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Buying Guide: The issues

Most consumers know that apparel manufacturing is a low-wage industry that has largely moved offshore to developing countries around the globe. While serious problems like unsafe working conditions or labor rights violations are regularly reported in the media, it is often difficult for consumers to know if these are relevant to an apparel brand they are considering purchasing. Apparel companies rarely own their own factories, but instead rely on a large number of suppliers to manufacture their clothes. It is often impossible to get public information on which manufacturers supply which brands. This limits the impact that consumer demand for socially responsible production has on apparel companies.

Similar issues affect environmental considerations. The apparel industry largely relies on fibers such as conventional cotton, which require significant amounts of water and energy to grow and generates substantial amounts of pollution. Textile dyeing and washing mills also consume water and energy resources and release harmful chemicals. Because manufacturing is typically occurring in developing countries, regulatory controls are often lax and consumers have little access to information about environmental impacts.

Within the industry, some apparel companies are taking steps to reduce the social and environmental impacts of their supply chain. It is now possible to separate the leading brands from the laggards across a variety of metrics. Since information about the impacts of specific products is generally unavailable, GoodGuide focuses on rating the brands that consumers encounter when shopping for clothes.

Buying Guide: What to look for

  • Buy from brands that are transparent about their supply chain, that press for improved working conditions at their suppliers, and that are taking steps to reduce the environmental impacts of their production operations.
  • Buy from brands that support a living wage or social wage premium.
  • Buy from brands that educate consumers about the steps you can take to reduce the lifecycle impacts of owning an item of clothing.
  • Buy products that are made of environmentally preferred fabrics, such as organic cotton or that are certified for minimal use of toxic chemicals.

Buying Guide: What to avoid

  • Avoid brands that do not disclose information about where their products are produced or how they monitor working conditions in their supply chain.
  • Avoid products with features that are associated with adverse environmental impacts, such as fabrics that need high temperature tumble-drying.
  • Avoid products made with “distressed” fabrics, which require additional resources to prematurely age the item.

Scoring Apparel

Overview

Information about the environmental and social impacts of specific apparel products is generally unavailable, so GoodGuide focuses on rating the brands that consumers encounter when shopping for clothes. Even at the brand level, it is often difficult to characterize performance because apparel companies rarely operate their own factories, but instead rely on a large number of suppliers to manufacture their clothes. Until companies do a better job of providing transparency into their supply chain, our ability to accurately score brands based on their relative performance will be subject to significant uncertainties.

Environment scores are assigned to apparel brands by combining GoodGuide’s standard company indicators of environmental performance (weighted at 50%) with brand-level environmental indicators that address issues that are specific to the apparel sector (weighted at 50%).

Our brand-level environmental assessment is based on indicators of

  • Sustainable product design, including whether the brand integrates life cycle assessment principles into product design and participates in sustainable supply chain organizations;
  • Green production practices, including whether the brand publishes a Restricted Substances List which limits use of hazardous chemicals and sources at least some of its fiber from sustainable producers;
  • Consumer education initiatives, including whether the brand designs products to reduce the environmental impacts of owning its products or educates consumers about the steps they can take to reduce the amounts of energy or water used to clean and dry clothing;
  • Commitment to transparency, including whether the brand publicly discloses a list of its suppliers and provides consumers with life cycle impact data on its operations or its products.

Social scores are assigned to apparel brands by combining GoodGuide’s standard company indicators of social performance (50%) with brand-level social indicators that address issues that are specific to the apparel sector (weighted at 50%).