Fashion Foes Form Alliance to Detox Manufacturing Process

Fashion Foes Form Alliance to Detox Manufacturing Process

For decades, a fashion powerhouse tried improving its supply chain. The more it did, the more it realized it could only be done collectively—as an industry.
Garima Sharma January 25, 2016
“When you have protesters in front of your shop windows, you react quickly.” 

So observed one fashion industry leader when reflecting on his company’s decision to partner with former competitors.   

Activists pressure fashion brands to stop polluting.

The Challenge

In 2011 Greenpeace identified textile manufacturers in China as major polluters of hazardous chemicals. Greenpeace wrote open letters to large multinational fashion brands – such as Nike, H&M, and Zara – that were outsourcing production to these polluting plants.

Greenpeace challenged the brands to “detox” their manufacturing process. Specifically, they encouraged the companies to: 
One brand after another committed to Greenpeace’s 
Detox campaign

The campaign did not oblige member companies to work together. But the participating fashion brands quickly realized they could only change their manufacturers’ use of hazardous chemicals by cooperating with companies they historically viewed as competitors. 

“We have been trying for 20 years to improve our supply chain,” one industry representative said. “The more we do, the more we realize you can only do this collectively—as an industry.”   

Form an industry-wide alliance like ZDHC.

The Solution

Key players in the apparel, outdoor and footwear industries joined forces to establish Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals in 2011. The group included Adidas Group, C&A, G‐Star Raw, H&M, Jack Wolfskin, Levis Strauss & Co., Li Ning, Nike, and Puma SE.

ZDHC created a Joint Roadmap that focused on eliminating and reducing the 11 priority chemicals. ZDHC also aims to inventory and assess other hazardous chemicals while helping the member companies transition to greener chemicals.

Compete on products—cooperate to beat pollution.

The Result

Today, ZDHC has 20 apparel brand members and dozens of associate members including suppliers. In June 2014, ZDHC brands reached their first milestone by publishing the Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) for the apparel and footwear industries. The list provides the brands and their suppliers with a standardized approach for processing raw materials, and identifying the priority chemicals and the maximum concentration limit for each.

ZDHC became a non-profit entity in 2015, hiring an independent executive director and recently appointing a Board of Directors. The dialogue between ZDHC and Greenpeace continues; Greenpeace has appreciated individual brands’ efforts but asks more of the collaboration. ZDHC brands describe their work as ongoing and invite feedback from Greenpeace on ZDHC’s progress. 

Factors that made the collaboration hard for ZDHC signatories:
Lessons learned from the ZDHC industry collaboration (excerpted from NBS’s upcoming report on Collaborating with Competitors for Sustainability): 
Companies would be wise to draw upon these lessons. Interacting with industry peers does not mean a company needs to make a binary decision between competition and cooperation. Indeed, there is much to gain from collaborating with even your closest competitors.

For more on this topic, check out the video in which Dr. Lori DiVito illustrates what managers need to know when considering competitor collaborations. 

Related Resources

Topic Blog

In this video, Dr. DiVito illustrates what managers who are considering competitor collaboration need to know.

Reports and Articles

Pooling resources, intelligence, leadership, and common sustainability goals with other companies, even with competitors, can elevate the level of results.

Systematic Review

This guide enables managers to make the case for a competitor collaboration to colleagues or leaders, and determine satisfaction with current projects.

Executive Report

Collaborations can be tense and complex. This tool responds to the question: How can managers improve competitor collaboration to advance sustainability.

News and Events

NBS invites you to our upcoming breakfast forum and workshop, Collaborating with the Competition, taking place on September 9, 2016 in Toronto.