Apparel Textile Sourcing Show: Sustainable Sourcing
On August 20-21st, 2018, I attended the Apparel Textile Sourcing show in Toronto Canada. My main goal was to meet the President of Kendor Textiles, Paul King. Kendor is one of my primary suppliers of textiles for our initial assortment, and they are one of the few companies that takes great pride in specializing in environmentally and socially responsible knit and woven textiles. Paul was on a panel of experts discussing Sustainable Sourcing and The Bottom Line Supply Chain, so it was a great way to finally meet Paul but also learn what others are saying about the importance of sustainability and apparel sourcing.
Joining Paul on the panel was Anouk Bertner, Executive Director at Eco Equitable (more on this company later), Pam Bokser, Director of Softgoods Direct Imports at Giant Tiger, and Clay Hickson, VP of Strategy and Business Development at Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP).
Making the Invisible Visible
One of the best takeaways about the topic of sustainability was this phrase Anouk mentioned - "making the invisible visible." Until quite recently, no one really knew how their clothes were made, where they were made, or how the people were treated when making their clothes. It was only until the recent news of sweatshops and the unethical labor practices used by apparel makers everywhere, and more recently the Bangladesh factory fire that killed 112 workers caused by faulty wiring and insufficient fire escape routes - that apparel executives started to care and take stock in how they produce and source their clothes.
The idea of responsible sourcing and transparency has taken root, Anouk stated during the panelist discussion, but it has to be more than warm/fuzzy thoughts of doing good. She mentioned a carpet company called Interface whose focus changed in 1994 from the typical take-make-waste business model toward one that’s renewable, cyclical, and benign. Interface is on track to meet their goal of "Mission Zero" - to eliminate any negative impact the company has on the environment by 2020. Anouk stated that the best part of Interface’s plan was that they had specific metrics to measure their impact and to quantify what success looks like.
Paul King added that many companies like the idea of organics for textile sourcing, but really don’t understand what that specifically means on total environmental impact. Paul stated that, while organics means reducing chemical impact, it uses more water, and possibly labor that is treated poorly via low wages, poor working conditions, and little to no benefits. So while the label of “green” may be there with some products, consumers are really duped into thinking organic is always good.
This is where Kendor has been working to improve textile sourcing — by providing a more holistic way of identifying responsibly sourced product via third party accreditation firms like bluesign, Oeko-Tex, and WRAP. These firms ensure that textile production is done in an environmentally safe way but also that labor and social practices are in place so that a safe working environment exists.
And so a huge takeaway from the panel discussion was this:
How do companies define themselves when it comes to sustainability? What measures are used to define their goal of being sustainable?
It’s all over the board now, with some focusing on Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions while others are encompassing labor and social practices while still others focus simply on recycled material and processes. I think Interface has it mostly right on the environmental side, but as socially and environmentally-conscious companies, we also have to think about how well suppliers, employees, and business partners are being treated across the end to end supply chain.
This really got me thinking about JOOB’s products and its textile sources, and how best to measure our environmental impact. The Interface plan and mission is definitely the right way to go, so we’ll need to measure our end to end supply chain’s environmental impact in terms of GHG emissions and any waste made during production, and develop plans to offset this through the use of recycled materials, offsetting, or other means. We’ll be as transparent as possible on this as we develop our goals. Looking forward to providing more on this topic, which is critical to our planet, and our mission at JOOB. Some estimates state that by 2050, our consumption level will rise to somewhere between 3.5 to 5 planets (source), so it’s best we start to change how we produce and consume, and how we measure what success means to an organization.
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