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VF Corp moving down the path of better, smarter, safer chemistry in Textile Manufacturing

YarnsandFibers News Bureau 2015-02-06 11:00:00 – USA

VF Corporation is an American clothing corporation sells jeanswear, underwear, daypacks, and workwear. The corporate headquarters is in Greensboro, North Carolina. It produces more than 500 million units a year – many of which are high-performing technical products designed for professional athletes, which require robust chemistry to meet wind-, water- and odor-resistance needs – moving the needle on how VF and all of its suppliers manage chemicals was not a lone undertaking.

VF’s new chemical management program launched with pilot factories in 2013 and set to scale across the corporation’s entire supply chain this year.

The CHEM-IQ program was developed in partnership with University of Leeds and University of Massachusetts, Lowell, with support from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and technical service provider Modern Testing Services. It evaluates chemicals used at the mill level – before they enter the manufacturing process – and identifies toxins present in some dyes, flame retardants, and water, stain and wrinkle repellents that could harm people and the environment.

Many chemicals used to make their favorite T-shirts, jeans and jackets are ultimately discharged as wastewater into bodies of water around the world – once at the manufacturing stage and many times over the product’s lifetime when consumers wash their clothes at home. With CHEM-IQ they are trying to build a platform that takes into consideration all regulations across the line and create something that becomes a new norm. If they find a chemical that might be an endocrine disruptor, they eliminate it.

As an $11 billion global apparel and footwear business with an international portfolio of brands, VF’s chemical management program is not only focused on accelerating the use of safer chemicals throughout its supply chain, but it is also hoping to influence global industries. Taking a cue from The North Face’s “gift” of its Responsible Down Standard to industry group Textile Exchange, VF hopes to gift CHEM-IQ to an external group and spur transformational change in chemical management across sectors.

It is not only very easy business case but also not expensive. The mills pay for the testing, and they got [the testing] down to $50 per chemical, which is really manageable. The benefits far outweigh any costs, Letitia Webster, now senior director of global sustainability for VF Corp said. They want to make sure they are moving down the path of better, smarter, safer chemistry

Beyond providing a mechanism to evaluate chemicals, CHEM-IQ connects suppliers to a low-cost chemical testing system to screen out toxins from supply chains.

Corporate initiatives to target chemicals management, as a part of sustainability strategy, have arisen partly in response to a rising tide in advocacy and consumer concern about the chemical makeup of everyday products. Greenpeace’s ongoing Detox Fashion campaign, for example, has increasingly raised consumer awareness of hazardous chemicals in our clothes. The campaign has challenged big names such as Adidas, Nike and Zara to eliminate hazardous substances from their supply chains and products.

With CHEM-IQ, VF is not only turning a potential reputation risk into an innovative opportunity, but it is also reassuring consumers about the company’s products and heartening other industry players to do the same.

Back in 2011, Letitia Webster, now senior director of global sustainability for VF Corp., was asked to start and lead the company’s global sustainability program. To accomplish this task, Webster looked closely at waste, energy and water issues connected to the production of the brands’ diverse products. During her assessment, she noted the great environmental impact of the chemicals used throughout the manufacturing process. That observation sparked the eventual creation of CHEM-IQ,

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