Ethical shoppers bug us: So say researchers from two business schools in the US featured in the latest issue of the Harvard Business Review. People who selected apparel on price, style and wash looked down their noses at shoppers who took labour practices into consideration, calling them “odd and boring”. It turns out that watching people make moral decisions either inspires or turns us off. In other words, some people see ethical practices as a threat that may make them feel bad about themselves. This has ramifications for companies wanting to market their sustainable fashion: “advertise their practices prominently on the package in the store—where people are making decisions. Don’t force consumers to seek out that information.” Thought provoking research (April 16).

“I could no longer be a hypocrite”: Canada’s Globe and Mail ran an interview with Rebecca Burgess, eco-warrior, textile artisan, and an author who’s dedicated herself to creating an alternative to the fast fashion supply chain (23 Mar 16). “Six years ago, Burgess committed to developing and wearing a wardrobe of garments whose dyes, fibres and labour were all sourced within 150 miles of her home.” Rebecca was the force behind and is current executive director of Fibershed. If ethical shoppers thinking about labour conditions bug us, what’s Rebecca and Fibershed doing to us?

Ranking performance on human rights: Two years in development, the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB) launched a project this week to research and rank 100 listed companies on their human rights performance. Results are expected later this year in November. You can download a PDF for the methodology and company names here. Or read a summary about the project here. The apparel companies listed are: Adidas, Christian Dior, Coach, Fast Retailing, Gap, Hanesbrands, Heilan Home, H&M, Hermes International, Inditex, Kering, Kohl’s, L Brands, LMVH, Macy’s, Next, Nike, Nordstrom, Prada, Ross Stores, TJX Companies, Under Armour, and VF. Then there’s a category of apparel & agricultural products that includes Aeon, Associated British Foods, Costco, Falabella, Marks & Spencer, Target, Walmart de Mexico and Walmart Stores.

New Fairtrade textile standard and program: Fairtrade International (FLO) released its new textile standard this week (22 Mar 16). The 64-page standard can be downloaded here (PDF). “The new standard is based on Fairtrade’s existing Hired Labour Standard and focuses on working conditions, living wages and workers’ rights, and is open to other sustainable fibres as well as cotton. It’s the first standard to require living wages to be paid within a set time period – six years - and brand owners will also be contractually responsible for fair and long-term purchasing practices - essential for implementing wage increases. Overall, the standard aims to empower factory workers and enable them to negotiate labour conditions independently” (22 Mar 16).

The Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), however, is not impressed with the standard, citing four problems: i) a product label approach is not the right tool for this industry; ii) the standard diverts responsibility away from brands; iii) a standard relying on inspections and certification is dangerous; and iv) marking garments as “fairtrade” without paying a living wage is unacceptable and misleads consumers (22 Mar 16).

Eyeing the supply chain: The Economic Times of India reports that HomeNet South Asia, an NGO representing over 600,000 home based workers on the subcontinent, “plans to engage global and domestic brands and retailers to streamline their supply chain and ensure Indian supply chains maintain records of home-based workers’ wages”. Apparently one retailer – Next – already does this, but many don’t. 350,000 home based workers in India are poised to make their voices heard to brands such as Gap Inc., Monsoon and Walmart (19 Mar 16).

In Bangladesh, the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) under the ministry of labour has released an official report identifying “a wide range of irregularities including non-issuance of appointment letters, identity cards, non-payment of wages and maternity leave and other rightful benefits to workers in the country’s ready-made garment industry” (19 Mar 16).

The Cambodian Ministry of Labour is taking another shot at a beauty pageant for garment workers, “which unions and commentators have deemed a “regressive” distraction from deep-seeded inequalities in the sector.” First prize of $300 is more than double the $140 monthly minimum wage of a garment worker (21 Mar 16). There was no word on whether Steve Harvey would be hosting the show.

Still on Cambodia, about 50 union leaders gathered this week to “file a petition at the Council of Ministers … requesting a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen next week to discuss their concerns about the [proposed] trade union law” (22 Mar 16). Several weeks ago, international trade unions such as IndustriALL Global Union, Uni Global Union and the ITUC – along with 30 major brands, including H&M, Inditex, Gap, Adidas and Nike – sent a joint letter to the Deputy Prime Minister of Cambodia saying, among other things, that “the passage of the new Trade Union Law should be consistent with ILO Conventions 87 and 98 and must be an inclusive process to foster effective industrial relations (14 Mar 16).

The National Trade Union Federation Pakistan has announced it’s working with labour rights groups from across the world to demand rights and compensation for victims of the Baldia factory fire, in which 260 people died when a fire erupted at Ali Enterprises garment factory located in Baldia Town, Pakistan on 11 September 2012 (21 Mar 16).

The US Department of Labour released a report recently that “raises significant concerns regarding the right to freedom of association in Peru's non-traditional export sectors, which include exports of textiles, [and] apparel” (22 Mar 16).

I’m categorising Amazon as a fashion brand, so a German warehouse strike is fashion news as of now. A walkout by workers at an Amazon warehouse in Koblenz over better pay began early in the week and ran until the end of the night shift on 23 March. The employees are represented by local union Ver.di (21 Mar 16).

Levi Strauss & Co. has announced the expansion of its factory worker well-being program, which started in 2011 seeking to “move beyond a ‘do no harm’ labour compliance model and instead collaborate with suppliers to improve the lives of apparel workers in locations where our products are made” (22 Mar 16). You can see more of the program here and here.

Syrian refugees continue to be in the news, with a recent story asking what role the fashion industry can play (23 Mar 16). Ideas range from lobbying the Turkish government to ease restrictions and expand access to refugee work permits to collaborating with Turkish suppliers to offer in-factory information on the rights of refugees and resources for assistance.

Bangladesh’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam has urged “global stakeholders to act and deliver in the spirit of shared responsibility for shared prosperity to project the real picture of the country’s RMG sector.” He says clothing has dropped in price by at least 15 percent in over the last 15 years, when it should have been increasing (23 Mar 16).

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) says it’s time for factories to go green (25 Mar 16).

The Chinese head of security at a garment factory in Cambodia and his Cambodian counterpart at a sister factory next door were charged and jailed this week over the rape of a teenage security guard last weekend (24 Mar 16).

Trade union leader Pav Sina was summoned to appear before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court during the week after an unnamed factory accused him of forgery and disinformation (23 Mar 16).

Wage talks in Tiruppur between trade unions and garment manufacturers have stalled over an 18 percent increase. A new round of talks is pegged to begin at the end of the month (25 Mar 16).

Can a company profit from good intentions? A long – and interesting – article attempts to get to grips with whether Tom Kartsotis, the owner of luxury brands Shinola and Filson, can profit from making things in the US and thereby keeping jobs at home (22 Mar 16). Kartsotis founded Fossil, and got rich from “made in Asia cheaply”, an irony not lost on the author. It’s nice to see articles like this, digging more deeply into big sustainability issues.

Made in the USA: As the story above suggests, apparel manufacturing in the US has been a hot topic for some time. Another article from earlier in March from Fast Company, argues that clothing start-ups are getting things made in US factories not just because of patriotism or marketing, but because they want to “create the best, most innovative clothes in the world” (16 Mar 16). Rishi Bali, CEO of Yogasmoga, is an illustrative example: “’Of course, as the CEO of a clothing company, I'm haunted by the images of the thousand garment workers who died when the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in Bangladesh,’ he says. ‘I like knowing that that won't happen here. But it's also true that I simply couldn't produce the clothes I wanted to make overseas.’”

I’m not sure whether this is true or not, because I’ve heard the opposite from other designers. Siki Im said in an American Fashion Podcast last year that even though he wanted to manufacture in the UShe couldn’t find factories with the ability to do the work he wanted (09 Nov 15). He ended up going overseas.

I’d be interested to hear other views on this as it’s a more complicated issue that I can cover in a couple of paragraphs.

The “pink tax”: Why do women pay more for similar products? This strikes me as a reasonable question. Why? Turns out, like a lot things, that it’s quite complicated (23 Mar 16).

Ethiopia: Ethiopia’s been a subject regarding apparel and textiles for a long time, but despite a lot of talk – and despite sourcing commitments from brands like H&M, Asos, Primark, H&M and PVH – recent figures from the Ethiopian Textiles Industry Development Institute (ETIDI) show “textile and apparel exports continue to fall short of expectations” (21 Mar 16). GoBlu’s Country Head (India) – Dr Sujata Pariti – has been working on an ongoing project between ETIDI and the Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT) to help Ethiopian suppliers implement industry best practices.

Even faster now: American Apparel says it will start delivering Basics Collection items purchased online within the hour. That’s one hour. The service will be available in 31 metro locations in the US by Postmates (22 Mar 16).

Plus-size male models: An article about models Bruce Sturgell (founding editor of Chubstr) and Claus Fleissner, who was signed by Mona Schulze of Curve, the first plus-size male agency in Germany, and also writes for the male fashion blog Extra Inches (in German only) (24 Mar 16).

Science fiction: I’m involved a long running “discussion” with Lars Doemer – one of my fellow GoBlu directors – about the potential for robots to disrupt the apparel and textile industries. I think machines will be running the show in two decades. Lars disagrees. Despite his level headedness, my bias is often confirmed by stories such as the one about Shima Seiki’s factory in Japan this week, from which “garments materialise in minutes, thanks to digitally-programmed automated machines that can turn out a sample seam-free pullover in half an hour with a push of a button”. Shima Seiki’s system “allows one worker to operate 10 machines … and uses limited raw material to create seam-free garments that generate no waste, since they require no cutting or sewing” (21 Mar 16). It’s not Skynet we need to worry about… 

In other tales from the crypt, True Religion seems to have caught its competition on the hop with its impending release of the Band. Just goes to show my age; I thought they meant a bunch of musicians. Turns out it’s an Apple wearable that’ll “provide an insider’s look on everything that the label’s VIP shoppers want in jeans.” If that doesn’t make any sense to you, what TR’s really saying is that they’ve upped the ante on providing a shopping experience and opened the door to some pretty innovative labelling. Next stop? Sustainability featuring in the mix (10 Mar 16).

Speaking of the science fiction of labelling, “San Francisco-based tech company Chronicled Inc. has created an app in partnership with Origin Laboratories, Inc., to create 3D printed tags used to verify the authenticity of consumer goods.” That means tags produced in minutes to fit markets anywhere and allowing a buyer – with the tap of a phone – to authenticate any product. It seems to be starting off with sneakers, but if it works then the sky’s the limit (18 Mar 16). That’s sky, not Skynet.

History repeats: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi brought the handloom to world attention in the run up to Indian independence in 1947. But the khadi he spun by hand has struggled to find a stable home in global fashion. That might be about to change as sustainable textiles start to take centre stage. And if Anavila Misra gets her way. Her latest creations are causing quite a stir (20 Mar 16).

Branding for the &#%!@: Naming something in a foreign language is no easy task, as Adidas discovered last week when it released a new sneaker model in China. The name NMD seemed innocuous enough, but it didn’t take long for users on Chinese social media platforms to start tittering. NMD is the Romanised initials for three characters in Chinese that translate into something about “your mother”. Read the article to appreciate the perils of marketing and communication in other languages (18 Mar 16). My feeling is that it’ll end up providing Adidas with a bit of street cred. Stranger things have happened.

In other branding news, Zara’s found itself on the wrong end of a public drubbing by the coeliac community over a t-shirt with “Are you gluten free?” emblazoned across the front. A petition with 53,000 signatures calling for Zara to withdraw the shirt was successful, with the brand pulling the shirt from stores and issuing an apology (21 Mar 16).

Five favourites: British fashion journalist Hilary Alexander has listed her five favourite brands showing at this year’s SOURCE Brand Preview, which features over 140 of the latest and best sustainable brands from around the world. Her picks are:

Abury, a German foundation that links designers with traditional artisans from other cultures

Callina, an American sustainable fashion brand creating products from luxury materials with small artisan groups in Peru

Kaligarh, which sells handmade jewellery by small-scale artisans in Nepal and elsewhere in the Himalaya

MA RA MI, which fuses Romanian traditional art and costumes with different cultures from all over the world

The Autonomous Collections, a UK based brand taking an ethical approach to fabrication and design

Sustainability snippets from the industry: Shoe maker Geox has launched a line of eco-sustainable footwear men’s footwear called New:Do, featuring “a reduced environmental impact” and certified by ICEC (an Italian leather certification). The company uses a new metal-free production process for tanning leather uppers (21 Mar 16).

On the subject of leather, chemical company Stahl (specialising in process chemicals for leather) and PUM (a Dutch non-profit organization that deploys volunteer senior experts on projects in developing economies) are joining forces to contribute to the development of the leather industry in developing countries (10 Mar 16).

I can’t recall seeing much written on ROI for responsible sourcing programs, so I was all attention when I saw an Omega Compliance article titled “3 ways to maximize return on your responsible sourcing program”. Some solid advice, including this: “Given how thin operating margins can be, passing the costs to all suppliers is unrealistic” (17 Mar 16).

Everyone knows Amazon is jumping into the fashion industry, but it was interesting to see Amazon India Fashion Week involving LIVA, a high quality fabric made using natural cellulosic fibres by the Aditya Birla Group (21 Mar 16).

CNN uploaded a video about Patagonia’s neoprene-free wetsuit (09 Mar 16). The company’s wetsuits are made of rubber produced by Yulex from the guayule plant. I like how a plant that grows well in arid and semi-arid areas of the southwestern United States and North Central Mexico is the source of an eco-friendly material for surfers in the world’s oceans.

Giorgio Armani has announced it will stop using fur for all its products. Armani said in a statement earlier this week that new technologies “render the use of cruel practices unnecessary as regards animals.” It will cease the use of fur from the autumn/winter 2016 collection (22 Mar 16).

Here are seven companies delivering more sustainable fabrics (22 Mar 16):

Newlife by Sinterama is a polyester yarn processed and spun in Italy from 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic bottles.

Bacx, manufactured in Italy by Centro Seta, is a line of fully traceable, “next generation” fabrics

Cupro, recovered from cotton linter by Japan’s Asahi Kasei

Re.Verso, made from upcycled wool and cashmere manufacturing offcuts, by three Italian mills: Green Line, Nuova Fratelli Boretti, and Lanificio Stelloni

Roica, is a premium stretch fibre composed up to 50 percent reclaimed pre-industrial waste, by Asahi Kasei

Jacroki, Washoki, Hydroki, Microki and Denim Leather from Smart Materials by Okinawa

Ecotec, made in Italy by Marchi & Fildi, is the first and only cotton that uses a traceable and certified manufacturing process to turn 100 percent pre-dyed, pre-consumer recycled cotton scraps into yarn

Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA) has announced the relaunch of its website in a bid to promote greater transparency through the industry (22 Mar 16). ECA is a voluntary accreditation program designed to help businesses that are manufacturing in Australia navigate their legal obligations. A full list of accredited brands and manufacturers can be found here (PDF).

PVH has signed the Women’s Empowerment Principles, a joint initiative by the United Nations Global Compact and UN Women. Created by the UN General Assembly in July 2010, UN Women – the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women – merges and builds on the important work of four previously distinct parts of the UN system, which focused exclusively on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Emanuel Chirico, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of PVH Corp., said, “It is very important to me that PVH leads our industry in creating and maintaining a culture of inclusion where every individual is valued. I am committed to making sure that all associates, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or background, have the opportunity to realize their full potential at PVH and more importantly, embracing inclusion and diversity is integral to our success as an organization (23 Mar 16).

HanesBrands announced during the week that five additional company manufacturing plants have earned U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Energy Star Challenge for Industry awards by reducing energy use by an average 18 percent (24 Mar 16).

Who’s who in sustainability: Target has appointed Jennifer Silberman its new vice president of wellness and sustainability (24 Mar 16).

David A. Golden, senior vice president, chief legal officer and corporate secretary, has added executive leadership of chemical company Eastman’s sustainability efforts effective 1 March (23 Feb 16).

House of Fraser has appointed Dr. Dorothy Maxwell – a PhD in Environmental Science, a Masters in Environmental Economics & Law, and 20 years working with brands and retailers including Nike and John Smedley – as its new sustainability head (21 Mar 16).

World Water Day: It was World Water Day on 22 March, and I saw three brands penning articles about their initiatives on water. Levi Strauss & Co. announced that it would start “publicly disclosing [its] innovative Water<Less™ techniques, which can save up to 96 percent of the water used in the denim finishing process” (22 Mar 16). You can download the company’s 35-page document here (PDF). And Marks & Spencer announced that “this year [it] also aim[s] to embark on a pilot project with WaterAid focussing on improving access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities. This work, in some of [its] key clothing supply chains in India, will target workers in … supply chains and the communities that they live in” (22 Mar 16). And H&M announced a five year global partnership with WWF, which “expands the successful partnership from 2013, focusing on water stewardship, to also include climate action and a strategic dialogue related to H&M’s and the fashion industry’s broader sustainability challenges” (22 Mar 16).

China to boost textile industry: The government of Xinjiang has announced it will provide rent-free factories and favourable loan to boost the local textile industry and create 11,000 jobs in 2016 (22 Mar 16).

Following up: In last week’s FSWIR, I noted that H&M had “enlisted rapper M.I.A.’s support to collect 1,000 tons of used and unwanted clothing to be recycled and turned into new garments to raise awareness of World Recycle Week”. This week, Julie Zerbo, the New York City–based founder and editor of Fashion Law Blog, wrote to TakePart to express her misgivings. “I am a bit disappointed that she would position herself with a fast fashion retailer,” Zerbo said about M.I.A.’s involvement in the campaign (21 Mar 16).

Start-ups of note: My fellow GoBlu director and co-founder Claire Hau met an interesting guy last week at a LAUNCH function in San Francisco. His name is Akshay Sethi, and although still a student at university by day, he’s also the co-founder of an innovative company called Ambercycle at night. Ambercycle “focuses on making plastic recycling profitable and sustainable by using synthetic biology to engineer custom-tailored organisms that can degrade plastics into its chemical components.” That includes – among other things – the ability to turn polyester in clothes back into virgin quality PET. Think about that for a moment.

Jobs in Africa: Ethical Apparel Africa – a consulting firm helping brands to expand sourcing into Africa by improving factory skills and compliance on the ground – has four apparel jobs on offer in Ghana, Benin and Kenya (see here for details). 

(Image, ©Stephen Frost).