At KappAhl we’re working actively throughout our production chain to identify more sustainable ways of producing our garments. It is important for us to minimise our environmental footprint, and we are tackling that at many levels – through education and training; the informed choices we make in our day-to-day work, and in the partnerships we seek out in order to make a difference. The environmental aspects are integral to every element of our business, from the negotiating table with suppliers and all the way home to you, the consumer.
Reducing the use of chemicals
It is important to us that our customers, suppliers and employees have confidence in our products and how they are manufactured. Chemicals are an important part of that, and an area in which we make strict requirements and take a precautionary approach. This applies both to how the clothes are manufactured and to the finished garments you buy.
Responsible chemicals use
In textiles manufacturing, chemicals are often used, for example, to dye textiles or to make functional garments water repellent. Protecting human health and the environment requires a responsible and well-informed approach to the use of chemicals.
At KappAhl, we have employees on-site in our manufacturing countries. Their job is to ensure that all suppliers comply with our strict requirements, and that those who sew our clothes work in a safe environment. We also check that there are no hazardous substances in the clothes you buy – we conduct random sampling at authorised, independent test laboratories to obtain assurance that our requirements are complied with.
Our chemicals requirements conform to:
- The EU REACH chemicals regulation.
- The most stringent legislation in the countries we operate in.
- The Chemicals Guide (published by Textile Importers of Sweden).
- Recommendations from authorities, voluntary organisations and scientific reports.
We’re replacing and eliminating chemicals
As chemicals science continues to advance, we’re working intensively and proactively to address issues concerning chemicals. As in the case of many other potential causes of concern, we collaborate with authorities, other companies and organisations to make our industry more sustainable and better able to deal with chemical.
We participate in many external forums discussing the latest research data, such as the The Chemicals Group, and attend dialogue meetings with authorities such as The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and the Swedish Chemicals Agency. Staying up-to-date on the latest research keeps us one step ahead.
Water-repellent garments with eco-friendly impregnation
Among the substances we have banned in our manufacturing are the perfluorinated compounds (PFAS) that were once used as standard to give garments a water-repellent finish. Instead, our water-repellent functional outdoor clothing is impregnated with Bionic-Finish® Eco, an effective treatment that is safe for the environment and human health.
We also prohibit the use of phthalates, banned azo dyes and hazardous flame retardants. Our Restricted Chemicals List specifies all the substances prohibited by KappAhl. The requirements are updated on an ongoing basis.
”We have strict chemicals requirements and always apply precautionary principles.”
Smart solutions conserve natural resources
Textiles manufacturing entails heavy use of resources such as water, chemicals and energy. Did you know, for example, that several thousands of litres of water go into making a pair of jeans? They also require a lot of energy and chemicals.
But there are both materials and processes that are less resource-intensive and those are the ones we are continuously seeking to use more of.
Better cotton in several ways
Cotton may be both popular and in demand, but growing it requires a lot of water and chemicals.
By opting for organic cotton we can save a huge amount of water and chemicals. Organic cotton is grown entirely without chemical pesticides, artificial fertiliser and genetically modified seed. We use a large proportion of organic cotton in our range. All of our Newbie cotton garments, for example, are made from organic cotton.
To ensure that the cotton we use meets organic standards requirements, we have it tested by an independent third party. Our organic cotton is either GOTS or OCS certified. The GOTS, Global Organic Textile Standard, embodies both social and environmental requirements. OCS, Organic Content Standard, requires the fibres to be organic. Garments that are GOTS-certified bear the GOTS symbol on the garment label.
Through our membership of Better Cotton Initiative, BCI, we are helping farmers adopt farming methods that require less water, pesticides and artificial fertiliser. This results in better livelihoods for smallholder farmers and their families. As well as better cotton in our clothes. The benefits are many – and not only for the environment. BCI-farmersalso accept a social responsibility. The money the farmers save by reducing their use of water, chemicals and fertilisers goes towards higher wages for employees and schooling for children.
Our goal is for all of our cotton to come from more sustainable sources by 2020.
More Sustainable Denim
Conventionally manufactured denim takes its toll on the environment both because cotton is a resource-intensive material and because the amount of washing and processes the fabric is subjected to for the right finish requires a lot of water, energy and chemicals. But in our More Sustainable Denim we use organic or more sustainablygrown cotton, and the washing processes require half as much water, 30 per cent less energy and much less chemical treatment than conventional denim.
Want to know more about cotton? Watch episode four of our Make it Feel Right video series and meet BCI cotton smallholder Parvati. What did cotton farming to the BCI’s sustainability principles involve for her and her family?
Recycled fibres saves resources
Natural resources are not infinite, and when things that are ready for disposal get turned into new materials and products, it’s cause for celebration for the fashion industry and the environment alike. Recycling promotes a circular fashion industry and is one of the keys to a sustainable fashion future.
We’re working to increase the proportion of recycled fibres in our range and now have recycled polyester and polyamide among our materials. In tights and swimwear, for example, where the fibres are made from used plastic products such as PET bottles and fishing nets.
Recycled materials obviously save lots of energy and chemicals as compared with virgin materials. New polyester or polyamide is made from oil – a non-renewable natural resource which when extracted results in high emissions of carbon dioxide and heavy metals, which means that recycled alternatives hold substantial environmental benefits.
When a KappAhl garment bears a label stating that it is recycled, then that means that it contains at least 50 per cent recycled fibres.
More sustainable materials sourced from forests
Viscose is a natural material made from wood pulp or cellulose. This is a widely used, highly-regarded material derived from a natural and renewable source. Even so, in conventional viscose production, a lot of water and chemicals are used to transform the wood into textile fibre.
Happily, there are other, more environmentally-friendly ways of making textiles from wood pulp. One example is Tencel™, a brandname of the fibre called lyocell; another is Ecovero™. Both of these cellulose-based materials are manufactured using significantly less water and fewer chemicals than conventional viscose, and the raw material is sourced from more sustainably managed forests.
We are also members of Canopy, a global organisation working to prevent the felling of virgin forest around the world. As a member of Canopy, we have pledged to ensure that our cellulose-based materials are sourced from more sustainably managed forest. This is why we require our suppliers of viscose garments to use wood pulp from responsible forestry operations.
Sustainable dye makes a huge difference to the environment
Dyeing textiles is a resource-intensive process. It requires large volumes of water, and a great deal of energy and chemicals to give fabrics the colours we want in our garments.
So, how can we reduce this resource consumption?
In 2018, KappAhl initiated a project for more sustainable dyeing focused on saving water and energy. Together with some of our largest suppliers in Bangladesh, we did research to identify more sustainable dyeing techniques, and after a series of tests, settled on two different techniques. One, Cold Pad Batch Dyeing, is a cold process in which the dye reacts slowly with the fabric at ambient (room) temperature. The other technique involves using high fixation reactive, Avitera dyes.
We employed the two dyeing techniques for our basic jersey range, and were thrilled by the significant environmental benefits, as this is a major product category for us. The more sustainable dyeing method results in just as brightly coloured and washable garments as conventional dyeing, but requires 10–95 per cent less water and 20–50 per cent less energy. Going forward, we will be aiming to extend the use of more sustainable dyeing processes.
Making stores more sustainable with climate-smart hangers
Four years ago, KappAhl started a partnership with the Swedish company Ecoligent Paper to develop paper hangers. The manufacture of the hangers actually involves no water or chemicals at all – all it takes is paper, heat and pressure.
We have designed a flat paper hanger, which we use in our stores, and are currently testing a contoured, three-dimensional coat hanger. Store hangers obviously have to be very durable and stand up to moisture effects and a fair amount of handling during transportation and in the stores, and it takes a lot of lab work and testing to make such a complex product from paper pulp.
The paper hangers are manufactured from virgin wood pulp from sustainably managed forests, but recycled paper and recycled cotton textiles can also be used in order to create sustainable products for our stores: scarf hangers, beanie hangers and glove hangers along with a hanger for children’s wear are in the pipeline, as well as storefront materials and hangers made from recycled jeans.
Hard hanger facts
- 35 billion plastic hangers end up in landfills each year – in the EU alone.
- There are an estimated 500 million plastic hangers just in Sweden.
- Life-cycle analyses show that emissions of carbon dioxide are twelve times lower for a paper hanger than for a plastic clothes hanger.
Our plastic hangers are recycled
The plastic hangers in KappAhl stores have an average useful life of eight years. When they are no longer serviceable, the hangers from our Swedish stores are sent to the InStore Agency. Here, people with diverse abilities repair and recycle the hangers. In this way, people with special needs gain meaningful employment, while the climate is spared – so far, almost 1 million hangers have been repaired, and 30 tonnes of plastic and 7 tonnes of metal have been conserved.
Making our packaging more sustainable
Obviously, fashion retail won’t be able to eliminate packaging altogether because we need it to protect our products from soiling and damage, for example.
That said, we already have a large proportion of more sustainable materials in our packaging, and the aim is for 100% by 2022 and 100% circular packaging by 2030.
We are also continuously assessing the amount of packaging actually needed for shipping goods from our manufacturing countries, and for Shop Online orders. Where we find that the products are at no risk of being damaged, we can then dispense with the packaging.
We transport our garments by sea
Every year, more than 40 million KappAhl goods are transported from our manufacturing countries via our distribution centre in Mölndal, Sweden and onwards to either our stores or direct to customers. The vast majority of our goods are transported by sea, but also by rail from the manufacturing countries to Sweden. We transport goods by air only exceptionally. From our distribution centre in Mölndal, we ensure that our road transports by lorry are optimised in order to reduce our environmental footprint. One of KappAhl’s goals is to reduce the annual emissions of greenhouse gases from our transports, which is why we impose strict requirements on our business partners. The efforts to reduce our environmental footprint start right at the negotiating table.
Transportation by sea results in lower emissions than air transportation, but shipping can also be made more sustainable. We strive continuously to improve our environmental performance, and were one of the first members of the Clean Shipping Index which is a global network set up to address sustainability issues in shipping. Through this alliance, we lay down requirements for those who ship our garments in terms of both emissions and waste management and how vessels are dealt with after being decommissioned.
Better and reduced transportation to our stores and your home
Reducing the number of transports from our warehouse to our stores, and also to our customers is another approach to protecting the environment. We are working actively to devise better transportation methods whereby we transport less air and reduce the volume of our packaging. We are also working with othersin order to consolidate deliveries with the same destination, such as a shopping centre, for example. That means that we can pack the lorries more efficiently and reduce the number of road transports.
Returns impact transportation
Yet another issue in this context is online shopping returns, which obviously also influence our transportation performance. For customer returns, we are following developments closely in order to make as efficient and sustainable decisions as possible. We know that we have a relatively low returns rate, at just under 15 per cent, and that all returns sent via postal carrier service points are handled by the respective countries. This means that we avoid having to send returns all the way from Finland, Norway and Poland to the distribution centre in Sweden.
”Our goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our transportation year on year.”