Several years ago I was a part of a market research focus group which was being held on behalf of a popular bottled water supplier. (These were the days when I was clueless enough to not question my assumption that it is "normal" to buy and consume drinking water out of disposable plastic bottles!) Our interviewers wanted to know whether we preferred the idea of a "recyclable" bottle or a "biodegradable" bottle.
The thoughts which immediately occurred to me were that it would depend heavily on what the manufacturing processes involved and their impact on the environment, as well as the impact of the recycling and degrading processes. I shared these thoughts with the interviewers and their response was "Yeah, but which one do you THINK would be best?"
One got the feeling that they didn't want you to think too far beyond the label on the bottle. With companies who care more about how they APPEAR to consumers, we are absolutely ripe for greenwashing unless we take the time to question what goes on behind the scenes from start to finish in the making of the products we use.
This is one of the reasons why we were so impressed when we first encountered Swedish Stockings.
Swedish Stockings acknowledges that it is their business and responsibility to make sure that the values of their supply chain partners are in synergy with their own. Unlike a lot of multinational companies who are often unable to vouch for the ethics practiced by those they are partnering with across the globe, this allows them to have a high degree of transparency about the production process.
Image courtesy of Ethical Fashion Australia
According to founders Nadja and Linn, suppliers and manufacturers are selected based on their commitment to environmental issues, commitment to employees and where they are based geographically.
Currently, Swedish Stockings are produced, packaged and distributed out of Italy, which is an ideal situation for lessening the environmental impact of shipping since it is a central point between their biggest markets in Canada, Holland and Sweden. The Italians may be renown for their rich history in producing high quality hosiery, but in addition to this, the Italian factory which Swedish Stockings partners with has extremely high ethical, social and environmental standards.
In relation to the environment- the issues which have been addressed are:
Overproduction - one of the most deadly sins of the fast fashion industry. (For more information on the detrimental effects of overproduction, read here) The factory works very hard to avoid excessive production and left over yarns are put to good use, being made into samples.
Recycling - They collaborate with specialised companies to ensure that all papers and plastics are recycled, helping the factory to be a zero-waste environment.
Renewable Energies - 36% of production is driven by solar panels, with the remaining 64% being from renewables (mostly solar and wind) supplied by a certified third party.
Dyeing Process - one aspect of production which is probably not considered by the average stocking wearer is that of dyeing the raw fabric. Swedish Stockings’ dyeing facility is located next to the knitting factory and they use only vegan dyes. What is potentially an energy guzzling, water wasting and polluting process has also been refined. State of the art equipment is employed to reduce energy use by 20% and it is run by a combination of gas and solar energies, thereby producing no carbon dioxide emissions. 50% of the water used in the process is able to be re-used and the other 50% is purified through ozone disinfection and a micro bacteria process.
And what about people? We believe that any company which claims environmental sustainability must have the same approach to their treatment of the inhabitants of that environment! Swedish Stockings does not fail to deliver in this area either. All their suppliers have in fact achieved certification according to the high standards of OHSAS 18001 in relation to socially acceptable processes in the workplace.
This certification assures us that they:
are free from child labour, forced labour and discrimination.
allow freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.
employ humane disciplinary practices
comply with laws and industry standard working hours and rights to a living wage.
In addition to protecting these basic rights (isn’t it sad that the type of world we live in makes certification of such things necessary!) the Italian factory is invested in the social wellbeing of their local community with initiatives to aid the handicapped, distribute food to the poor and provide rehabilitation to those with addictions
As consumers, we can help to guard ourselves from being hood-winked by companies who want to appear to be "green" by taking some time to think about the process behind the finished product. By arming ourselves with a little knowledge, we can encourage more companies to take responsibility for the holistic sustainability of their supply chain.