Delegates from as far afield as Australia, New Zealand and Portugal came to find out how the working garment supply chain could become more sustainable at the NEC on the second day of the Workwear and Corporate Clothing Show in April. So why the effort?
This was the key part of the conference – those interested in keeping ahead of the competition know that sustainability is big news and it is only going to get bigger. The conference stripped away the myths and hearsay surrounding sustainability and disseminated harsh truths, practical tips and inspiring stories. These were articulated by ten outstanding speakers, chosen from a range of buyers, suppliers and manufacturers in the working garment industry as well as outside experts.
The diversity of their presentations ensured that issues surrounding the whole supply chain from fibre to garment end-of-life were addressed. Chaired by Karen Sparrow, head of uniforms at Virgin Atlantic, topics ranged from supply chain management, alternative fibres and ethical trading to case studies of best practice, garment reuse and recycling, and eco standards.
Welcoming delegates to the conference, Karen said the objective was to improve understanding of sustainability across the industry. “The focus on sustainability is greater than ever before,” she said. “Virgin Atlantic puts sustainability at the core of its business and we recognise that we have a huge responsibility to the environment.”
First up was Nick Morley, director of sustainability for Oakdene Hollins, a consultancy that runs the Centre for Remanufacturing and Reuse (CRR). He defined sustainability as a balance between economics, social and environmental areas and stressed the importance of maintaining the balance between the three.
Turning to the company’s uniforms, she added: “Uniforms are key to our business and we adopt a sustainable policy, using recyclable and ecological systems throughout the manufacturing process. We also ensure that the people who make our products have good working conditions. It doesn’t have to be costly to be sustainable.”
He felt there should be more prominence given to the environment, since society and economy were bounded by it. “It looks like we’ve got 20 to 30 years to get carbon levels under control. Our generation is the generation that has to do it,” he said. “The planet will carry on – it’s human beings that are vulnerable.”
Nick suggested we look at how products are made and become aware of the ‘story’ they tell – and decide if we are proud of that story or not. He also outlined the work being done by CRR in relation to corporate clothing. “Our strategy is re-use rather than re-cycle. Currently, about five percent of all clothing in the UK is corporate clothing or PPE and, in looking at the life cycle impact of that clothing from fibre to end use, we decided that the re-use route was the most valuable.”
He described a second CRR project that is studying how to make the removal of logos from workwear, PPE and corporate clothing more effective, because that is also important in the context of re-using clothing.
Nick concluded by pointing delegates in the direction of the website, www.uniformreuse.co.uk. An online resource launched at the Workwear and Corporate Clothing Show, it provides the industry with information on the opportunities that exist to reuse and recycle corporatewear, and is supported by extensive research and case studies of best practice.
As manager of NI Teijin Shoji Europe GmbH, Miles Marchant drives the business development for the company’s Eco Circle closed loop garment recycling system in Europe. “It’s an endless re-cycling system for used garments and other polyester products using chemical processing,” he said.
Miles went on to explain that, in the system, polyester is chemically decomposed and recycled with other fibres to make new fabrics. The reason Teijin embarked on the project was to reduce the vast amounts of petroleum and other resources used in fibre manufacturing.
“Teijin set a 20 percent reduction target from 1990 to 2020,” he said, adding that, ultimately, “the aim is for all our clothing to be made from recycled and recyclable products”.
Pointing out that polyester accounted for some 40 percent of fibre usage and that currently most of that is incinerated after use or ends up in landfill, he said the loop process was not energy expensive. “Teijin has a PET recycling plant at Matsuyama in Japan that can purify used materials and process them into textured and split yarns and blends such as polyester/wool. We can also recycle polyester/cotton, polyester/rayon, polyester/nylon and polyester/TENCEL® so long as the blend contains 80 or 90 percent polyester by weight,” he added.
He also told delegates that Teijin could re-process recycled polyester into hollow fibres and performance qualities. “Endless recycling is achievable. Purity is the key and Teijin is actively promoting the re-use of polyester, particularly in sportswear and leisurewear.”
As sales manager for Syscom PLC, Robin Vryenhoef told delegates that Syscom was a software house that had been working in textiles for 27 years. He talked about how using the latest technologies and software can help companies manage ethical sourcing throughout the design process.
“We have software that is designed to control and manage the complete manufacturing process from design to the finished product and its delivery to the client,” he said. “You can use our systems to help you with producing ethical fashion.”
Robin gave details and descriptions of individual elements within control systems for Syscom PDM, stressing that all are web-based and globally secure.
Robin went into detail about Syscom ERP, PDM and PRP and how they are used throughout the manufacturing process, and he explained how the systems meet ethical and compliance benchmarks throughout the world.
“Similar processes and systems can be used for controlling sustainable sourcing,” he said. “Not only that, we can also generate ‘what if?’ costing sheets and the best ways of using the information produced.”
Hayley Brooks is sales and marketing director for Dimensions Corporatewear and she told the conference delegates that corporate clothing is not only a means to project a company’s image but also its eco credentials.
She explained that, in 2000, Dimensions supplied 3.5 million garments; now, that figure is over 14 million garments a year and includes the brands Yaffy (protective clothing) and Boyd Cooper. “In 2000, we began promoting sourcing from Asia. In 2009, we source across all of Asia, some European countries and the US,” she said.
Hayley acknowledged that there are companies in the market that “don’t give a damn about where garments come from or how they are made, but eventually they will have to change”. She posed the question: “How, as a managing agent, do you make it work?” And she answered: “We look at four key areas: climate change, waste, raw materials and fair partners.”
On climate change, she suggested the industry can help by extending – and monitoring – garment lifespan; by providing better aftercare “this is key in relation to carbon footprint”; container use – “don’t ship more than is absolutely necessary”; and deliveries – “deliver on set days rather than on demand”.
On waste, Hayley suggested barely-used garments could be re-furbished rather than scrapped; old garments could be re-used, perhaps overseas in poorer markets; packaging should be made from recycled roots; and the amount used should be monitored.
In relation to raw materials, Hayley said that it is better to use sustainable fabric bases and she mentioned recycled polyester and closed loop recycling. In terms of fair partnerships, she said Dimensions is a member of ETI and subscribed to Sedex in order to share factory audit data. And she believed community links were important, both in client areas and manufacturing areas.
“It’s a fair journey and you’re not going to get there overnight – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start the journey. Do what you think is right, concentrate on what you can influence and remain focused. Finally, monitor and measure what you are doing,” she added.
As UK market manager for Lenzing Fibres, a world leader in cellulosic technology, Campbell Bland has responsibility for the markets in the UK and Turkey, as well as working as project manager for TENCEL® in workwear and corporatewear.
He began his presentation by examining how certain fibres that were thought to be sustainable may not be so because of processing procedures – and he cited dyeing as an example. Campbell then contrasted this with fibres derived from wood pulp from responsibly managed forests, which remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and emit oxygen.
He introduced the concept of the cellulosic cycle – essentially starting with photosynthesis, growing trees and on to wood pulp, then creating the fibre, its use in fabrics and garments before its disposal (which could involve composting) and back to photosynthesis.
Campbell discussed the properties of the company’s Lenzing FR® and TENCEL® fibres, explaining why both were suitable for workwear. “Lenzing FR® is made by the viscose process in which Lenzing maintains eco processes throughout,” he said. So much so, in fact, that the water used in the Lenzing facility is returned to the river from which it is taken originally as drinking water standard.“The fibre is made from beech trees grown in sustainable, managed forests and then cut and pulped,” he said. “Our pulp production is totally self-sufficient and in fact generates surplus energy, which is used to provide some of the power for the factory.”
Turning his attention to TENCEL®, Campbell said: “TENCEL® is the most environmentally responsible manufacturing production process available to date. It uses lyocell technology based on eucalyptus trees and is a closed loop technology.”
Commenting on its properties, he explained that the fibre offered comfort, through breathability and moisture absorption, and performance, through colour absorption, stability, strength, together with abrasion and pilling resistance making ideal for use in workwear.
The third generation of his family involved in textile recycling, Ross Barry is a director of Laurence M. Barry and Co.
Ross said that, for the business in which he is involved, sustainability is based on ‘The Three Rs’ – reduce, re-use and recycle. “We can’t help with reduce and recycle, but we can help with re-use,” he said. “The re-use of clothing on a commercial scale began in the mid-1980s and corporate clothing is a small part of this. We work with local authorities who provide bins for old clothing and we pay the councils.
“We have about 150 people who sort this clothing, because we have to ensure that what we are sending to Africa, for example, can be re-used.”
Ross explained that the company sorts into some 160 different grades of clothing. “There is a great deal of clothing out there within your uniforms and re-use is a very real option,” he said. “And we do work directly with companies, collecting uniforms that are finished with.”
Dealing with one of the contentious issues about the re-use of uniforms, he explained: “We don’t remove logos. It doesn’t work and there isn’t a security risk because we have a secure facility in the UK and we can guarantee that it won’t be misused in Africa.”
Christopher Schyma works within Lectra as a fashion and apparel account manager for Strategic Accounts in the UK and he started by explaining what Lectra does in the world textile and fashion markets through its wide range of machines and computer-based systems.
He introduced delegates to the concept of ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ (CSR), saying: “CSR is the deliberate inclusion of public interest into corporate decision-making and the honouring of a triple bottom line – people, planet and profit.”
Expanding on this concept, Christopher suggested a number of examples of CSR in action. These included responsible suppliers, environmentally-friendly production, leaders in research and innovation, and improving employment skills and development.
He discussed ways in which Lectra could help the industry to be sustainable in product development and lifecycle manufacturing, from design, pattern cutting, garment fitting, marker making, sampling, fabric cutting and production.
Essentially, if certain production steps could be eliminated – for example, using computer simulation to remove excessive sampling – then the manufacturing process as a whole becomes more sustainable.
As managing director for EU business with Noble Biomaterials, Steve Milner is responsible for developing applications for X-Static silver fibre, particularly in the military and medical sectors and with leading sportswear brands.
After pointing out that the benefits of silver have been known for thousands of years, he listed some of its properties – including anti-microbial (its most important benefit), anti-odour, anti-static and thermodynamic (for military uses) – and he stressed the product is wholly natural with no adverse reactions and its effects are permanent.
In his presentation, Steve focused on two areas: anti-microbial and thermodynamics. “The anti-microbial properties of X-Static silver yarns kill bugs,” he said. “The continuous ion release from pure silver is fatal to them – and its action is very fast. The same silver ion release is also very beneficial to anti-odour properties in textiles and clothing.”
Turning to thermodynamics, Steve said: “In cold countries, Olympic uniforms contain X-Static silver yarns. Conversely, in warm conditions, X-Static helps keep athletes cool and odour-free.” He pointed out that the same benefits were very useful in military uniforms, and added that X-Static is standard issue for all US Services.
Steve told delegates that the largest end-use areas for X-Static yarns are healthcare and uniforms, followed by sports brands and the industrial sector. “It’s all about performance,” he said. “Other attributes for the yarn are that it is durable, proven and it’s safe. Our mission is to see X-Static technology bring a safer, cleaner environment to workwear situations.”
Ignoring the lectern, Detlef Fischer spoke directly to his audience, pacing across the auditorium and creating a very personal contact with delegates. As vice president of bluesign technologies in Switzerland, Detlef promotes the bluesign standard for ethical and sustainable manufacturing to leading textile manufacturers worldwide.
He said the inspiration for his talk came from a book his young son was reading called ‘Wonderful Earth’ by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen about the creation of the world – and how mankind had messed it up.
“We want to change the way we and the world think about making textiles,” Detlef said. “Today, the focus is on our planet and the environmental impact of what we do on that planet. But what you cannot see in the end product is how toxic and waste materials are being treated – or not – and also how people are being treated. In textiles, the biggest problem is the end-of-pipe situation.”
He explained that the bluesign approach is to work through the brands and to try to influence how they control their supply chains: “Most of the decision-makers do not have the necessary technical and chemical knowledge and we can provide that. We have developed a worldwide standard – one world, one standard.
“Our focus is on input stream management on chemicals, dyes, products and auxiliaries – and also on the manufacturing processes. We check every stage.”
Detlef added: “We believe clean components lead to clean products, which in turn lead to environmental safety.”
It would be hard to imagine anyone more knowledgeable than Martin Cooke to talk about ethical trading. As deputy director of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) and chair of the procurement for development forum, he works with companies, civil society organisations and governments on social responsibility, sustainability and international development issues.
In the last paper of the conference, Martin explained what ethical trading is. “It’s about taking responsibility for the labour rights and working conditions of the people who make the products you sell.”
He suggested that companies care about ethical trading because stakeholders care about their companies’ reputation. “Sixty percent of the value of the brand relates to its ethical reputation,” he said.
Martin also suggested that ethical trading was about managing risk – with above the waterline representing the ‘nice-to-have stuff’ and below the waterline the ‘must-have stuff’. Using vector diagrams, he said that ethical trading overlaps other social responsibilities in the workplace, the community and trade.
The ETI’s membership includes 56 corporate members and suppliers, the global trades union federations and 16 NGOs, with all working together around the world to develop good corporate practice and improve conditions for workers.
Martin told delegates that the work of the ETI is underpinned by its ‘base code’ – nine principles that cover such commitments as the treatment of children in industry and factory conditions generally. “The base code is a minimum requirement and it’s about what should happen, or not happen, in the workplace,” he said.
“There are 191 million children working in the world and 126 million of those – twice as many as the number of people living in the EU – are working in dangerous occupations.”
Martin also noted that there are more slaves in the world than ever before and he said: “Ethical trading is about commitment, having checks in place, taking corrective action, capacity building, core business and collaboration.
“The ETI has instituted programmes to reach vulnerable workers and also to target companies in order to make them more aware.”
Considering the calibre of speakers and their commanding knowledge and expertise, next year’s conference at the Workwear and Corporate Clothing Show has a lot to live up to.
The organisers would like to thank all the speakers for their involvement.