Blog: Leonie BarrieSustainability debate hots up

Leonie Barrie | 15 February 2010

Wal-Mart is taking a scheme that effectively measures the sustainability of its suppliers outside the US for the first time, in a move that provides more evidence that apparel and footwear manufacturers need to stay on the right side of the sustainability debate.

The retail giant has extended its “sustainability index” to Canada after launching the initiative in the US last summer. In summary, the index plans to measure suppliers on things like energy and raw material use, set up a supplier database and then create a ratings system that consumers can understand and use to shop in an environmentally-friendly way.

But not surprisingly there are also fears the index will ultimately be used to choose suppliers by making a final decision beyond cost.

It has also been a week of dashed hopes for two UK fashion retailers, after value chain New Look pulled its IPO and discount store Matalan shelved plans to sell up. New Look scrapped its flotation plans in the midst of turbulent equity markets, while private equity bidders failed to meet Matalan’s GBP1.5bn (US$2.35bn) price tag. Both developments illustrate a continuing fragility in the UK finance sector, but could also suggest that New Look and Matalan believe a better climate is just around the corner.

But bad fortunes continue for UK fashion retailer Ethel Austin, which has shuttered 129 stores with the loss of 469 jobs after calling in administrators for the second time in as many years. Buyers are being sought after the chain ran out of money to buy stock. In 2008 the retailer was sold to the former chief executive of value fashion chain Mk One in a move that secured around 2,500 jobs.

And winners and losers on the apparel supply side are highlighted in a new report which notes that the global economic crisis has favoured apparel exports from some of the world’s poorest nations, but stunted the growth of others. Bangladesh and Haiti have expanded exports, while Cambodia lost out as higher costs hit value and volume of both knit and non-knit apparel shipments.

And finally, the fashion world is mourning the loss of designer Alexander McQueen, who was found dead in his London flat last week. The 40-year-old, who has been described as “one of the greatest designers of his generation,” was awarded designer of the year four times at the British Fashion Awards and received a CBE in 2003.


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