The Sustainable Story You Didn’t Know About Gildan
ounded in 1984 by the Chamandy brothers in Canada, Gildan enjoys a reputation for being a leading T-shirt manufacturer—and we’re sure you know why. Distributors and decorators say Gildan offers the most versatile shirt options out there, since you can always find the color, style and comfort level you want in the company’s selection.
“By purchasing Gildan, or from any of our company-owned brands, consumers receive timeless wardrobe essentials that never go out of style, while supporting a company that cares for its people, conserves the environment and creates stronger communities” – Summer Scott-Samuel, Senior Merchandising Manager for Gildan
High Ranks in Sustainability
Gildan is also a fan favorite because of its sustainable manufacturing processes and commitment to responsible practices. In fact, Gildan recently placed 32nd overall among The Wall Street Journal’s ranking of the Top 100 Most Sustainably Managed Companies in the world. Gildan was second among only three apparel companies included in this top 100 ranking and was also the only North American apparel company on the list. The apparel manufacturer also claimed the sixth spot among the top 10 global companies for innovation in its business model.
“As an industry, we need to work through maintaining a fair and competitive price, without sacrificing the required eco-conscious fabrics that our customers and end-consumers request.” – Summer Scott-Samuel, Senior Merchandising Manager for Gildan
“This recognition underscores the effectiveness of Gildan’s vertically-integrated operating model and supply chain from a sustainability standpoint,” says Claudia Sandoval, Vice President of Corporate Citizenship, at Gildan. Sandoval oversees the company’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG) program across Gildan’s global supply chain, which includes areas related to human rights , stakeholder engagement, environmental impact, community development, communications, among others. “This has been a founding principle of our business strategy, which is fully aligned with the increasing expectations of our customers, investors, employees and other stakeholders.”
Gildan’s Sustainable Journey to ‘Making Apparel Better®’
For close to two decades, Gildan has publicly reported its social and environment results on an annual basis. One thing that sets Gildan apart from other apparel companies? The apparel manufacturer owns and operates the facilities that produce the vast majority of the products it sells. “That’s a key component of our ability to ensure responsible, sustainable practices are deployed throughout our supply chain,” Sandoval says. “As part of our vision of Making Apparel Better®, we’re committed to constantly looking for ways to reduce our footprint. Over the years, we’ve invested in innovative technologies and solutions to help optimize our use of natural resources, minimize waste, and maximize reuse and recycling.”
It’s All About Corporate Citizenship
As one of the largest apparel manufacturing companies in the world and a major employer in many of the regions where it operates, Gildan also gets involved in local communities. “Our community engagement programs aim to enrich people’s quality of life by advancing access to education, promoting healthy and active lifestyles, protecting local environments, and fostering entrepreneurship,” Sandoval says. “We partner with community organizations to target and respond to the most pressing needs in the regions where we operate, and we encourage our employees to get involved with us.”
Supporting Local Businesses and Talent
Gildan’s management team takes the company’s role as a leader in sustainable and ethical apparel manufacturing seriously. First off, the apparel giant employs more than 45,000 direct employees worldwide. “Our employees receive great benefits and access to employee-based programs,” Sandoval says. Those include subsidized meals, free transportation and free onsite medical clinics. In addition, 83% of Gildan’s leadership positions represent local talent.
“We want to create positive economic impacts in the regions we operate,” Sandoval says. For example, in 2019 Gildan purchased $260 million worth of materials and services from local suppliers. Plus, the company invested $1.5 million in community projects to support education, active living, entrepreneurship and the environment.
U.S. Cotton Sourcing
Gildan also purchases the majority of its cotton from the U.S., regulated as a food crop under strict U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. “Cotton grown in the U.S. represents the best combination of quality and value for our products,” Sandoval says. Additionally, 44% of Gildan’s total energy was powered by renewable resources in 2019. In fact, in 2007, Gildan launched a biomass steam generation facility to generate that energy.
“As a company, we take pride in our sustainability and the impact we’ve had on the environment,” says Senior Merchandising Manager, Summer Scott-Samuel, who leads a team that builds the global creative strategy and product architecture for six Gildan brands.
If your curious about what it takes to turn cotton into yarn, check out the video below:
Sustainability Appeals to Eco-Minded Buyers
As we all know, sustainable brands and products are super-important to Millennial and Gen Z buyers, and they’re among the largest swath of consumers today. There are also at least three other big markets that prefer to purchase eco-friendly products:
Overall, sustainable manufacturing has become more important across the printwear industry, and is coming to the forefront in 2021. However, wholesale suppliers still have ways to go. “The apparel industry is still in a transition phase related to sustainable fabrics and processes,” Scott-Samuel says. “As an industry, we need to work through maintaining a fair and competitive price, without sacrificing the required eco-conscious fabrics that our customers and end-consumers request.”
A Shift in Buying Is Coming
Heading into 2021, Scott-Samuel sees some key apparel trends to watch out for, one being fabrics made from recycled polyester, as well as USA-grown and organic cotton. “We’ll see a shift to earthy neutral color palettes and fabrics created for specific decorator end-uses,” she says. “The color neutrality allows wearers to have, without fail, items that tie back to their wardrobe staples.”
For more eco-conscious apparel, you should also turn an eye toward the decoration you recommend. “Make your apparel more eco-conscious by switching to high-solids acrylic, water-based inks, which are much more user-friendly today,” says Dave Gardner, Director of Creative Embellishment at Gildan Apparel USA.
Beyond screen printing, look to direct-to-garment printing as a viable imprinting option. “DTG requires very little water and eliminates the need for screen-making chemicals,” says Gardner, an artist and separator best known for pioneering simulated process printing with Harley-Davidson in the ’80s.
“We Want to Positively Influence How Apparel Is Made”
Gildan is a good choice for distributors and decorators who want to pitch apparel that appeals to these sustainably-minded buyers. “By purchasing Gildan, or from any of our company-owned brands, consumers receive timeless wardrobe essentials that never go out of style, while supporting a company that cares for its people, conserves the environment and creates stronger communities,” Sandoval says.
Scott-Samuel is excited about some new GIldan offerings now available in the wholesale channel. First up, Comfort Colors Color Blast T-shirt and Sweatshirt, where each garment has a unique dye pattern.
As a selling point, Gildan’s Comfort Colors products are made with sustainable U.S.-grown cotton. “You can tell your buyers, ‘By choosing this collection, you’re supporting responsible USA cotton production that optimizes water use, improves soil health and preserves natural habitats,’” Scott-Samuel says.
For buyers who want bright DTG prints, Gildan’s EZ-Print T-shirt was designed with DTG in mind, but its smooth fabric is ideal for retail. And Gildan’s collection of CVC adult and ladies’ styles come with modern, flattering cuts. The Softstyle Women’s CVC T-Shirt – 67000L is designed with an all-new take on the semi-fit silhouette, to flatter more body types.
“Looking forward, we’re fully committed to our vision of Making Apparel Better®,” Sandoval says. “That means, far beyond making great quality products. We want to leverage our vertically integrated manufacturing model, our expertise, and our scale to positively influence how apparel is made. We seek to continuously improve the impacts we have on our people, their communities, the environment and all our stakeholders.”
Here are some highlights of Gildan’s remarkable journey:
In 2003, Gildan became the first manufacturer catering to the wholesale imprinted activewear market, as well as the first manufacturer with operations in Honduras to become a participating company of the Fair Labor Association (FLA).
In 2004, Gildan obtained its first Oeko-Tex 100 Certification, an internationally recognized designation, which allows producers and consumers to objectively assess the presence of harmful substances in textiles and apparel products based on approximately 100 human-ecological and performance-related test parameters.
In 2006, Gildan developed a set of best labor practices in line with the FLA and Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP). Then in 2007, the FLA accredited Gildan’s social compliance program for the first time.
In 2007, Gildan was recognized for the first time as one of the companies demonstrating leading practices related to corporate social responsibility in Honduras by the FUNDAHRSE CSR Seal. Gildan has since received this award 13 times.
In 2012, Gildan was included on the RobecoSAM Sustainability Yearbook for the first time. “Since then, we’ve been awarded this recognition eight times,” Sandoval says.
In 2013, Gildan was included in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) for the first time. Since then, Gildan has been included on the DJSI eight consecutive times.
In 2019, Gildan joined the Ethisphere’s Business Ethics Leadership Alliance. “This is a global community of companies who recognize the value of ethical leadership and who work together to move their businesses forward with ethics and integrity,” Sandoval says.
In 2019, Gildan reached the leadership level on CDP’s 2019 scores for corporate transparency and action on climate change and maintained that level in 2020.