What can fashion & apparel companies do to be more eco-friendly?

September 13, 2019
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In our first episode, we talk about the sustainability movement in the fashion and apparel industry. Host Evan Aldo is joined by Tommy See, The Product Marketing Director for the Applications Division at CGS.

Evan Aldo: Hello and welcome to The Thread, a podcast about the latest tech and business trends in fashion, learning and outsourcing in our first episode here today I'm joined by Tommy See who is the Product Marketing Director of the Application Solutions Division at CGS. Tommy first of all I want to thank you for being here today.

Tommy See: Thanks for having me. I mean first episode super exciting yeah.

Evan Aldo: absolutely. So I'm going to address our main topic first of all which is sustainability. So what is the environmental impact in the fashion and apparel industry

Tommy See: Yeah, it's an important topic when you take a look at the fashion and apparel industry it's the second largest polluter in the world today. Second to just the oil industry and then take a look at the trends right fast fashion more product is being created at a faster rate a population growth. We have seven point seven billion people in the world today. That is growing at a 1% roughly a 1% rate year over year and then you also have changing consumer shopping habits. People today are just buying more product than they were before. And if you take a look at all of those trends and if companies don't make an effort in in their sustainability initiatives the problem within the industry is only going to get worse.

Evan Aldo: Wow that's a lot of interesting factors well. I know you were telling me earlier outside that it takes 2,700 liters of water just to create one cotton shirt that's crazy!

Tommy See: Yeah it's a lot of water and that's over 7,000 gallons of water right and when you think about that that's enough water for one person to drink for two and a half years and I think what it shows the water usage has always been a major issue within the industry. 20% of the industrial wastewater produced globally is from this apparel and fashion industry but there's good news too when we take a look at Levi's, right? They've committed to using new processes and new technology to reduce the amount of water that they use in producing a pair of denim jeans. If we take a look at just fibers there's organic cotton versus regular cotton. If you look at organic cotton it takes a it uses 80% less water and over 60% less energy to produce. So there are alternative options and companies are exploring these options.

Evan Aldo: Wow that's really cool. I know your company in particular - CGS - has done a survey- conducted a survey on sustainability. What is pushing these efforts for companies to do things like this?

Tommy See: I think I think there's just more information available to people today. Consumers are more aware of what's going on with factory conditions the impact on greenhouse emissions chemicals being used in production, energy use… all of that information is really transparent, and consumers are aware. They want or alternative options. They want companies to be more responsible an then on the other end I think for the brands to manufacturers to companies themselves they also notice their impact on the environment and a lot of companies are looking at their entire supply chain and thinking about what are ways we can improve, right? How can we reduce the amount of energy being used? How can we use less water? These all positive things as part of the movement.

Evan Aldo: Ok that's really great now I was looking over the survey a little bit and I saw that Generation Z had a huge impact involving it. I personally am part of Generation Z so what can you tell me about my own generation?

Tommy See: Yes. That's actually a big part of the report. So in our survey we surveyed over a

thousand consumers and we found out that people really care about sustainability and they're looking for alternative options. Over 35 percent were willing to pay upwards to 25 percent more for a sustainable product. When we kind of narrowed down to just a Gen Z group and Gen Z is anyone born in the mid-1990s they were even more willing to pay more money and they were willing to pay 50-100 percent more so that's really just one example. When we take a look at buying factors right why would you buy a product a lot of times is due quality of the product? The Gen Z group identified really a company that had sustainable initiatives as a major buying factor which is bigger than any other age groups

Evan Aldo: Wow. Fifty to a hundred percent more that is that is that's a lot. in other than Generation Z. Are there any other things that stood out to you from the survey?

Tommy See. yeah so taking a look at the report it's very prominent that sustainability is top of mind for a lot of companies and when consumers are looking to buy product. Yes, price and quality were major buying factors. But they care about a company's mission. They care about if a company follows sustainable and ethical business practices. They of course want to buy because of a company's brand name right and that's the reputation that they have built. What that really tells me is how important marketing is now within the organization. Because you take a look at the fashion apparel industry it's a very saturated market. I mean if you don't if you want to buy a shirt you have hundreds if not thousands of options. So how do you stand out in such a saturated market? Looking specifically at the sustainability segment there's a number of options as well so companies really need to kind of take notice and share their story share their journey through their website through different media such as print, digital and at the point of sale and to try to share that message with the end consumer and to be very genuine so that it resonates.

Evan Aldo: Absolutely. Now I hear you talking a lot about companies you mentioned Levi's before are there any companies other than Levi's that are in particularly making an impact here?

Tommy See: Yeah, there are definitely a few. I recently saw that Gap recently partnered with an old green power to commit to using renew renewable energy sources to power all of their retail stores so that's one great example. Another example is a company called Tencel which is really a brand name for a fiber called Lyocell and this is a wood based fiber that uses recyclable materials and it's more environmentally-friendly and a lot of popular companies and brands that we all know uses the Tencil product within the production process: Patagonia, All Birds, TENTREE. So a lot of companies are making a difference to remember of different ways

Evan Aldo: absolutely yeah that's interesting um for the companies that aren't making a difference yet but want to what should they look into what researchers should they look into to take the first step forward.

Tommy See: Yeah there's um there's a lot of information online right and I've one go-to resource I like to use is the sustainable apparel coalition they have something called The HIGGS sustainability index. And this index was actually originated by Nike from since then it's really evolved and now it's adopted by over 200 companies. The HIGG index is a set of tools that allows companies to measure and score their sustainability performance and their efforts also if you are a brand of your company right partnerships are key. A lot of times you are going to take a look at who are the factories that can partner with they're going to produce my products but also are compliant with I sustainability guidelines and the provide a list of factories that are already compliant so it's a really a great go-to resource .

Evan Aldo: Yeah, I know you were tell me earlier that Tom's actually gives away a pair of shoes for every pair that they sell that is that's really good.

Tommy See: Yeah that's they're a popular one for one program a lot of companies are doing something similar I addition to giving a pair of shoes away for every product sold to a child I need they also have other programs and initiatives they're investing in clean water and they're also providing eye care to people in need so it's really they're making a big social impact another example is TENTREE this is a sustainable clothing brand and for every product so they'll plant ten trees for each product so these are really great ways for companies to make an impact and also to share to work share the story that they have on her website and these companies I think do a really great job. It’s one way for brands to really stand out in such a saturated market.

Evan Aldo: Okay wow that's really cool. Now I know that in this status quo, the economy is booming we all know that in companies have a little bit of extra dollars in their pockets to spend on initiatives like this I know a lot of analysts are saying we may hit a recession soon if we do hit a recession do you think that would affect these initiatives at all?

Tommy See: It's a really good question I think sustainability definitely across all industries is a major challenge and this major issue I think within the appellant fashion industry companies are looking at ways to really optimize and to improve their end-to-end supply chain. They're trying to make it leaner to and to make it faster they need more transparency. That, in turn, helps with their sustainability initiatives so even in a recession I really think there's going to be minimal impact because companies can't stay in business if they don't improve on their supply chain. Then don't forget there's also a lot of federal incentives for companies to move to a greener impact and to have sustainability initiatives as part of their core goals. So yeah like I said I think really this would be low impact.

Evan Aldo: Okay so not a worry there. Wow I want to talk to you a little bit more about your own company, CGS. How is CGS individually reacting to this movement.

Tommy See: We’ve been in the fashion apparel industry for over 35 years. We have a product called blue cherry it's a and supply chain management system for brands retailers’ wholesalers and manufacturers right so when we think about sustainability initiatives it's all about transparency in your supply chain. What are the factories you're working with? What suppliers are you working with? So we enable that transparency in the supply chain for all of our customers and really that's 'we were help helping our customers push towards their sustainability initiatives.

Evan Aldo: Okay wow this is really really cool. The last main thing I want to ask you about a little bit of a personal question, but I don't think you mind. What's your personal favorite sustainable brand? Do you wear a lot of sustainable clothes?

Tommy See: So… if you take a look at my closet right, I have a lot of Nike product. There's a number of reasons why I like Nike the biggest reasons is I've only talked about marketing I think their messaging really resonates with me. They always want you to be the best version of yourself and that no dream is too big, right? It's something I can really appreciate but then on the other end they they have a lot of sustainability initiatives that a lot of people might not know I mean 75% of all of their product regardless of its Footwear or clothing uses recyclable material they're also committed to using renewable energy and making that commitment to use 100% renewable energy soon. So when we think about sort of making an impact companies the largest companies need to sort of take the lead and I think Nike is a great example of this.

Evan Aldo: that's a really really cool answer I wear a lot of Nikes myself so I definitely can relate. Well that's all we have for the first episode of the thread thank you so much for joining us by the way that sustainability report we've been talking about can be found online with keywords “CGS sustainability survey. Please be sure to subscribe to this podcast on YouTube and your preferred podcast source. We are exclusively sponsored by CGS an outsourcing, applications and learning company that supports fundamental business activities. Visit www.cgsinc.com more information. I'm your host Evan Aldo let's stay connected.