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How Third-Party Oversight Backs Up Brands’ Sustainability Storytelling

Despite fashion companies’ efforts to create products responsibly, health and environmental hazards could still be lurking in their supply chains.

Unknown chemicals in particular could have a negative impact on both the workers producing garments and the end consumer. During the product’s lifecycle, these substances can also harm the environment during laundering and eventual disposal.

“Hidden chemicals add hidden costs to people and planet,” said Kutay Saritosun, director of fashion brands at responsible textile system Bluesign.

Over the past 20 years, Bluesign has worked with companies to eliminate hazardous chemicals from their production by offering greater oversight. At the start of new system partnerships, Bluesign visits facilities to do an on-site assessment, noting any gaps in adherence to its criteria. Bluesign and the system partner then develop an action plan to improve and elevate practices to meet its strict requirements. Following the initial site visit, Bluesign returns regularly to see how the facilities are upholding the guidelines. There are currently close to 700 system partners globally, connected through the Bluesign system.

Aside from proving compliance and safety to workers and the end consumer, adding third-party verification meets consumers’ growing needs for greater transparency.

“The better you know your supply chain, the better you’re able to be proactive and see where your problems lie,” explained Jill Dumain, CEO of Bluesign, in a piece published in Sustainable Outdoor News. “Traceability also enables a company to be as transparent as they like to be in order to meet increasing consumer expectations.”

Bluesign has taken supplier visibility to the next level with the creation of Bluesign CUBE, an online platform for responsible textiles. Suppliers can register their chemical composition and get rated, differentiating them from competitors. Meanwhile, manufacturers have a dashboard that can track their resource and chemical usage, with data corroborated by Bluesign site visits. Production facilities can also showcase the portion of Bluesign-approved chemicals that they are using.

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Bluesign CUBE acts as an online database and matchmaker, enabling chemical suppliers, manufacturers and brands to find partners within the Bluesign network while monitoring environmental performance.

The Bluesign label and branding differ from sustainability certifications in their all-encompassing approach to reducing the environmental impact of textiles. “With Bluesign, companies and consumers can feel good in knowing they are taking a holistic approach, encompassing more than just one link of the supply chain, and that learning and constant progress is required,” said Saritosun.

Bluesign eKPI
Bluesign eKPI Courtesy

Bluesign’s method of having strong protocols in place from the start of production results in impact reduction and can create cost savings. Collaborating with Bluesign system partner manufacturers allows companies to have a high level of trust in their suppliers from the get-go, enabling them to be able to trace Bluesign Approved materials all the way to the chemical suppliers.

Protecting people

Human health is at the center of chemical compliance. But Bluesign’s criteria also cover other elements of individuals’ well-being, including the occupational health and safety of employees within the supply chain.

This focus on people reflects how consumers’ sustainability concerns have evolved over the last 20 years. “While earlier consumers were only seeking garments made from sustainable raw materials, there now is a focus on how the goods are made, where they are made, safe chemistry and the human aspect of textile production,” said Saritosun.

Looking ahead at the next two decades in sustainability, Bluesign believes data-driven communication will be key. Since sustainability is a journey, bringing consumers along for the ride requires storytelling that is backed up by numbers. For its system partners, Bluesign is providing the information they need to transparently share their self-improvement successes.

“Consumers are getting smarter to greenwashing,” Saritosun noted. “Real data based on facts and figures that have been verified by a third party will be the only way to communicate changes made to the industry.”

Click here to learn more about Bluesign.