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Speakers from the worlds of fashion, automobiles and even carpeting stressed those points to the more than 100 people attending the American Apparel & Footwear Association's first sustainability conference at the Fashion Institute of Technology here last Thursday.
The apparel industry is becoming more in tune with the benefits of adopting sustainable practices.
Sean Cady, director of environment, health and safety for Levi Strauss & Co., said a particular problem facing the apparel industry is the number of reviews factories must undergo to ensure compliance. Without a uniform code of standards among brands and retailers, factories must attempt to meet the criteria of each of their customers.
"We know in factories right now there is audit fatigue," he said.
Cady noted the average factory goes through 25 audits a year. Each can range from one to three days.
"We find that 80 percent of our time is spent auditing factories in our supply chain and only 20 percent is spent on actually resolving the issues," Cady said. "We need to flip that ratio."
The industry is starting to come together to help alleviate the burden on factories and to save time and money. Levi's is collaborating with 15 other brands to reduce the number of audits performed at 120 factories. Cady said the program has reduced the amount of resources devoted to inspecting those facilities by 20 percent.
Companies such as Patagonia and Dansko have taken the concept of sustainability beyond their product and applied it to offices and distribution centers. Patagonia's newest distribution center in Reno recycles 95 percent of its daily waste. Porous materials have been used for the parking lots to prevent runoff and erosion. Mirrors have been installed on the roof to reflect sunlight into the facility, reducing the amount of electric lighting.
Nate Paulson, store manager of Patagonia's Westport, Conn., location, said the company is also focusing on producing goods that are more durable.
"If you don't make a product that's of the highest quality, then it's going to end up in the landfill much earlier," Paulson said.