Last week at the pre Oscar Vanity fair party Natalie Portman turned heads in her ethereal white dress. But it wasn’t Dior or Versace. It was a $49.95 dress from H&M made from 100% recycled polyester. The dress was from H&M’s recently launched Conscious range and is one of many examples of the recent trend in retailers launching or expanding their ‘eco’ or ‘sustainable’ clothing ranges.
When asked how an environmentalist might dress one can be excused for conjuring up a tie-dye t-shirt, hemp trousers, a poncho and a Peruvian hat but that is perhaps about to change. Slowly but surely the fashion industry is becoming more and more transparent about their supply chain and production thus making our entire mainstream clothing ‘greener.’
This week a major step was taken by the fashion industry with the launch of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) a coalition of retail companies, apparel and shoe manufacturers, fashion houses, not-for-profits, and the US Environment Protection Agency.
The Coalition includes retailers such as Nike, Gap Inc, H&M, Levi Strauss, Marks & Spencer, and Patagonia, and aims to lead the clothing industry towards developing improved sustainability strategies and tools to measure and evaluate sustainability performance.
The official launch of SAC is timely after Greenpeace’s recent report on the jeans and underwear industry in China and a Guardian photography-report of the extreme pollution and child labour prevalent in Xintang, the Chinese city known as the ‘jeans capital of the world’ where 260 million pairs of jeans are produced a year.
SAC is in many ways similar to the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) a coalition of palm oil producers, buyers, NGOs and government organizations working together to make the palm oil industry more sustainable. Coalitions such as SAC and the RSPO create opportunities for businesses to work closely with NGOs and drive genuine sustainable change across a sector while also providing businesses with the opportunity to build, protect and enhance their corporate reputation by working closely with those who could do most damage to it.
SAC will no doubt, like the RSPO before it, have issues and sceptics but fundamentally they are both a step in the right direction to helping their sectors become more sustainable by creating products that are less socially and environmentally damaging. And should SAC succeed, its focus on improving supply chain performance could become a model for other industries. At MHP we can help clients with the insight and strategy needed to navigate the complex landscape of NGOs, regulatory bodies and industry coalitions which in turn will help to create positive and sustainable relationships which are beneficial not only to the client but also to a wider sustainable society and future.