Despite COVID-19’s unprecedented global upheaval, the Apparel Impact Institute (Aii) is staying its course.
The California-based organization, whose remit is to scale up mill improvements across the textile supply chain using the National Resources Defense Council’s Clean by Design methodology, is expanding its programming to fan out not only foundational “low-hanging fruit” projects, but also intermediate- and advanced-level initiatives that can reduce environmental impacts worldwide.
This year, Aii is augmenting its signature program for energy and water efficiency for textile mills with a pilot project that incorporates best practices for chemistry and wastewater management. Over the next year, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition offshoot plans to cover all facility types—not just Tier 2 wet-processing factories—across the apparel supply chain.
“With Clean by Design fully integrated into Aii, we’re leaning into our role as an aggregator and connect mills, brands and technical experts to scale improvement programs and innovation through investment, partnership and data-driven best practices, including measurable, transparent results,” said Kurt Kipka, Aii’s vice president.
Aii takes a multi-stakeholder approach, receiving both financial and strategic support from institutions like HSBC, IDH, the Schmidt Family Foundation and Stitching Doen and brands and retailers such as Burberry, Gap, Target, Levi Strauss, New Balance, Puma and PVH Corp.
“Aii plays the role of a technical clearing house for our partner brands, manufacturers and philanthropic donors, validating and aggregating proven environment initiatives,” Kipka said. “Using this multi-stakeholder approach is key for reducing redundant efforts and optimizing the resources of our partners.”
Since 2017, Aii’s programs have reached hundreds of facilities in mainland China, Taiwan, India and Vietnam, “all with verified savings and identified opportunities for further improvement,” he added. In addition, Clean by Design has demonstrated an “excellent” environmental and financial return on investment. Despite an initial outlay, most mills can expect to recoup their investments in 14 months. On average, mills that have completed improvements can save $440,000 every year.
“Aii’s programs not only deliver quantifiable results but they provide also an incubation platform for the industry to test and deploy new concepts for continuous improvement,” Kipka said.
One stumbling block for the textile industry has been the lack of coordination toward common targets. “There’s no roadmap to industry-wide success, and we find that many organizations want to create their own programs and initiatives to solve the issues, even though most organizations have similar sustainability goals,” he said. “That’s not an effective strategy. Instead of reinventing the wheel, we want to convene the industry to find common solutions for achieving shared goals.”
Aii sees itself as part of a coordinated plan of attack alongside the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and fellow spinoff Higg Co to propel a level of standardization that will make improvements easier to measure, not to mention more transparent.
“Together, the three organizations are able to build on each other’s strengths and make a bigger impact on the industry,” Kipka said.
What’s the most important issue the fashion industry has yet to address?
“Not to sound like a broken record, but duplicated efforts are a huge issue that the fashion industry needs to address. We’re doing our part to align efforts, but we need everybody in the industry to do their part as well. We need to work together if we’re going to curb climate change.”
For more on Sustaining Voices, which celebrates the efforts the apparel industry is making toward securing a more environmentally responsible future through creative innovations, scalable solutions and forward-thinking initiatives that are spinning intent into action, visit sustainingvoices.com.