Fashion Companies Go Green, Cut Costs

It may be socially responsible for fashion companies to be eco-conscious, but many are finding that thinking in terms of sustainability also produces major cost savings. Finding ways to cut costs internally has also become increasingly important for fashion companies as the cost of commodities like cotton rises and labor costs increase—many are eager to find ways that will allow them to avoid passing these costs onto the consumer.

Macy’s announced last week that starting in fall 2011 the company will begin using environmentally friendly matte black hangers in their stores (replacing the clear hangers that have hung in Macy’s for years). Macy’s Chief Administrative Officer Thomas Cole says, “Our company has embraced the principles of sustainability, and we continue to take actions that are tangible, measurable and meaningful in reducing our use of scarce resources and improving the efficiency of our business.” According to Macy’s the store uses 300 million hangers a year, so the cost savings will be measurable. The company is also installing energy saving LED light bulbs in stores nationwide, which will cut consumption by 73 percent. While this move will initially require an outlay by the company, it is a measure that will produce cost savings in the long-term.

PPR, the parent company of luxury brands like Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci, is also investing in green strategies, hoping for a long-term payoff. The company created a sustainability lab this year to research ways to introduce sustainability into business practices. Francois- Henri Pinault, CEO of PPR said “My deep conviction that sustainability creates value.” In other words, going green for PPR has just as much to do with the bottom line as it does with the environment. Signifying the commitment that PPR has to thinking in sustainable ways, Jochen Zeitz was named Chief Sustainability Officer at PPR in March of this year, moving from his post at Puma (a unit of PPR) as Chairman and CEO.

As companies research ways that they can become more eco-conscious, some are finding unexpected cost savings along the way. H&M for instance discovered that certain washes of jeans don’t have to be washed as much as others, thereby saving on water consumption and cutting costs. In the same vein Levi’s has introduced Water<Less jeans, which require an average of 28% and as much as 96% less water to produce. The company says it will save 16 million liters of water out of this new finishing process this spring alone.

Even smaller fashion houses are finding that thinking in eco-friendly ways means good business. Fashion duo Costello Tagliapietra for instance has been using AirDye technology for four seasons—the dying method doesn’t use water and additionally the process does not discard the waste water created by traditional water based dyes. The process also allows the duo to control the amount of fabric they order, since the dying process is very precise. That ability to predict both how much fabric is needed to produce samples, and also the amount of fabric needed to fill orders certainly equals meaningful cost savings for a New York-based upstart brand.

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