Sustainability has become a critical part of the fashion equation and a group of innovators are shaking up the apparel industry with their eco-friendly advancements.
At the BF+DA Positive Impact Awards held Thursday at Pratt Institute’s Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator, more than 800 apparel industry members came together to celebrate the sustainable milestones of select companies, documentaries, organizations and individuals blazing a trail in the sector, including Avery Dennison, Mara Hoffman, Target, Alabama Chanin, Save the Garment Center, RiverBlue, Kirrin Finch and Pratt Institute assistant professor Jennifer E. Telesca.
These sustainability leaders are working toward lessening apparel’s impact in a variety of ways, from incorporating recycled materials into their products, to using technology to promote responsible supply chains. It’s efforts like theirs that will help the apparel industry reduce its carbon footprint and improve the lives of those who interact with garments—essentially, everyone in the world.
As a hub for ethical fashion design, the BF+DA enables industry members to make their supply chains more circular by providing them with a highly personalized and collaborative learning experience. At the BF+DA, emerging designers and businesses have access to a robust resource network, where together, they work with the accelerator hub on sourcing sustainably and creating products with minimal environmental impact.
“Collaboration is critical to achieve sustainability solutions because there are so many perspectives and point along the supply chain,” said BF+DA executive director Debera Johnson. “The return on investment often restricts internal innovation teams from thinking outside the box. That’s the value the BF+DA can offer—for us there is no box.”
Mara Hoffman, a New York-based womenswear company, which won the Brand Leadership in Advancing Sustainability Award, is promoting sustainability throughout its apparel production process—including materials sourcing.
“We’ve committed ourselves to making sustainability a priority, to continue to factor it into all decisions across the board and to continue to educate ourselves before making those decisions,” said founder and president Mara Hoffman. “On a technical level, we’re using recycled polyesters and regenerated nylons in our swimwear; organic cotton, hemp and fibers made from sustainably harvested trees in our Ready to Wear; and digital printing to reduce our water waste.”
For its Spring 2018 RTW collection, Mara Hoffman is introducing hemp for the first time—a material that grows without pesticide use while replenishing soil. Mara Hoffman also teamed up with sustainable fiber company Lenzing to be one of the first brands to use Refibra—a new fiber made from pulp that contains post-industrial cotton scraps left over from cutting operations and wood. This partnership enables the brand to incorporate more eco-friendly materials into its clothing.
Hoffman said even though transitioning to a more eco-friendly path has its challenges, other brands can find their sustainable calling, too.
“Find your largest impact areas and focus on them,” Hoffman said. “Part of the journey is understanding that it’s a constant work in progress. It’s give and take, but it’s worthwhile.”
Glendale, California-based label solutions company, Avery Dennison, is also supporting the move to a more sustainable apparel industry with its digital retail solutions. Avery Dennison was honored with the Industry Leadership in Advancing Responsible Technology Award in recognition of its ongoing transparency efforts.
“Sustainability is a thread that runs throughout our solutions and we believe we have a responsibility and an opportunity to use our influence across multiple industries to make brands, our business and the world around us more sustainable,” said Leah Johnson, Avery Dennison RBIS director of global communications. “We guide our customers to make more informed decisions about the materials they use and continue to use our materials science expertise to bring environmentally friendly alternatives to the market.”
For instance, Janela, one of Avery Dennison’s advanced solutions, is enabling consumers to have visibility into brands’ supply chain practices. Janela, which provides apparel and footwear products with their own unique serialized label. This label, gives consumers information about where their products are made and how to recycle their products.
“At the end of the day, we are advancing very rapidly in the digital space. It’s becoming core to how we interact with the world around us,” said Julie Vargas, Avery Dennison digital solutions director, prior to accepting the award on behalf of the company. “It’s not a brand challenge or a consumer challenge, but a challenge for the entire industry.”
In addition to promoting transparency through responsible technologies, Avery Dennison has its own sustainability goals in the works. The company’s plans span numerous environmental targets—including achieving at least a 3 percent absolute reduction of greenhouse gas emissions year over year and achieving at least 75 percent of waste reused, repurposed or recycled. The company aims to reach these goals by 2025, while doing its part to improve the apparel industry along the way.
Supply chain sustainability remains a major concern among apparel leaders and Target is helping the situation by fortifying more eco-friendly practices from sourcing to finished product.
As the recipient of the Industry Leadership in Advancing Supply Chains Award, Target is working with its factories and vendors to uphold eco-friendly practices throughout its supply chain. In partnership with the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), Target had 2,000 of its factories complete the Higg Facility Environment Module (FEM) assessment, which evaluates factories on their energy and greenhouse gas emissions, water use and waste management. With these supply chain efforts, Target aims to place its factories and vendors on a more sustainable path and contribute to the wellness of all impacted by its supply chain—including consumers and workers.
“For us, responsible sourcing is not about marketing, but about working with our vendors and factories to improve the lives of workers across Target’s supply chain,” said Alexis Kantor, VP of product development at Target. “This work is important to the long-term health of our business and the communities where we do business.”
For Alabama Chanin, recipient of the Preserving Heritage & Craft Award, including consumers in the greater sustainability conversation is crucial. As a company that designs with a seasonless approach, Alabama Chanin enables its consumers to enjoy apparel beyond the latest fashion trends.
“The best way we can encourage our customers to make more eco-conscious shopping habits is to openly share our methods, techniques and supply chain. We educate about making informed, responsible purchases and those benefits to people and our planet—providing jobs to the farmers growing the cotton and the artisans making the garment, choosing a product that uses less chemicals in the production process or finds a way to cut down on the carbon footprint,” said Alabama Chanin founder and creative director Natalie Chanin. “Transparency means we value our team, our customers and our community.”
Beyond consumers, some industry organizations, including Save the Garment Center, focus on domestic fashion ecosystems, including New York’s Garment District, to drive sustainability. As the recipient of the award for Award for Leadership, Community Building & Collaboration, Save the Garment Center is preserving this critical design hub, while supporting the businesses and manufacturers that power the Garment District today.
Charles Beckwith, Save the Garment Center’s director of communications, spoke at the awards about how Garment District businesses are critical for future sustainability innovation. As the fashion landscape continues to shift, businesses in the Garment District could help advance the industry by creating more sustainable products and finding new ways to minimize material waste.
“The idea that these are factories is a bit off, they are product development centers,” Beckwith said. “It’s not mass productivity, this is where ideas are created.”
Even though brands, consumers and other links in the supply chain are critical for sustainability advancement, designers are also key to implementing ongoing circularity. Some designers have already experimented with the sustainable path by switching to more organic materials and creating garments with second life purposes. Despite growing concerns about the fashion industry’s path, some sustainable designers have already began leading the way for better environmental practices.
RiverBlue producer Lisa Mazzotta, who accepted the Best Documentary Film Award, discussed how eco-friendly designers could help other industry members, including brands, reduce their carbon footprint in the future.
“There’s more people working in sustainable fashion than we thought,” Mazzotta said. ” In the process of making the film, we found a lot of sustainable designers. I believe if those people start talking more, the brands can start to adopt those sustainable manufacturing ways.”