Sustainability and the garment industry haven’t gone hand in hand in the past, but there is a collective that is looking to change the future (and present) of the industry

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition launched a decade ago, and the organization has been working collaboratively with garment businesses, manufacturers and governments to create a global consumer goods industry that gives more than it takes—to the planet and its people.

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition believes in creating a more sustainable, equitable and just world for all, and that together we can solve the industry’s most urgent and systemic issues. However, looking at the list of founding members and top leaders and seeing questionable names in its midst has raised some concerns. We’re no longer in a place where we can just believe the talk from large corporations and businesses—so can companies like Walmart, H&M, Gap and Target really make sustainable changes for the planet when it could impact their profit margin?

Individuals within these large companies believed they could. With a passion for change and the resources to drive it, it was two unlikely partners who came together a decade ago with a common goal to standardize sustainability assessment and to form what would eventually become the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. It was Patagonia, an outdoors apparel company and known leader in sustainability for the garment industry, and Walmart, an American multinational retail corporation, who launched the conversation—and though progress was slow, they believed in their common goal to promote environmentally-friendly products to their customers and to develop a standardized approach for measuring sustainability.

Some recruits required a little nudge, while others joined the coalition willingly, but eventually they grew to what is now known as the organized, respected and credible global organization of 30 plus staff and more than 250 members.

Their collaboration with retailers, manufacturers, NGOs and governments has since spurred reform within the industry. Their Higg Index drives meaningful change in the apparel, footwear and textile sectors by allowing facilities to benchmark and track their environmental impact, set goals and improve their overall environmental performance. Those involved in the Sustainable Apparel Coalition can use the Higg Index to inform their individual sustainability strategies and drive collective industry transformation across topics such as water use, carbon emissions and labour conditions.

It hasn’t been a perfect system, as was seen throughout the pandemic. Systemic problems reared their ugly heads within the industry, which led to the realization that companies needed to lead with values of sustainability and compassion for the health, safety and well-being of their workers around the world—especially the vulnerable.

Thankfully, it was consumer voices who nudged them to these realities. When we shouted for better conditions, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition not only heard our cries but had also seen the numbers. During this time, they saw that 65 percent of consumers planned to purchase long-lasting, high-quality items, and more than three in five consumers said environmental impact was an important factor in making purchasing decisions. This is what drove the change.

The coalition acknowledges this collective action in their vision and purpose, which is based on a set of shared beliefs that environmental and social challenges affect the entire industry, and no individual company can solve these challenges on their own.

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition is a collaborative effort, not only between companies, but between individuals and corporations as well. Together, we can accelerate improvement for the industry as a whole and drive corporations to actually take sustainability and consumer metrics and make positive change. It’s not just one company’s word we have to take for it, but a collective with a vested interest in moving the industry towards something greater.

We can only hope that as we move forward into this “new normal” that it includes more compassionate CEOs and founders who are authentic in their commitment to a healthier planet and fairly treated people, and can see that making greater changes is beneficial for all.

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition is an open source available to the public, so together we can keep an eye on corporations and the changes they’re making (or not making) in time. Some of the companies include:

  • L.L. Bean
  • Ralph Lauren
  • Macy’s
  • Lululemon
  • Reformation
  • Everlane
  • Ardene
  • Target
  • Under Armour
  • MEC
  • Disney
  • Walmart
  • Patagonia