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Walking the Talk
Stella McCartney, Patagonia, Target Deliver Big Wins for Ethical, Sustainable Fashion

While faced by a myriad of social and environmental challenges, the fashion and textile industries continue to edge ever-closer to a more sustainable, equitable and circular future thanks to the innovative thinking of industry leaders.

While faced by a myriad of social and environmental challenges, the fashion and textile industries continue to edge ever-closer to a more sustainable, equitable and circular future thanks to the innovative thinking of industry leaders.

Patagonia continues to push the envelope on responsible apparel. The outdoor clothing company has announced that two of its best-selling lines are now certified Fair Trade. With the addition of the company’s Better Sweater and Synchilla Snap-T ranges, 38 percent of Patagonia’s product line is now Fair Trade Certified.

Patagonia began making Fair Trade clothing in the fall of 2014 and in the spring of 2017 launched the world’s first full Fair Trade Certified line of board shorts and bikinis. This fall, Patagonia is offering 480 Fair Trade styles made in 14 different factories.

The transition to Fair Trade is an integral component to the company’s strategy for achieving fair wages. The premium Patagonia pays for Fair Trade products is filtered directly into a workers’ fund, with workers deciding how the money is spent. Because every Fair Trade product sold sends money back to apparel workers through these premium payments, Patagonia purposely chooses products that will ensure a high volume and significant return.

More than 26,000 workers have benefitted from the premiums Patagonia has paid through the Fair Trade program. The premiums have been spent to build a day care center, develop health programs and provide cash bonuses, market vouchers, baskets, water filters and other necessities.

“Most people recognize that their clothing is made out of certain materials, but it’s important to understand that is also made by hands. And the people who make our clothing deserve to be seen and recognized,” said Helene Barbour, VP of Sportswear at Patagonia. “Fair Trade is one way to achieve that goal. It’s so much more than just paying premiums to workers. It positively affects workers lives, but also affects factories, brands and customers who get to make informed choices.”

Meanwhile, in a fashion industry first, the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute has awarded Stella McCartney with Cradle to Cradle Gold certification for its wool yarn.

The design house has been a member of the Innovation Institute’s Fashion Positive initiative since 2014, which aims to accelerate the uptake of circular design principles within the fashion industry and the development of circular building block materials.

This is the first Gold level certification for wool yarn. The wool was developed in collaboration with supplier Zegna Baruffa, avoiding the use of pesticides and optimizing the chemistry of the designs to drive down impacts and improve the overall health, safety and sustainability of the materials.

To achieve certification, the design house worked with Ignasi Cubina, co-founder and director of Eco-Intelligent Growth, to ensure the material health of the yarn from conception to end-of-life. Over 70 percent of the yarn’s chemistry was optimized through interventions at the production and processing levels.

“Increasing the number of safe, circular building block materials within the fashion industry is crucial to realizing industrywide change the way apparel and accessories are designed and made,” said Annie Gullingrud, Director of Textiles at the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute. “Achieving Cradle to Cradle Certification at the Gold level for its wool is a significant milestone for the entire fashion industry and proof that a commitment to improving the safety, health and circularity of the materials we use is well within reach.”

Target is also taking its commitment to responsible sourcing and creating sustainable products a step further, setting a goal to source 100 percent sustainable cotton by 2020 for owned and exclusive national brands in apparel, home and essentials. The company has developed a new policy to help deliver on the goal, which focuses on maximizing water efficiency, optimizing inputs and chemical use, and improving soil health and ethical working conditions.

Target will work with vendors to map its supply chains and make them more transparent in order to understand where and how cotton is grown. The retailer also revealed that it will work with programs such as the Better Cotton Initiative, Organic and Cotton LEADS to improve performance. Collaborations with CASIS and the International Space Station will allow the company to drive innovation to accelerate sustainable cotton production.

To develop a roadmap to guide the company towards a more sustainable production model, Lalit Toshniwal, a Principal Fabric Engineer on Target’s product design team, visited farms around India, Africa and the US to examine existing production methods and identify obstacles.

“We visited farms in India and Africa for a closer look at the different methods they use. There’s a very wide range, from small farms growing cotton in co-ops to larger farms that use more commercial practices. We also toured farms in the US, which tend to be much larger and have some of the most remarkable modernized equipment and practices,” said Toshniwal.

“It was eye-opening to see how access to data and technology and support from government and local organizations to use sustainable practices contributes to much better farming conditions all around. But that’s far from the norm, so we’re putting our new goal in place to help address some of the biggest obstacles.”