Have you ever gone into the store and picked up a new clothing item off the rack? It probably had one of those disposable hangers attached to it, right? Even something as simple as a hanger can have a massive environmental impact, especially with 8-10 billion plastic and wire hangers being produced each year and only 15 percent of this amount getting recycled.
Thankfully, leaders in the industry have found ways to revolutionize their products in a way that can inspire significant change in the retail industry. Through the development and proliferation of environmentally friendly products, these innovators can create a fundamental shift in retail — not only in terms of the products themselves but also in how they are made.
It’s important to remember that sustainability is more of a concern for consumers than ever before. According to surveys, 78 percent of consumers say a sustainable lifestyle is “important to them,” and more than 60 percent say they would pay more for a product sold with sustainable packaging. In their attempts to meet the needs and demands of consumers in today’s market, businesses in retail and apparel must emphasize sustainability at every point of their operations.
How Vertical Integration and Responsible Production Processes Boost Sustainability
One method that retail and apparel companies can use to ensure their sustainability is vertical integration. Although many companies in the retail industry have a global footprint, vertically integrating each facility is able to limit the need for transportation and outside resources, which can contribute to pollution. After all, fewer trucks on the road means less emissions.
However, there are also additional benefits of vertical integration to the business models of those in the retail and apparel industries. In this constant sprint of an industry, it’s vital to have a very quick turnaround once orders are placed. If you dye materials or prepare material in-house, it allows you to be slightly quicker. Even a day or two quicker in this industry can make a world of difference, as it makes your business more efficient for the customer.
Beyond vertical integration, retail and apparel businesses must also take care to implement responsible and sustainable production processes at every point of their products’ life cycles. Monitor your production processes to ensure that you reuse materials internal to the production process whenever possible and monitor the use and treatment of all water used in your facilities as well. It’s critical to implement sustainable practices from top to bottom.
One sustainable practice that businesses should particularly focus on is the use of recycled materials. For example, the use of sustainable raw materials, such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) paper and Global Recycling Standard (GRS) plastic — both of which are documented throughout their entire life cycle — allows both businesses and their customers to do their part in reducing the environmental impact of the retail and apparel industries.
However, while substituting recycled plastic and paper materials into products wherever feasible is a great start, sustainability initiatives must not stop there. Indeed, to have the most wide-reaching positive impact on the sustainability scores for the sector, innovators must create new products that help reduce the need for plastics in the retail industry as a whole.
Revolutionizing Sustainability in the Apparel Industry
When there were widespread calls in the retail industry to reduce the consumption of single-use plastics, innovators saw a tremendous opportunity to inspire real change. The lowly plastic hanger — a single-use product used to hang clothes on store racks, but disposed of if the customer does not ask to take it home and reuse it — is one item in the retail industry that showed particular potential to be replaced.
While some companies approached this challenge by attempting to create an all-paper hanger, they found that the hooks provided a weak point in the design, and therefore were not a feasible alternative to plastic hangers in and of themselves. Thus, a new solution was born. A “hybrid hanger” — made of a paper body with a plastic hook — can help reduce the vast majority of plastic used to produce the hanger, while still meeting the same standard requirements of its plastic counterparts.
Thanks to the unique properties of the hybrid hanger, it can become significantly more sustainable and eco-friendly without compromising the performance of the final product. On top of that, the paper body allows for so much marketing space that it can also potentially save money and materials for additional items that might be required, such as hangtags, stickers, or more.
With their innovative solutions to the sustainability challenges of the retail and apparel industries, pioneers in the retail industry will pave the way for a more sustainable future. By creating new, more eco-friendly products, businesses are not only helping reach their sustainability goals, but also providing quality products and great service to their customers.
The author, Joseph A. Schlossberg, is Vice President of Global Sales at Sourcing Solutions International.