Professional Clothing: Chemical Usage Under The Spotlight

Professional Clothing: Chemical Usage Under The Spotlight

The textiles industry is worth upwards of $1 trillion, equating to over 100 billion garments produced annually. While trends such as fast fashion remain firmly entrenched within the consumers buying psyche, the implications of mass production are dire with roughly 25% of global chemical output originating from the textile industry. A sentiment which is further endorsed by publications such as “New Scientist” reporting that ‘chemical pollution is turning into a third great planetary crisis’ (Lawton, 2021). It is now more pertinent than ever to address the chemical – and wider social and environmental – issues in your supply chain.

The detrimental effects of hazardous chemicals in apparel supply chains have long been reported. In 2010 and 2011, Greenpeace began unearthing several scandals related to some of the biggest brands in fashion, resulting in major players pledging to remove hazardous chemicals from their supply chains. These hazardous chemicals were polluting air and wastewater, causing respiratory hazards, ozone depletion, death of flora and fauna, and biomagnification. Isolated and combined, the side effects of these pollutants went on to cause diseases and the failure of crops in the communities surrounding these manufacturing facilities in parts of the Middle East and Asia. Another more recent example of the negative effects of hazardous chemical use in the manufacturing process of clothing, and one which relates more closely to the professional clothing industry, was the scrutiny faced by Delta Airlines over employee uniforms. It was found that these uniforms were causing employees to break out in skin rashes and allergic reactions, leading from complaints to lawsuits. Despite Delta Airlines pledging to take ‘greater control of the production process’ (Reed, 2020), many professional clothing providers have yet to acknowledge the risks to individuals, the planet, and their reputation, in terms of chemical management within their complex supply chains.

Ensuring transparency and traceability within supply chains is a complex and subjective problem, especially with regard to chemical usage. Historically, suppliers have often been reluctant to divulge too much operational information in fear that it would undermine their competitive advantage or expose them to criticism. As a result of these kinds of scandals and the hesitation on behalf of suppliers, there has been a greater movement to collaborate and work with industry partners who align with wider Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) goals. Desirable partners remain those that offer competitive pricing and quality, who are ethically and legally compliant, and value transparency alongside traceability. By identifying industry partners who value these vital business aspects, brands can ensure CSR is at the forefront of wider sourcing discussions.

In order to scrutinise hazardous chemicals more closely and ensure businesses operating within the apparel sector were taking action to address these issues, ZDHC (Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals) was established.

ZDHC is a growing industry collaboration of brands, suppliers, chemical companies and solution providers taking positive action to move the industry towards zero discharge of hazardous chemicals. Through this collaborative effort, ZDHC hopes to create a better future for workers, consumers, and the planet.

CleanChain is a Chemical Management System that works in conjunction with ZDHC as an accredited solutions provider to enable access to the ZDHC gateway. The Gateway is the world-leading database of safer chemistry for the leather, textile, apparel and footwear industries. It is through access to the Gateway that professional clothing brands and suppliers can emulate world-leading apparel brands and streamline their Chemical Management  Systems.

Ultimately, CleanChain can help you to reach your sustainability-related goals by assisting in the provision of insights, allowing you to focus on strengthening relationships across your supply chain, eliminating the burden of capturing and comparing inventory, audit and testing data. Combined, this allows you to improve time efficiencies and progress toward transparency-related goals.

As the professional clothing industry has a similar production dynamic to the mainstream fashion industry, it is now time to act and join the growing number of leading apparel brands globally that are modifying their production and procurement processes through the  implementation of Chemical Management Systems like CleanChain. Only by doing so, can you, as professional clothing providers bring every element of your business into line with wider CSR goals.

Blog Author

Cara Paterson photo

Having recently completed a Masters in the field of sustainability at the London School of Economics, Cara works with the ADEC Innovations team in the UK. It is through her work with ADEC that she is committed to helping businesses in the apparel sector increase transparency and traceability throughout their value chains.