Eco-factories undeterred by label setback

The Sri Lankan apparel industry has been thwarted in its plans to label garments stocked in major US and EU retailers with its 'Garments without Guilt' slogan - but believes its focus on eco-factories will continue to drive the campaign forward.


Launched three years, the Garments without Guilt scheme reassures buyers that clothing sourced from the Indian Ocean island has been produced in factories that are free from child and forced labour, discrimination and sweatshop conditions. But the industry's goal of putting hang-tags on garments to take its message direct to consumers has suffered a set-back after retailers got cold feet about highlighting a product's ethical provenance.


"We talked to major retailers and brands and there's one major difficulty," confirms Kumar Mirchandani, chairman of the committee at the Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF). "If we [put a label] on what's coming out of Sri Lanka they're telling the customer that everything else on the shelf may not be so clean. And that's a problem."Mirchandani believes, however, that small retailers and boutiques may be more receptive to putting Garment without Guilt tags on the garments stocked in their stores, and this is currently being explored.


With more than 130 factories now independently audited by SGS under the Garments without Guilt label - accounting for 80-85% of all the island's apparel exports - the industry is also looking at other ways to help it stand out from the crowd.This includes its investments in the world's first green garment plants which supply clothing to British high street retailer Marks & Spencer.


And it believes retailers are already more receptive to the idea of labels and point-of-sale material telling shoppers about the eco-friendly origins of their clothes. The first two plants, which opened last year, are owned by two of Sri Lanka's biggest garment producers, Brandix Lanka and MAS Holdings. A third local manufacturer, the Hirdaramani Group, has also opened a green facility.


just-style visited the Brandix Casualwear factory at Seeduwa this week, and heard how the green conversion of the 30-year-old unit has cut carbon consumption by 80%, energy usage by 46%, and water consumption by 70%. Initiatives like rainwater harvesting, green areas with the sewing rooms, and increasing the amount of natural light in the building helped it become the world's first apparel factory to win a platinum rating from LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Other ideas in the pipeline include projects to recycle made-up clothes, samples and over-runs into new designs.


"We want to push recycling, we want to push green," Mirchandani confirms, adding: "We're doing it because it's the right thing to do.


"Our industry is forward-thinking and embraces new ideas. Our industry is not head-in-the-sand. we're not looking backwards, we're looking forwards."


Source: Leonie Barrie