Eye On Apparel: Getting Into The Green Scene


Consumers (and the planet) asked for eco-friendly, and the promotional products industry has delivered with green merchandise that’s impressionable, on trend and serves as a conversation-starter for end users. When is the last time you heard about a sustainable product or learned of a company that donates a portion of its proceeds to a green charity? The answer is probably very recently, with sustainability driving demand in the U.S. and worldwide, according to Forbes. And good thing, too, because environmental issues, like global warming, deforestation and ocean pollution, can benefit from exposure of eco-conscious products by stirring awareness and encouraging action.

Nurture The Planet, Nurture Your Brand

If Earth had a theme song right now, it would be Charles Bradley’s Changes. Earth is, undoubtedly, going through some major changes, and not all of them are good. As of October 2019, only 26.9 percent of the world’s forests and 68.5 percent of the world’s coral reefs remained intact, according to The World Counter, a “live” counter that uses data from organizations across the globe to indicate world stats in real time. The global ocean has risen just over three inches since the start of satellite sea level recordkeeping in 1993, according to climate.org, and an estimated 14 billion pounds of trash, most of it plastic, is dumped in the world’s oceans every year, a stat reported by seastewards.org. The latter is such a problem, in fact, that the “plastic soup”—the patches of garbage floating in the oceans—now covers more than 25 million square miles. If this were on land, it would be enough to cover the United States, China, India and Argentina, combined, with garbage. But it doesn’t end there. According to Project Kaisei, a nonprofit that focuses on marine debris, 70 percent of garbage that winds up in the ocean sinks, which means the plastic soup, though massive, doesn’t even account for half of the garbage underwater.

By stepping in, companies are stepping up by incorporating eco-friendly practices into their business.

The major plus here is that companies not only benefit from feel-good work, but enhanced brand perception. To discover the impact of sustainability for brands, Computer Generated Solutions (CGS)—a provider of business and outsourcing services and enterprise learning—conducted its 2019 Retail and Sustainability Survey, which surveyed more than 1,000 Americans, ages 18 to 65. The results indicated that 68 percent of consumers consider sustainability important when making a purchase, so much so they’d be willing to pay more for it: 35 percent would pay 25-percent more than the original price, seven percent would pay 50-percent more, and five percent would pay double. When asked about what makes consumers loyal to a brand, 28 percent of consumers said “sustainable/ethical business practices.”

Hardworking Hemp

Right now, sustainability is trending because there’s a dire need for it, but what continues—in part—to drive people to the product is the product itself. For suppliers manufacturing eco-friendly apparel, a large portion of the product’s appeal comes from comfort and structure, and at the most fundamental level, the garment’s fibers, which can have a major effect on a company’s sustainability. There are many eco-friendly fibers to consider when manufacturing clothing, like recycled polyester, bamboo, Pinatex (pineapple leather), fish leather, organic linen, cork and organic cotton. But hemp is particularly popular—and no, it isn’t because of the legal marijuana boom. Here’s more about the fiber and its many benefits.

According to Global Stewards, organic hemp is made from cannabis sativa fibers or industrial hemp. Hemp fibers, often referred to as “bast,” grow outside of the plant’s stalk and are cultivated by hand. The hemp fibers are fast-growing, reaching between three and 15-feet tall at the 11-week maturation point, and they grow in colors ranging from creamy white to green, brown and black. Hemp requires little water, no pesticides and naturally fertilizes the soil it grows in, and because it’s low-maintenance, it costs less to cultivate. Hemp also produces two-to-three times more fiber per acre than cotton, and is 95-percent UV-resistant, mold-resistant, hypo-allergenic, non-irritating and pest-resistant. It’s also a strong fiber—up to four times stronger than cotton—which means clothing made from hemp fibers will last longer. One of the oldest fibers in the world, first spun to make clothing some 10,000 years ago, hemp is also antibacterial and durable, and it continues to soften the more it’s washed. Oftentimes, it’s blended with other fibers, like organic cotton or flax. Other than apparel, hemp can be used to make paper, rope, paint, biodegradable plastics, food, insulation, horticultural bedding for animals and stuffing for upholstery.

Watches aren't usually associated with eco-consciousness, but this Eco-Drive line of watches run without batteries. The watches are created using a technology launched in 1976 that exclusively powers the watch using any light source, whether natural, artificial and even dim light--indoors or outdoors--using a rechargeable lithium ion power cell. The end user never has to worry about losing track of time, and the brand salvages resources; within a year's time, if all the used batteries from Citizen Watches were stacked on top of one another, it would be taller than the Empire State Building.

Citizen Watch America   /   PPAI 410292, S1   /   www.citizenwatch.com

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The 100LS Unisex Ultimate Long-Sleeve Tee is made from 60-percent cotton and 40-percent recycled polyester fiber made from recycled materials, reducing petroleum and greenhouse gases associated with manufacturing, and conserving water and energy. The tee is 15-percent heavier than most basic tees, and is dyed using 30-perecnt ColorZen cotton, which allows cotton to be dyed using 90-percent less water, 75-percent less energy and 95-percent fewer chemicals. Available in XS-3XL in 16 colors, shown in heather gray.

Threadfast Apparel   /   PPAI 622344, S6   /   www.threadfastapparel.com

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The 200RV Women's Ultimate Short-Sleeve Tee is made with eco-consciousness top of mind. The 60-percent cotton and 40-percent recycled polyester tee is crafted using recycled materials--when recycled polyester is used to make clothing, it requires 70-percent less energy, 72-percent less CO2 emissions and 86-percent less water. Available for select styles and colors, clients can opt for digitally-enabled radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, which end users can use to access an evergreen brand message. Available in S-2XL in 18 colors, shown in red.

Threadfast Apparel   /   PPAI 622344, S6  /  www.threadfastapparel.com

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With a natural softness and a worn, vintage finish, the Alternative Eco Ideal Stars Tee is a go-to selection for a casual look. With details including a bound neckband, blind hem stitching detail, and an allover star print, this made-in-the-USA garment is fashioned from Eco-Jersey, a blend of fibers that includes recycled and organic materials. The tee is decorated with eco-friendly dyes, further reducing the carbon footprint, and can include a three-color, full chest screen print. Available in S-XL.

BIC Graphic NA   /   PPAI 114187, S13  /   www.bicgraphic.com

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Give end users a product they'll wear throughout the coming (and hopefully not too long) winter--while ensuring all eyes are on your brand. These men's sweatpants are uniquely created for a customized fit, using different front and back measurements. The pill-resistant, machine-washable pants also include an elastic-covered waist and leg cuffs. Made with five-percent polyester created from recycled plastic bottles, the product is available in S-3XL in grey, navy blue and black (shown). Customize with a three-color imprint on the left leg.

BIC Graphic NA   /   PPAI 114187, S13   /   www.bicgraphic.com

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It's an oxymoron: get endless exposure while blocking out rays. The Flexfit Hydro Grid Stretch cap is water-repellent, made from EcoDry, flourine-free, 100-percent polyester grid fabric. The fitted hat features a structured, mid profile, three-and-a-half-inch crown and comes with a Permacurv visor. Available in S/M and L/XL in black, navy, white and grey (shown).

Kati Sportcap   /   PPAI 113758, S5  /   www.katisportcap.com

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For a cap with a no-nonsense Velcro closure on the back, the Mega Cap PET Recycled Structured features a mid-profile and six-panel construction, along with a pre-curved visor and hook-and-loop closure. The cap is made from 50-percent cotton and 50-percent recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a plastic resin. When PET fabric is recycled, it breaks down into smaller fragments, which can be used to absorb toxins from water and soil. Available in one-size-fits-all in black, grey, khaki, navy, white and red (shown).

Kati Sportcap   /   PPAI 113758, S5  /   www.katisportcap.com

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Crafted with quality, comfort and eco-consciousness as a focus, the Eco Chunky Cable Poncho is made using 75-percent recycled cotton and 25-percent polyester made from recycled materials. This made-in-the-USA poncho, available on one-size-fits-all, is also timeless, in that it's great as a transition garment for cool summer nights or brisk autumn days. Color options include hemp, black, aluminum (shown), charcoal and milk.

In2Green   /   PPAI 748975, S1   /   www.in2green.com

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Truly embracing sustainability, this 100% Recycled Re-Spun Tee is made from consumers' recycled, donated tees. Giving an entirely new life and look to an existing product, the tees are made using technology like UV sanitation--a waterless process--without the use of added chemicals. Added dyes aren't part of the process, either as every color is the result of combining hundreds of recycled tees of the same color. So far, 121,346 tees have been collected and repurposed by Marine Layer, and end users, clients and business owners alike can donate their used tees directly through its website.

Marine Layer, Inc.   /   PPAI 690355, S1  /   www.marinelayer.com 

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A bestseller, the Afternoon Hoodie got its name from being the "definition of afternoon delight," according to Marine Layer. The hoodie is made from a blend of 50-percent, USA-sourced Supina cotton and 50-percent Micro Modal--which is sourced from sustainably grown beechwood trees--for a resulting hand feel that's so soft, it's compared to a cloud. And with plenty of room for a bold brand message, you can't go wrong with a repurposed product that packs a (green) punch.

Marine Layer, Inc.   /   PPAI 690355, S1   /   www.marinelayer.com

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The EcoSmart Collection isn't only trendy--its sweatshits and hoodies are closet staples, and ones that'll be well-received by end users. The sweatshirts are made to fit just below the wearer's natural waistline, while high-stitch density ensures the garment will last longer without piling. But in addition, all EcoSmart products have helped keep nearly 50 million plastic bottles from the world's landfills each year. From left, the Hanes ComfortBlend EcoSmart Crew Sweatshirt in stonewashed green, the Hanes ComfortSoft EcoSmart Women's Crewneck Sweatshirt in pale pink and the Hanes ComfortBlend EcoSmart Pullover Hood in deep royal and denim blue.

Hanes/Champion   /   PPAI  191138, S10  /   www.hanes.com

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It's raining, it's pouring--but you'll be thankful your end users have their ponchos, especially the Biodegradable Rain Poncho - Standard * Plant. The poncho, which can be adorned with a logo or brand message, is 100-percent compostable and, when disposed of correctly, will decompose and convert to soil. The poncho is made from bioplastics, including natural starch and sugar alcohol, and it's also non-GMO. Available in a milky white color (shown).

Josanto, LLC   /   PPAI 720927, S1  /   www.josanto.com

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According to CGS’s survey, Americans believe it is most imperative for the following product categories to include eco-friendly and sustainable options.

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Here’s an example of eco-friendly done right.

BELLA + CANVAS. The Los Angeles-based supplier leaves virtually no landfill at its Los Angeles headquarters and manufacturing facility, because anything that isn’t used is recycled. Leftover or scrapped fabric is converted into a myriad of goods, like baby bibs or upholstery stuffing, and cutting processes have been enhanced to reduce the use of plastic. BELLA + CANVAS uses one-seventh the water of an average clothing manufacturer, saving 24 million gallons per week, and water that is used goes through a filtration system, so it can also be recycled. In the headquarters, the company uses solar energy to power its sewing and cutting machines, motion-sensor LED lighting and skylights, and provides electric car-charging stations for its employees.

But aside from its facilities and products, the company is dedicated to the working conditions of its employees and to remaining American-made. BELLA + CANVAS manufactures in the United States and employs more than 1,000 people in LA. The company is also certified by W.R.A.P.—a nonprofit team of global social compliance experts—for human resources management, health and safety standards, environmental and eco-friendly practices, and legal compliance, including imports and exports, customs compliance and security standards.

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Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.

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