The planet is in the news. With climate breakdown making the wrong kind of headlines, environmental awareness and activism is on the up, and young people are taking to the streets.
They are also exercising spending power at the retail checkout, says Rosey Cortazzi, global marketing director at ISKO, the largest denim manufacturer under one roof in the world. “Customers, especially Gen Y and Gen Z, are prepared to walk away from companies that cannot demonstrate they are good corporate citizens,” she says. “Transparency and traceability matter.”
This desire for value alignment extends right across lifestyle choice-making in diet, health, beauty and fashion. “Just as people are concerned about the food they put in their bodies, they question what they wear on their skin, conscious of the environmental and social impact of their choices,” says Ms Cortazzi.
Rise of the conscious consumer
Evidence of conscious consumerism is everywhere. The most recent Cone Communications CSR Study found that almost nine out of ten Americans (87 per cent) would purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue. Going one step further, nearly as many (76 per cent) would actively withhold money from a company supporting contrary beliefs.
What is more, the youth vote is even stronger. GlobalWebIndex surveys found millennials (aged 22 to 35) most likely to pay more for eco-friendly products last year, with Gen Z (16 to 21 year olds) next.
Interestingly, the market player that respondents ranked most responsible for the future of the environment, second only to themselves as individuals and consumers, was not government, brands or celebrities, but manufacturers and production bodies.
Fundamentally, consumers know it’s the makers that count; makers not just of things, but of reputations and change.
Standards for sustainability
So what can brands and retailers do? First and foremost they should drive supply chain accountability by asking tough questions and auditing not only their tier-one suppliers, but also tier two and three.
ISKO, as a denim mill, would be considered a tier-two supplier, but that does not justify any drop in standards, argues Ms Cortazzi. “Everything we make is produced in a responsible way and you don’t just have to take our word for that,” she says. “The pinnacle of our sustainability offer, the ISKO Earth Fit collection, has obtained two independent certifications.”
More often seen on cosmetics and household products, these are the stringent Nordic Swan Ecolabel and EU Ecolabel, both of which are directly recognised by the end-consumer.
Together they verify multiple responsibility criteria: no use of prohibited and harmful substances; reduced environmental impact; strict sustainability requirements for organic cotton and recycled fibres, dyes and colorants; plus assurances that the health of both workers and consumers is considered uppermost.
Fighting fakery and greenwash
In an era of fake news and so-called greenwash, it is vital environmental and ethical claims actually stack up, says Ms Cortazzi. “Right now, it is a nightmare for buyers, designers and CEOs, as every garment factory or mill is claiming sustainable credentials,” she says. “Retail industry professionals want to do the right thing, but often don’t have corporate social responsibility experts to support them. This is why it is really important to ensure claims are backed by a third party.”
Everything at ISKO has been verified. In fact, ISKO has obtained life-cycle assessments for every one of its more than 25,000 products. By doing so, it achieved a world first, becoming the only denim manufacturer ever to obtain pre-certified environmental product declarations (EPDs).
Just as people are concerned about the food they put in their bodies, they question what they wear on their skin, conscious of the environmental and social impact of their choices
These EPDs assess the life cycle of products, and provide data on the water usage and carbon footprint per square metre of fabric to enable buyers and customers to make responsible sourcing choices with clarity and confidence.
Committed to raising awareness and standards of environmental and business ethics, ISKO is a member of both supply chain platform SEDEX and the Ethical Trading Initiative. It is also a signatory to the Social & Labour Convergence Project, supporting and promoting employees’ rights and workers’ welfare.
Responsibility in the round
A truly strategic and systemic approach to sustainability calls for joined-up thinking and actions, says Ms Cortazzi. “At ISKO, it is about a 360-degree approach. We promote a holistic mindset with a longstanding focus on responsibility, innovation and citizenship,” she says. “This goes beyond just using low-impact materials, and extends to our culture and systems.”
Certified to international standards, an environmental management system ensures robust measurement and monitoring of a full range of impacts at ISKO production facilities, including energy, water, waste, chemicals and emissions.
This bedrock of sustainable production underpins cutting-edge research and development undertaken at ISKO. Every fabric, from the traditional denim to newly patented technologies, is a testament to the company ethos of responsible innovation.
Springboard for innovation
Innovation is simply the norm at ISKO. With 20 existing patents and over 100 more in the pipeline, the research and development team of scientists, biologists and physicists is constantly coming up with new ideas.
Many of these innovations give ISKO a competitive advantage, while bringing a responsible benefit for the planet, too.
ISKO Pop, for example, keeps a combination of comfort and a unique silky-soft feel in a garment, no matter how many times it is washed, minimising use of fabric softeners and chemicals.
ISKO Recall is a durable shape-memory fabric so jeans retain their flattering fit better and require less washing, saving water and energy, as well as cutting down on carbon emissions.
ISKO Cottonized is a fabric entirely derived from man-made fibres creating the same look, drape and wash-down as traditional denim. Reducing the need to grow cotton, it frees up land for food crops, saving on water, energy and emissions.
Reporting the road ahead
Taken together, all these sustainability initiatives place ISKO in the vanguard of current best practice, but there is always further to go and a better road to travel, Ms Cortazzi concludes. “One of our next projects will be to create a full sustainability report. This will allow us to communicate to our customers our achievements to date and articulate future targets, visions and policies on environment, people, material and fibres.
“When it comes to our responsible strategy, at ISKO, we do not believe in standing still. We believe quite the opposite, which is doing more and stretching ourselves to the limit.”
For further information please visit iskodenim.com