The Exact Cause Was Never Determined

“An investigation ensued and the owners of the company were ordered to stand trial on charges of manslaughter. The exact cause of the fire was never determined, although many contended it was caused by a spark from one of the sewing machines or a carelessly tossed cigarette.” It’s natural to assume that the description in the above quote is about the latest in a string of tragedies that has become so familiar in the garment factories in Bangladesh. Truth be told, that snippet comes from Encyclopedia.com, and it’s about a fire that happened 105 years ago in New York City. The fire claimed the lives of 146 people, most of them immigrant women and young girls. So many people crowded on to the fire escape, that it collapsed. These details from more than 100 years ago are hauntingly similar to descriptions we’ve heard about many recent events from across the globe. Public outcry from long ago helped pave the way for regulations and safety measures in the garment industries. We need to think twice about turning back the hands of time and remember that these regulations were put in place for a reason. While we certainly cannot regulate conditions and processes worldwide, like so much in manufacturing of promotional products, standard operating procedure should always be trust, but verify. If you’d like to read more, please check out my column at Promo Marketing Blog. Photo Credit: Cindy Vasko via Compfight...

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Draw Your Attention to Drawstrings

When the weather in the United States turns cold, parents’ thoughts naturally turn to the weather and many wonder whether or not their kid’s sweatshirts and jackets still fit from last year. In 2014, September was a bad month in the world of recalls for kid’s outerwear. First we saw Benetton recalling United Colors Boy’s jackets, then recalls of the Pure Baby Organics Boy’s Hoodie and Active Apparel Boy’s Fission Zipper Hooded Sweatshirts followed shortly after on that same day in September. I don’t know about you, but I continue to be surprised that these coats and sweatshirts with banned closures are even brought to market in the first place. It’s not as though safety issues with drawstrings are new! They have been a problem for quite some time. In 1996, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued the first guideline about drawstrings in children’s upper outerwear, notably pointing out the potential strangulation risk. In 1997, those guidelines were incorporated on a voluntary basis. Then, in July 2011, based on the guidelines and the voluntary standard, the CPSC issued a new federal regulation. In spite of all this, these sweatshirts still manage to find their way onto store shelves, and sometimes it happens more than once. Discount clothing retailer, Ross Stores, ended up with a $3.9 million fine for repeatedly, knowingly selling youth sweatshirts with drawstrings. Ross paid a civil fine in 2009 for failing to report children’s outerwear sold between 2006 and 2008. However, they continued to sell various styles that included banned drawstrings between 2009 and 2012, and that resulted in a huge penalty and the implementation of a CPSC internal compliance program. If you’re not a retailer, what does all this mean to you as a supplier or distributor of promotional products? It is important to note that it is not just retailers, but also the manufacturers and importers that have to assess current product testing and CPSC reporting practices. It’s also important that they are fully understanding their obligations concerning their independent product safety compliance and reporting. The safety of consumer products is receiving increased scrutiny from federal and state governments and the CPSC is considering increasing penalties throughout the distribution chain for violations of underlying regulatory and reporting requirements. If you’d like to read more, please check out my column at Promo Marketing Blog photo credit: USCPSC via photopin...

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The Battle for a Safer Bangladesh Goes On

In the year since the devastating factory collapse in Bangladesh killed more than 1,100 workers, efforts have been continuing to improve safety in the country’s garment industry. Although progress has undoubtedly been made, two recent reports highlight how divisions within and among some major brands may be hampering efforts to prevent another catastrophic collapse or fire. The first from The New York Times reports on how western retailers and apparel brands began a major push to inspect factories in Bangladesh following last year’s tragic incidents in the country. While their efforts have won praise in some quarters, others feel that the formation of two disparate groups may be diluting the overall impact. The Bangladesh Accord for Fire and Building Safety, which has a dominance of European brands amongst its more than 150 members, has inspected some 300 factories to date with a goal to inspect all of its 1,500 factories by late October 2014. Meanwhile the other group, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, which is comprised of 26 U.S. and Canadian brands, has completed 400 inspections out of a total of 630 of its members factories and expects to complete all of its inspections by July. Inspectors from both groups have found serious problems in many factories, including structural weaknesses and potential fire hazards. The European-dominated accord’s inspections have so far resulted in four factories being closed temporarily for fear of collapse with four more under close government officials’ scrutiny. Despite having carried out more inspections, the alliance has had only one factory closed, prompting questions about the thoroughness of its inspectors from some accord members. The alliance claims it is working closely with local unions and workers to improve working conditions, and also has asked the Bangladeshi authorities to close four more factories following inspections. Some alliance members have criticized the accord for failing to make a provision for wages for workers who are laid off after the temporary closure of a factory. There also have been some differences of opinion over the process for when a factory is closed and whether inspection reports should be made public. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the arguments, there is no doubt that all brands face a massive challenge in improving factory conditions in the country. The combined groups only will be inspecting some 2,000 of the estimated 5,000 garment factories in Bangladesh, with many of the others thought...

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“Design 4 Recycling” Jeans Workshop A Success

Earlier this year, 19 students from Germany and the Netherlands took part in an innovative workshop with an interesting mission: create designs for sustainable jeans. The “jeans4recycling” workshop, held in Arnhem this past March was organized jointly by the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) and their Dutch national member NVRD, as part of a project to find ways to make fashion more sustainable. Jeans, since they’re a fashion item with a high environmental impact (think about the number of people you know who don’t own at least one pair), were selected for the project. The aim of the workshop was to design a pair of jeans that was sustainable and whose impact on the global environment would be minimal. Further, the jeans needed to meet the garment’s overall appeal and their design not significantly altered from what the general public is familiar with. The participating students, who came from four educational institutions: Saxion University  (Enschede), ArtEZ (Arnhem), AMD (Dusseldorf) and Fachhochschule Niederrhein  (Monchengladbach), were split into four groups, each with a good mixture of social diversity, as well as technical and creative ability. Their assignment? Come up with new, viable, sustainable concepts for jeans and translate them into prototypes, all in 24 hours. Easy right? The students were given some background to the project, information about jeans’ manufacture, some information about their environmental impact, technical aspects of the production of jeans, as well as a guide on solutions that had already been found. From there, they set to work, with each group selecting a different aspect in relation to the jeans’ design, such as zippers and buttons, rivets, labels or fabrics. The second day of the workshop started with presentations by guest speakers who talked to the students about the ethical aspects of textiles, and issues surrounding textile recycling. Bert van Son, CEO & Owner of Mud Jeans, gave a presentation about his company’s jeans “leasing” concept. In it, Mud’s customers pay a monthly fee for their jeans, which remain the property of the manufacturer. Mud Jeans meets the cost of any repairs and, at the end of a year, the jeans are returned to them for sustainable reprocessing, an interesting new concept that has attracted a lot of interest in the Dutch press. After the presentations, the students came back together to present their designs and their wearable prototypes in front of an audience of sixty-or-so people. The...

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Think Before You Print: The Children’s Place Pulls Sexist Shirts

Think Before You Print: The Children’s Place Pulls Sexist Shirts

Back to school is typically a prime shopping season. Yet The Children’s Place recently learned a hard lesson about merchandise that furthers gender stereotypes after widespread criticism prompted the retailer to pull a girl’s T-shirt that featured what many called a sexist imprint. The shirt depicts a list of My Best Subjects with checkmarks next to shopping, music and dancing, but not math. As a result, parents headed to The Children’s Place’s Facebook page in droves, leaving more than 2,000 comments about the apparel. The story was then picked up by several news sources, after which The Children’s Place announced it would no longer sell the shirt. The company published a Facebook post apologizing for the incident. “It has come to our attention that some of you view our Best Subjects T-shirt as insensitive towards girls and women. This was not our intent. There are countless women in all walks of life who excel in math, including our very own CEO. We have pulled this product from our stores and we want to express our apologies to anyone we may have offended.” Online conversation about the controversy has continued, divided primarily into two groups: those who were offended by the shirt’s slogan, and those who think other parents and consumers are overreacting. Lesson learned? Think before you print. If you sell or distribute promotional products that feature slogans or other catchphrases, it doesn’t hurt to do some extra analysis before the products are created. Will that particular item be made in good taste? Or does it run the risk of alienating a sizable portion of your customer base, thereby sending you into crisis mode—and your customers to your competitors? This is where you can really use your staff and solicit their input before moving forward with product buys or orders. Take a quick poll when it comes to promotional products like these and see what your people think. It’s an easy way to use your own resources to do some research beforehand that could potentially save you a lot of grief. This incident also underscores the continual importance of a crisis plan. Many have applauded The Children’s Place’s apology and decision to pull the shirt. Even better, however, is for the situation not to happen in the first place, although it’s not always easy to predict how consumers will react. Other apparel makers, including Nike, Solid Gold Bomb, Adidas...

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New Nike App Helps Designers See (And Pick) Green

New Nike App Helps Designers See (And Pick) Green

Nike isn’t a stranger to corporate sustainability, but a new app will take the company’s eco-friendly efforts to the next level. The Nike Making iOS app gives designers a tool to select greener, more sustainable materials, resulting in products that are better for the environment. Sourcing and using sustainable materials has been on Nike’s radar for nearly a decade, yet the Nike Making app makes this initiative much easier for product designers. The app draws from Nike’s in-house sustainability index, an eye-opening amount of data that ranks products based on scientific research and the analysis of product life cycles. Let’s say, for example, you have a product design idea. You can browse the Making app to see how different materials rank in a variety of criteria like chemistry, base material score, water/land use intensity, physical waste and more. If using organic materials is a priority, the app shows you that down is your best choice, followed by silk, cotton and polylactic acid fabric. The app is viewed as a big step forward in giving more visibility (and access) not just to corporate sustainability initiatives, but the environmental impact and sustainability of the products themselves, which isn’t something that most people are used to thinking about. As Margaret Rhodes writes for Co.Design, “The need is acute. Despite the emphasis typically placed on the environmental harm of shipping (heard prominently within movements for local farming), materials account for 60% of the environmental impact incurred from a pair of Nike shoes.” We’ve already spent some time surfing through the Making app and are big fans. After all, mitigating environmental impact is one of the key factors to overall safety and compliance—and if your company makes products that aren’t sustainable and eco-friendly, larger corporate sustainability goals won’t go far. And, as more consumers respond to actively sustainable companies, you also risk harming your bottom line. What’s your take on Nike’s latest sustainability move? Would you like to see similar apps produced by other companies? Lead image via...

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