Many existing companies are rethinking their product lines and business practices in response to both consumer demands and internal ethical beliefs. As a result more and more apparel companies are offering green alternatives to their established lines.
Anvil Knitwear, a major manufacturer of blank apparel (the t-shirts that usually get screenprinted), has instituted an environmental policy for the entire company that affects not only the product line they sell but their own business and manufacturing practices. These range from small changes like recycling toner cartridges for the copy machines or providing biodegradable tableware in their company cafeteria to utilizing scrap to generate steam power and developing cleaner waste water.
For their product line they have introduced a recycled cotton option—the cutting waste from their t-shirt production is chopped up, organized by color, and respun into new yarn. A binding fiber, currently acrylic, is blended with the recycled cotton to add tensile strength and durability. The result doesn’t require any additional dyeing and creates a mottled heather appearance ready to be knitted into new fabric for new t-shirts. Anvil also makes a reasonably priced organic cotton line with several color choices. The high demand demonstrates that consumers want environmentally friendly choices that are also affordable.
Alternative Apparel is another t-shirt company that has joined the growing zeitgeist for sustainability. The brand is known for ultra thin, soft, vintage feel t-shirts that appeal to young, fashion forward consumers. Last year they added a new division called Alternative Earth that includes organic cotton and an “eco-heather” product produced with recycled cotton, polyester and rayon in a process similar to that described above.
Wal-Mart is now the largest purchaser of organic cotton in the world. In addition to purchasing organic cotton they are also making it easier for farmers to convert their crops by purchasing transitional cotton at premium organic prices. Conversion is often cost prohibitive because it requires a 3 year commitment of non-pesticide use to become certified organic. When they hired former Sierra Club president, Adam Werbach as a sustainability consultant, they initiated a wave of change within the company. They are cutting down on energy use and educating employees about sustainable practices while staking out territory as the “green” discount store. They realize that becoming a more sustainable company can also be profitable. In the long run, greater accessibility to affordable, environmentally friendly products has a strong potential to influence consumer culture.