What the Push Toward Sustainable Apparel Could Mean for the Promotional Industry
Eco-friendly products and “green” initiatives are nothing new in the promotional industry, especially in the apparel sector. But in many cases, cost has outweighed demand, relegating eco-friendly items to niche status, a fraction of apparel suppliers’ product offerings.
That could soon change, if the retail world is any indication.
This week, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, a trade group made up of over 100 apparel brands, retailers, suppliers and the like, unveiled a new sustainability initiative called the Higg Index. Based mostly on the Eco Index and Nike’s Apparel Environmental Design Tool, the Higg Index is intended to act as a learning tool for the apparel industry, giving companies a sort of standardized system for evaluating environmental impact of their apparel products throughout the supply chain.
Is this the start of a revolution in eco-friendly apparel? Not necessarily. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition was formed in 2011, and while there are some major brands in the group—Nike, Walmart, Gap, Target—sustainable, eco-friendly apparel is still more exception than rule.
But the Higg Index is a step toward the mainstream, evidence that the apparel sector is treating sustainability as more than just a buzzword. “It’s not about offering a niche green product,” said Jonathan Kirby, vice president of global men’s design for Levi Strauss, in an interview with Industry Leaders magazine. “We’re working to build sustainability into everything—from the cotton fields to our supply chain, to our stores, to our designs across product lines.”
The impact might not be immediate, but if the big names in retail continue pushing toward sustainable apparel, the promotional industry likely won’t be far behind. “The direction of the promotional products industry over the last few years is to be able to match the trends and style that are seen at the retail level,” noted Angelo Morra, trade & channel marketing manager for Lenexa, Kansas-based apparel supplier Ash City USA.
“If the trend of eco-apparel continues to increase at the retail level, I would expect to see this replicated in the promotional products industry,” he continued. “This is not to say that every company will start to unveil eco-friendly categories, but the suppliers that have the capability to produce these garments will do their best to stay on trend.”