Blog: Beth WrightLevi Strauss leads on green supply chain in China

Beth Wright | 4 November 2019

Sustainability remains top of mind for the industry with Levi Strauss, Adidas and C&A ranked amongst the leading brands to have made progress in environmental supply chain management in China over the last year, with the apparel sector one of the most active industries when it comes to taking action.

Clothing retailers have also been praised for their efforts in preventing plastic pollution, with Ganni, Marks & Spencer and Woolworths Holdings recognised in a new progress report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Staying with sustainability, German fashion e-tailer Zalando says its own operations and all deliveries and returns are now carbon neutral, and that it aims to be single-use plastic-free in its own packaging by 2023.

In the UK, fashion and accessories retailer Monsoon has outlined a raft of sustainability commitments – including a long-term pledge that all of its clothing ranges be more than 90% sustainable by 2023.

While H&M has become the latest retailer to enter the rental space, giving consumers in its native Sweden the chance to hire select pieces from its 2012-2019 Conscious Exclusive collections made from more sustainable materials.

Elsewhere, global apparel retailer Gap Inc is calling on the expertise of the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) to find ways to remove spandex from fabrics and decolour denim ahead of recycling.

Fashion firms Bestseller, Columbia, Gap Inc, H&M Group, Kering, Li & Fung and PVH Corp have joined a new pledge led by US sporting goods giant Nike and environmental group Ocean Conservancy to prohibit shipping through the Arctic Ocean.

And Decathlon, Gant and Mango are among the latest 24 companies to join a new coalition that has pledged to set practical steps to reduce the environmental impact of the apparel industry.

Sustainability in fashion is a complex issue for consumers to understand and the industry to fix. The problem is further exasperated by a vague marketing approach adopted by some brands and the multi-pronged approach from consumers, industry and the government. Here we look at how best to balance consumer sentiment and supply chain realities.

The number of fashion items on sale in the UK and the US with sustainable descriptions has surged over the last year, new research has found, signalling a noticeable shift in retailers' communications with their customers.

Meanwhile, the fashion industry managed to rake in well over a trillion dollars in 2018 – but its supply chain continues to face challenges ranging from excess waste to ethical issues and counterfeiting. However, blockchain might have the power to solve or, at the very least, alleviate these concerns.

Elsewhere, several online apparel retailers are alleged to be hosting third-party sellers on their platforms whose products are sourced from factories in Bangladesh that could be unsafe for workers.

The government in Mauritius has agreed a new labour law that will improve working conditions including hours of work, shift work, vacation leave and non-standard work.

And although there are numerous individual success stories in the Romanian textile and garment industry, sector statistics show a more bleak picture: employment, production and exports are declining, while imports and the sector's trade deficit are on the rise. 

In other news, Sweden's largest forest owner association Södra has developed a new method of separating the cotton and polyester in poly-cotton blends; mother and baby products retailer Mothercare has hired restructuring experts KPMG; and a new association has launched in Cambodia to try to encourage more Chinese investment into the garment industry.

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