- Kontoor Brands Inc., parent company of Wrangler and Lee, launched a system called Global Design Standards, intended to lower its climate impact and improve worker well-being.
- The Global Design Standards system has three pillars. Together, they are meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, decrease water and chemical usage, and assess worker health.
- Wrangler and Lee are in good company. Brands including Levi Strauss & Co. and Guess have been focusing on launching more eco-friendly denim, a fabric which has historically been one of the most environmentally taxing to make.
Kontoor launched the system as a way to tackle the product development areas that produce a large share of its carbon emissions, Julia Burge, director of external communications, said in an email.
“Our global design standards provide a ‘scorecard’ to help our teams choose the best options in materials, fabric and finishing to create lower impact products that still meet the standards of our brands,” Burge said.
One of the standard’s three components is a list of preferred materials, which focuses on sustainable and recycled fabrics. To meet this standard, 70% of the fabric in a product must be sourced from the list. It includes U.S.-grown cotton, recycled cotton or synthetic fibers, and hemp that has been certified as sustainable by a third party.
The other two standards are focused on fabric manufacturing and finishing processes that use relatively low water, energy and chemicals. The company checks whether its apparel meets these standards through independent auditors via an in-house program, which measures the freshwater consumption of denim mills, and through an independent environmental impact assessment made by Jeanologia, a Spanish textile technology manufacturer.
By focusing on these parts of the company’s supply chain — materials, as well as the cutting, sewing and finishing process — Kontoor can “make the biggest impact in the smallest time,” Burge said, noting that raw materials and final assembly of the company’s product make up a large chunk of its carbon emissions.
That reflects that fashion industry as a whole. A 2020 report from McKinsey estimated that upstream production — which includes material production, fabric preparation, and cut, make and trim processes — accounts for over half of the sector’s annual carbon emissions.
Denim is particularly hard on the environment, with 1,500 gallons of water needed just to grow the pound and a half of cotton used in one pair of jeans. Even more water is used during the dyeing, rinsing and finishing processes.
Other brands have been attempting to lower the environmental impact of their denim. In 2021, online retailer Revolve partnered with Recover, a textile fiber producer, to launch a 14-item collection of jeans that were each made with at least 15% recycled cotton.
Earlier this year, fast fashion store Mango created a 15-piece denim collection featuring recycled cotton. Mango eliminated items like rivets and labels to make their jeans easier to recycle.
For Kontoor, the company is aiming to have all of its products meet at least one of its new design standards in the future. Among its F/W 23 products, 56% of new Wrangler styles and 58% of new Lee styles meet one of the criteria, Burge said.