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12 steps to a sustainable uniform

For forty years Jermyn Street Design (jSD) has helped clients to lead innovation in the design of their uniforms, not least in the critical contribution that clothes can make to sustainability. Here, jSD Founder Susanne Malim outlines 12 simple steps to enable any business to eliminate the operational, cost and other obstacles to sustainability throughout the lifecycle of clothes at work.

Designing with natural resources at front of mind is nothing new for jSD, as the company was instrumental in developing the first all-natural uniform for the Body Shop in 1994. Now jSD is continuing and expanding this work as part of a Green Thread Range of customizable and sustainably sourced workwear. The sole aim of this is to enable any brand to migrate its employees to a sustainable uniform without disruption or waste in a managed, step-by-step transition, which any employer can adopt.

Susanne explains: “It can be overwhelming to know where to start, but by following a well thought-out plan the result is not only a valuable and visible uniform, but also one that reduces environmental AND business costs. If you plan to get it right first time, and create a sustainable uniform with durability and which uses less resources, everyone wins.”

Several clients have already joined the Green Thread initiative. Ocado asked jSD to refurbish some of their range items, such as softshell jackets, so that they could reuse them. When a member of staff left, jSD reviewed the garments, had them dry cleaned and put back into stock. Packaging was also a key focus for Ocado. Items were delivered dual or quadruple packed to instantly reduce the amount of packaging used, and recycled poly bags replaced all single use plastic.

jSD encourages clients to begin the process with an audit of the materials in an existing range, to establish what can be done to make positive changes by a transition to more sustainable fabrics. Simply replacing fabrics, zips, buttons and other trims on an existing design with either recycled or natural materials can have a significant impact. Several clients, such as Eurostar and Jet2 have chosen to start to transition from standard polyester to recycled polyester, following successful wearer trials.

We are all now educated on the impact of packaging and the need to eliminate single use plastics. But bulky packaging also increases distribution costs. A combination of using recycled, recyclable or compostable packaging with the streamlining of deliveries into multiple garment sets has multiple benefits. jSD has even created a custom method of packaging shirts, without all the plastic clips and collar stays that are usually used.

Continuing the focus on transport and distribution leads to further reductions in the carbon footprint of a sustainable uniform range. Supply chains must be configured to minimize the impact of transport. Dual supply closer to home is often the solution, and there are many outstanding UK or European suppliers which offer an eco-efficient and practical solution to manufacture.

Another often overlooked consideration is garment care. jSD encourages clients to adopt fabrics that can be washed at 30 degrees or cooler (jSD is even running ‘cold wash’ trials with clients), which not only saves energy and puts less pollutants into the water supply, but also extends a garment’s life.

Some of the 12 Steps established by jSD may seem obvious, such as selecting sustainable fabrics and packaging, while others are rather more unexpected, such as planning the end of a uniform’s life. “This area is often overlooked” says Susanne, “but you need to complete the picture beyond manufacture, distribution and wear. The end of a uniform’s life is often where the biggest gains can be made.” jSD helps clients to identify the best approach for them, whether it is de-badging for re-use and upcycling by charities, or recycling into new fabrics or even biofuel.

12 steps to sustainabilityOne of jSD’s most forward-thinking clients is JET2, which has joined the Green Thread initiative to help it meet the UK government’s Aviation 2050 green paper. Many range fabrics are now recycled, a care initiative to extend durability is in trial and all packaging has been reduced and replaced with recycled or compostable materials. A ‘Take-back’ scheme is operated by jSD for seasonal holiday staff, and design changes have been made to facilitate the end-of-life deconstruction of JET2 garments for recycling.

Other elements of the 12 Steps programme include designing for recycling, streamlining processes to reduce lead times and the number of samples made, and ‘right sizing’ using the latest sizing technology. Ultimately, much of the success of a sustainable uniform lies with the people who get to wear it, so a large emphasis is placed on wearer wellbeing through wearer engagement.

Every one of the 12 elements is designed to focus thought on sustainability but also brings additional operational and cost benefits. Susanne concludes: “We appreciate that it is difficult to know where or how to begin, but begin we must! Taking that first step inevitably leads to the next and opens up a new way of thinking. It is an evolving process, but one which generates instant and lasting benefits for the business and the planet.”