Finding the Sexy In a Supply Chain


Do you ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes in the eco fashion industry? Thankfully, there are many helpful sites that do a great job at pulling back the curtain so fashionistas of the world can understand what makes a garment sustainable. Valuable information like that can go a long way to justifying the expense, n’est-ce pas?

Perhaps one of the most unglamorous aspects of any “behind-the-scenes” look in apparel is the supply chain. And I mean unglamorous in that the term itself just doesn’t sound as sexy as an eco atelier, hempsilk, or fair trade. Yet it is the one big umbrella under which each of these elements resides, and one where companies can incorporate both social and environmental practices.

I realized just how many companies are taking this seriously when I read about the Green Supply Chain Awards. Run by Supply & Demand Chain Executive, the award recognized 65 companies for their sustainability efforts, with the goal of highlighting the industry’s best practices in the field, so that readers would have a means to assess their own efforts.

It was encouraging to see that in addition to companies based in logistics, transportation and healthcare, that clothing and footwear apparel companies were also included in this award. Timberland deserves a big congrats, the company that won in this category. After all, they have been committed to sustainability for years, and are one of the 100 well-known apparel brands behind the recent Eco Index (currently in beta).

As defined by Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) a sustainable supply chain is “a system of aligned business activities throughout the lifecycle of products that creates value for all stakeholders, ensures ongoing commercial success, and improves the wellbeing of people and the environment.”

Therefore, a sustainable supply chain in the fashion business is pretty much the entire process involved in making a garment, along with its social and environmental footprint. From the farm where the raw fibers are grown, to the factories where the fabric and garments are made, and all the various transportation points in between.

Or think of it in reverse order, starting with that gorgeous dress hanging in the window at your favorite retailer, and then trace it back through the various stages along the way, back to it’s raw material form. How many of us think of this when we are buying our clothes? The point is, we all should.

A number of apparel companies have made great efforts to make their supply chain more sustainable. From providing fair wages and working conditions for farmers and factory workers, to smarter design and less use of toxic chemicals, to being more mindful of waste and effluent, and developing more efficient transportation methods.

This is no easy feat. Given the way the conventional apparel industry has functioned for decades, its no surprise to see corporations, non-profits and governments all working together to bring about greater sustainability in each stage of the apparel supply chain. They need each other for this massive market transformation.

So while an apparel company’s supply chain is not the first thing we think about when choosing what brands to buy, we have the ability to make better choices and be more mindful of it the next time we shop.