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Leon Kaye headshot

From Ocean Plastics to Social Impact, The Apparel Sector Realizes Responsibility Pays Off

By Leon Kaye

As consumers become more discerning about the companies from which they purchase clothing, more brands are stepping up and showing that they are willing to take a stand on social and environmental challenges.

And there is no shortage of ways in which apparel companies can make a difference. Last year, Patagonia became outspoken in its defense of U.S. public lands and national parks. Nike recently burnished its sustainability street cred with an announcement that it strives to run 100 percent on renewables by the next decade. And REI is doing its part to prevent garments from ending up in municipal waste streams by expanding its popular quarterly “garage sales” online so consumers can score these heavily discounted items anytime, without having to queue at one of the co-op’s brick-and-mortar locations.

Meanwhile, more brands realize they have to do more than make their customers look good; they have to prove that their operations are also doing more good than harm. Transparency is key here. For example, Gap Inc.’s Athleta became a certified B Corp last month. The popular yoga clothing brand says that over 2,500 women have benefited from its fair trade and sustainable sourcing policies, with a goal to push that number to 10,000 by 2020. Among the additional sustainability achievements Athleta insists it is making include moving halfway towards its waste diversion and sustainable fabric procurement goals.

On the topic of environmental activism, the global struggle with ocean plastics is a stubborn problem that offers no easy solution. But more apparel companies and NGOs are presenting ideas that can could help prevent this trash from ending up in the seas - while harvesting this material and upcycling it into new products.

One company making a difference on this front is Adidas. The athletic gear company has rolled out new product lines of shoes in recent years - and according to several news sources, sold one million pairs of shoes that are at least in part made out of salvaged ocean plastic. Adidas has also launched a yoga clothing line that includes garments made out of recycled ocean plastic.

Other design labels that recently said they will manufacture clothing that incorporates recycled ocean plastics include Gant and Stella McCartney.

The worldwide garment industry still has much work ahead before it can say with confidence that it is truly ethical and environmentally responsible. A recent United Nations report concluded that the apparel sector is the world’s second highest user of water, consuming as much as 20 percent of the world’s freshwater supplies. And when it comes to labor and human rights, there is still plenty of room for improvement, from Bangladesh to India to Turkey. Nevertheless, progress is being made - and companies like Adidas, Athleta, Patagonia and REI offer ideas on how clothing brands can mitigate their social and environmental impact.

Image credit: Adidas

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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