going to work with our customer the way we always did,” Crespi said. “We are going to be responsible for what we make…the entire industry has to sit around the table because this is not an easy task.”