2015 saw the launch of several sustainable technologies for garment finishing

2015 saw the launch of several sustainable technologies for garment finishing

New fabric finishing technologies and recycling initiatives were among the green garment highlights of 2015, but polyfluorinated chemicals, pollution and forced labour came under fire.

WINNERS

Jeanologia

Jeanologia, a Spanish company specialising in sustainable technologies for garment finishing, introduced a new laser solution in November that replaces the use of potassium permanganate, a strong oxidising agent in the jeans production process. The company says its new Light PP Spray solution eliminates the potentially hazardous chemical solution still used to bleach and brighten denim for a worn effect. It follows other technologies developed by Jeanologia to eliminate sandblasting and reduce water consumption in jeans production.

MAS

Sri Lankan apparel and fabric giant MAS has unveiled one of South Asia's largest rooftop solar installations at the MAS Fabrics Matrix plant inside its Fabric Park in Thulhiriya, Sri Lanka, its dedicated knitting facility for Nike Flyknit running shoes. The one-megawatt rooftop solar solution consists of 3,900 solar panels, roughly the size of 1.3 football fields. Managing director Ajay Amalean claimed that 41% of MAS runs on renewable energy. The group is one of Asia's largest manufacturers of intimate apparel, sportswear, performance wear and swimwear. In 2011 the company partnered with Marks & Spencer to create the first carbon neutral lingerie range for the UK high street.

Adidas

German sportswear behemoth Adidas announced in September that it is leading a research project funded by the European Commission to re-engineer manufacturing for continuously recycled sporting goods. The Sport Infinity project aims to identify recyclable composites that can be returned after use, broken down into 3D shapeable materials, and then re-moulded in a waste-free process that allows for more consumer personalisation. The project will concentrate in the first instance on shoes (and balls).

Marks & Spencer

UK retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) has actively promoted its sustainability agenda for many years and is also reporting on its own progress. Its 2015 Plan A Report released in June details how the company has pushed ahead with recycling clothing as mattress fills, training staff in financial literacy and health and adopting energy efficiency measures in factories to make energy savings of 10%. M&S has also consulted with customers about sourcing transparency and aims to increase information on products, it says.

VF Corporation

The US-based VF Corporation is exploring using an innovative new fabric finishing technology from APJeT that adds high performance finishes to fabrics without the use of water or heat. APJeT's atmospheric plasma technology uses ionised gas to make textiles resistant to water, stains and other substances, reducing or eliminating the high-energy requirements needed for traditional wet finishing of textiles. The new technology will be trialled at VF's three Global Innovation Centres, all located in the US, which focus on high performance apparel and footwear for its numerous brands.

LOSERS

Walmart

Walmart has come under fire from labour rights groups that have investigated the retailer's apparel supply chain in India, Cambodia and Indonesia. US-based Jobs with Justice Education Fund and Asia Floor Wage Alliance said that Walmart failed to take responsibility for abuses in its supply chains, particularly in Cambodia where an estimated 45,000 workers are employed in its supplier factories. Wage-theft practices were rife, as were violations of worker's rights and harassment in all three countries, according to the report. 

Fast Retailing

Japanese retailer Fast Retailing Co Ltd was also heavily criticised by labour rights groups for failing to improve working conditions and environmental pollution at Uniqlo supplier factories in mainland China. Four factories in Guangzhou City, Dongguan and Jintan were named and shamed in a report by Labour Action China and Tokyo-based international organisation Human Rights Now following investigations into worker conditions that took place in early 2015 by the Hong Kong-based Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM). SACOM's follow-up report found that corrective measures had not taken place.

Zhejiang province

Meanwhile, high polluting clothing and textile manufacturers in China's Zhejiang province are feeling the sting of a new water protection law issued in April, with more than 2,200 factories in the region forced to close their doors in the first seven months of 2015, according to the province's environmental protection bureau. The closures are part of a wider scheme to crack down on polluting businesses with no environmental controls, with industries such as textiles and leather either forced beyond city limits or banned from new development areas altogether in Shanghai and Beijing.

Turkmenistan

Difficult climatic conditions strained Turkmenistan's cotton harvest this year, as local farmers struggled to meet their quotas thanks to drought, flooding and irrigation system breakages. Freezing conditions at harvest time saw fewer volunteers than usual and the opposition Alternative Turkmenistan News (ATN) said the government forced tens of thousands of citizens to pick cotton, including students and even teachers. Children were also co-opted into the harvest in one particular area, claimed the ATN.

Polyfluorinated chemicals

Finally, environmental activist group Greenpeace has polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) in its sights and continued to call on outdoor brands and retailers to eliminate their use. PFCs are used to make outdoor wear waterproof but can persist in the environment for millennia and cause serious health problems when present in food and the environment, according to Greenpeace. While around 20 brands have already signed a commitment to eliminate toxic chemicals from their products before 2020, Greenpeace is pushing the EU and China to introduce a ban on the use of PFCs altogether.

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