Patagonia and hessnatur show it’s possible to run a clothing company that’s both competitive and socially responsible.
This week’s GOOD Company Finalists are in the apparel biz, showing that it’s possible to be a clothing company that’s competitive and socially responsible even in the age of outsourced labor in developing countries.
A longtime leader in corporate social responsibility, the outdoor apparel company founded by Yvon Chouinard and a group of fellow rock climbers and surfers in 1972 is a leader in product quality and shared value, freely mixing advocacy for the environment with the latest waterproof shells. The company has pioneered responsible supply chains, founding the Fair Labor Association in the 1990s, and is expanding the auditing and analysis of its factories, working with companies like Verite to promote fair labor practices and environmental sustainability. The company also donates at least 1 percent of its sales to environmental groups, and each year launches a large-scale educational campaign on an environmental issue—in 2011, they're focusing on freshwater depletion with their Common Waters campaign. The company doesn’t leave it’s employees in the lurch, either, boasting an on-site child care center at its Ventura, California headquarters, along with flexible working hours, job-sharing, and, of course, company-organized outdoor activities. Patagonia’s willingness to include social responsibility in its corporate DNA makes it one of the original GOOD companies.
Heinz Hess founded this German organic clothing producer in 1976, a time when polyester was king and Hess couldn’t find natural clothing that suited the needs of his growing family. The company began organic cotton farming projects in Egypt, Peru, Senegal, Turkey, and Burkina Faso, and has expanded those same practices—eschewing artificial pesticides and fertilizers—to produce linen, silk, and wool products with local partners. The company’s headquarters in Butzbach, Germany was designed to save energy and reduce environmental impact, from the renewable energy that powers its only elevator to the organic café on the top floor. The first certified B Corporation in Europe, hessnatur has its social mission written into its corporate articles, and worked with the Clean Clothes Campaign to develop a protocol to ensure that human production standards are followed in its factories. Another pioneer in environmentalism and corporate responsibility, hessnatur's steady approach to improving business practices sets a standard for its competitors.\n
While other clothing companies have looked the other way when working with factories abroad that have questionable human rights and environmental practices, these two firms demonstrate that responsibility and success can go hand-in-hand, and that a transparent, pragmatic approach to improving their supply chains is the only way to transform the clothing industry.