Incorporating sustainability into manufacturing practices and the supply chain is becoming a key priority for many textile and apparel companies.
Growing pressure from consumers, retailers, brands, investors and international initiatives such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement and the EU Circular Economy Action Plan are causing many companies to take a second look at the status quo.
Some key focus areas that contribute to the development of sustainable supply chain management in the textile and apparel industry include producer and supply chain responsibility, transparency and traceability, environmental impact reduction and environmental management system adoption.
Consumers are becoming more knowledgeable and demanding greater care of animals involved in our food and apparel systems. Research shows that informed consumers want to buy from responsible retailers. After cost, quality, style and performance, consumers are looking for sustainability, verifiable claims, traceability and transparency.
No longer can retailers ignore the demands that consumers have for sustainability and transparency of products. As brands continue to implement stronger brand standards, these demands will trickle down throughout the supply chain, causing a shift in manufacturing at every stage of production.
Third-party certification of textile production practices satisfies customer expectations for animal welfare and can provide both brand differentiation and risk management. Through farm, facility and chain of custody audits, certification assures consumers that the products come from ethical and responsible sources, with full traceability throughout the supply chain. Farmers gain a market advantage by validating that their operations implement best practices in animal and land management.
A third-party audit and compliance program can help mitigate risk and expand market acceptance of products, and also provide a manageable process and system for certification.
Traceability and transparency
Traceability means the ability to trace a product back through its supply chain to the origins of its components; for example, to know where the organic cotton in a T-shirt was grown. Brand reputation risks are often hidden within a supply chain, and consumers are becoming more aware of this by asking questions. Consumers want to know where the materials of a product came from, how the animals were treated and that workers are paid a fair wage and treated well. More companies are publishing the list of their global supplier factories to show full traceability of their products.
These lists also offer a transparent look into how these brands run their business. Companies are adopting transparency practices that show both the good and the not so good. What is behind brand messages and how transparent the brand is about meeting or falling short of those messages is what garners praise or punishment from consumers. The heightened use of social media and review sites is also leading to increased brand information to be available whether brands like it or not.
How can companies act?
Chain of custody
Organizations looking for a traceability verification of specific materials in a final product can benefit from implementing chain of custody practices within their supply chain. A chain of custody framework can be designed to ensure the accuracy of content claims by requiring a supply chain to take steps that ensure preservation of the integrity and identity of the input material. For example, the Textile Exchange Content Claim Standard (CCS) allows for transparent, consistent and comprehensive independent evaluation and verification of material content claims on products. It provides manufacturers, brands, retailers, traders and organizations supporting specific raw material initiatives a strong chain of custody system from source to final product.
Safer chemical management practices
Responsible companies want to establish chemical standards and practices that go beyond meeting regulatory minimums. Consumers and organizations are pushing for safer chemical formulations in products and manufacturing processes.
The Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) Programme provides brands and suppliers with a harmonized approach to managing chemicals during the processing of raw materials in the apparel and footwear supply chain. Using chemical formulations that are in conformance to ZDHC MRSL limits ensures that banned chemical substances are not intentionally used during production.
The ToxFMD Screened Chemistry™ Program provides a streamlined platform for chemical hazard assessment and supports claims related to safer chemicals at the formulation level, supporting safer chemical identification and informed substitution.
Third-party verification of conformance allows manufacturers to demonstrate they have evaluated for, reduced or removed priority hazardous substances from their manufacturing processes.
Verification of preferred materials
Whether the products come from responsibly raised animals (NSF Global Traceable Down Standard (TDS), TE Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), TE Responsible Down Standard (RDS)), recycled content sources (Global Recycled Standard (GRS), Recycled Content Standard (RCS)), or other preferred methods (Global Organic Textiles Standard (GOTS), Better Cotton Initiative (BCI)), verification is key toward demonstrating the steps companies are taking to improve the sustainability aspects of their products.
Verification informs and assures customers that the products they purchase are made from responsible sources and satisfies customer expectations for sustainability claims, providing both brand differentiation and risk management, as well as greater assurance that desired environmental and social outcomes are being achieved.
Better outcomes for all
Brands are implementing practices to improve the sustainability, verifiable claims, traceability and transparency of their products, so let’s continue to work together to keep this shift moving in the right direction and make sure that it never goes out of style.
For more information on traceability and transparency, visit NSF International at nsf.org.