Forge stronger ties in your textile supply chain

By Keerti Krishnan

If you’ve taken a minute at a clothing retail store and browsed through a label, chances are that you’ve seen ‘Made in India’ or ‘Made in China’ regardless of where you are in the world! The Asian textile industry has reigned the WTO textile export chart for over a decade. Last year, India and China among other top Asian exporters accounted for 52.31%[1] of the global market. While at the macro level the market position seems grounded, a closer examination would reveal a growing requirement for ethical and sustainably conscious garment suppliers – construing a vulnerability among second and third tier supply chains.

In the wake of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh killing 1,129 garment workers, thousands were exposed to ‘unsafe conditions.’ Multinational apparel brands sourcing materials from these suppliers have had their reputation bruised, drawing questions on unethical sourcing and trading. Unfortunately this isn’t the first time a textile sourcing firm has been exposed. Several multinational clothing brands have experienced issues with labour practices and environmental non-compliances. Usually at this juncture, a retailer would mitigate short-term reputational risks by publicising an intended agenda addressing the matter; in the long-term, they may choose to work with the supplier in bettering their standards or replace them all together. The latter has had deeper socio-economic repercussions evident in India.

The competitive micro, small medium enterprises (MSMEs) accounts for 5.33 million[2] producers-suppliers of apparel and textile. Two thirds of Indian textiles (handlooms, hand-made textiles, cotton, wool, jute) are exported primarily to the EU and USA[3]. The Asian market has been lucrative in most ways, cutting manufacturing costs. However for a retailer there are several hidden liabilities. These risks are addressed by sizing potential suppliers against a set criterion designed by the retailer’s ‘Code of Conduct’. Most suppliers are filtered out, usually missing the opportunity to export.

A textile supplier is exposed to several risks including economic turbulence, non-compliance and stiff market competition. Consider Tirupur in Tamil Nadu, a primary textile hub with 750 direct exporters and thousands more as sub-contractors. In a span of just five years the city’s previously bustling streets have several factories shut, owing to a sharp decline in demand during the economic slowdown; non-compliance of zero waste discharge on-site shutting 700 units in 2011 and competitive pricing in Bangladesh. However the price hikes maybe due to a number of factors. Inefficiencies within the factory, is one of them. The Hindu quoted a manufacturer who hiked unit price by Rs.10 owing to high fuel costs to run generator sets during power shortages. Garment factories need to meet manufacturing expenses while sell at a competitive price. When manufacturing costs start to rise, saleability reduces and a shift in market interest re-route sourcing.

While it may seem that there are a plethora of external factors, suppliers need to pedal through, VNV would recommend taking charge of measures within the operation first. Costs could be trimmed when energy deficits, water consumption and waste generation are examined. Leverage on business efficiency by reducing resource ‘leakages’ within the operations to improve company’s sustainable performance and heighten export appeal. Consider acquiring an eco-label for a certain fabric or even an ethical sourcing label to prove credibility in fair labour practices. FairTrade reported a 10-12% rise in products in USA and EU, suggesting a rising sustainable consumer trend. Moreover with the introduction of the Higg index for sustainable apparel and footwear, retailers will rely on their suppliers to ‘do the right thing’.

The sooner you start to review operations, the better you gain competitively.  After all, a stitch in time saves nine!

[2] 20.5 % (IBEF) of 26 million SMES (IndiaStats, Dr. Bhaskaran, 2012).

[3] Ministry of Textiles – International Trade Section

Image source:  Silk weaving in India, dschwab5 flickr,

Sweet Savings: Making waste a source

UK paper manufacturer James Cropper has developed another innovative recycling process that incorporates cocoa husk waste from chocolate production into unbleached cellulose fiber to produce a food-grade paper. The company says turning the otherwise wasted skins of many of the 3.5 million metric tons of cocoa beans produced each year into paper could be a significant breakthrough for the food and packaging industries.

The paper is now in production and certified for use in the food supply chain, including as wrapping for chocolate bars.

The company says that unlike other cocoa recycling processes, theirs does not require burning or gradual degradation of the husk fibers, resulting in a light, cocoa-colored paper that requires no additional artificial dyes.

Apparently, a staggering 10 metric tons of cocoa husk waste is created for every single metric ton of dry cocoa bean produced.

Phil Wild, CEO of James Cropper plc. said: “The production of a brand new paper that repurposes the primary waste material of the cocoa and chocolate industry reflects how far we can push the capabilities of our state-of-the-art mill, our expertise and paper itself – perhaps providing a starting point for other industries to consider how their waste materials could be better reused rather than disposed of.”

The finished product, predominantly made up of unbleached cellulose fiber from sustainable crops, features a 10 percent cocoa husk content, the company says.

The cocoa paper came about after Barry Callebaut, the world’s largest cocoa and chocolate manufacturer, asked James Cropper to review its packaging in an effort to reduce its waste and overall environmental footprint.

“Creating paper from cocoa husks and achieving food industry certification, for its use in packaging edible products of all kinds is a great achievement and is another example of James Cropper developing industry-leading solutions for even more sustainable methods of paper production,” said CEO Mark Cropper.

In July, James Cropper announced new technology that enables the recycling of disposable coffee cups into high-quality paper products. After four years of development, the company can now not only recycle the fiber content in cup waste but also the plastic coating, creating a closing the loop on disposable cup waste.

Both James Cropper’s paper cup and cocoa husk paper innnovations are among the finalists for the 2013 Luxe Pack in Green Award, taking place today at the Luxe Pack in Green exhibition in Monaco.