Sustainable Apparel Rating Tool Set For Mid-Year Public Launch

On the cusp of its one-year anniversary, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition appointed its first executive director and will start tweaking its Apparel Index rating tool for a mid-year public release.

The Apparel Index is intended to help companies understand what's going into their products and the impacts of their supply chains, essentially acting as a measuring stick for sustainability, said Executive Director Jason Kibbey, who took his position at the start of the year.

Before joining the Coalition, Kibbey was co-founder and CEO of PACT, a company that makes organic underwear, socks and shirts, working with a Turkish company that has all of its manufacturing processes in a short supply chain. A portion of sales goes to various non-profit partners.

"I got involved with PACT partially because I saw the potential to create a different kind of brand that could ideally change how people thought about buying apparel," Kibbey said. "I felt like this (the Coalition) was an opportunity to do the same thing.... It's so often you have small, well-meaning efforts that try to gain the attention of big influencers or big holders of power. This is quite the opposite."

Since its launch last March, the Coalition's member list has grown to represent 30 percent by sales of the worldwide apparel industry, including clothing companies like Adidas, Columbia Sportswear, Gap, H&M, Levi Strauss & Co., Nike and Patagonia, and retailers JC Penney, Kohl's, REI, Target, Wal-Mart and others.

In the last year some 80 companies have tested a beta version of the Apparel Index on several hundred products, Kibbey said. Now the Coalition is taking all the feedback they've gotten and will work on the first version of the Index, slated for release in June or July.

The Apparel Index will be freely available from the Coalition's website. "What we want more than anything is broad adoption," Kibbey said.

The Apparel Index is based heavily on the Eco Index started by the Outdoor Industry Association and Nike's environmental design tool, and the first version will primarily cover sustainability and environmental factors: materials, packaging, manufacturing processes, transportation. Kibbey said the Coalition will modify the Index later in the year to include social and labor considerations, and it's also working on a Footwear Index this year.

As the Coalition received feedback from companies trying the Index out, it also heard about different ways companies and suppliers used Index and what they learned from it, Kibbey said.

One company took it to a factory in Asia that's designing new facilities, he said, and the factory is now basing new practices and designs off of what would help it get a high score.

Another company, which thought its practices were fairly sustainable, found out that not all its products scored the same or even as high as it expected, Kibbey said, giving that company a more detailed look at how individual products performed and compared to one another.

From his work with PACT, Kibbey said he knows what it's like to be on the production end of trying to make sustainable goods.

"I come to the table as a practitioner who has tried to make apparel as sustainable as possible already, and gone through the trials and tribulations of making these goods, and seen what it's like to put products through a supply chain and what the limitations are," he said, "I come with both a realistic view but also a really optimistic view that if we're smart we can change this, and it can be done."

Apparel photo via Shutterstock.