CFDA Sustainability Case Study

As part of a four-part series, CFDA examined unique approaches to road-mapping sustainable priorities, strategies and action with Lauren Croke, a mentor for the CFDA + Lexus Fashion* Initiative and the author of the Sustainable Strategies Toolkit.

Case I: A large CFDA member apparel brand at the beginning stages of developing its sustainability strategy

To set collective goals, leaders came from across the company to clearly articulate what each felt as the most important focus. After cooperative inquiry and priority of business operations, this apparel brand identified its environmental impact and waste reduction as the initial leverage point.

In review of its supply chain, this brand questioned themselves on the almost exclusive use of air shipments. Does the extra speed of transporting goods by plane bring a financial benefit that warrants the significant increase in carbon emissions, freight and labor costs? They discover that in many instances it does not. In response, the leaders of this brand set a goal to shift from air to sea shipments in support of their sustainability strategy while simultaneously reducing waste and saving costs.

To assess the feasibility of this goal, the brand leaders presented their plan to the individuals whose work would directly be affected by the process shift. Design, manufacturing, production and planning teams were brought together to collectively identify the changes sea shipments would require, including impacts on their suppliers and manufacturers. During this forum, the brand was clearly seen as a system, highlighting the interrelationships between people, processes, structures and communications.

Imagine a different scenario: isolated leaders of a large apparel brand decide to tackle their environmental impact and ways to reduce waste. The change in policy of shipments from air to sea is then communicated down to each team in their silo. Sales and Marketing have a last minute order to satisfy partners, retail, advertising or direct mail. The brand’s factories then have to subcontract work in order to fulfill the short turnaround time. Now the brand is in the dark about how many hours factory employees worked, its working conditions and if they were paid fairly. Ultimately, the shipment still has to go by air because a sea shipment won’t arrive in time to satisfy timelines. As a result of this top-down shift, costs have gone up across the board and the environmental goal to reduce carbon emissions can’t be reached.

The apparel brand in our story however, realized the power of shared goals. Working together throughout the company, leaders, employees and their supply chain were able to agree on goals and targets that are collectively attainable. Now, they share a purpose, making the system of interrelationships a tool, instead of a barrier in the fulfillment of their sustainability strategy.

The Company’s Plans:

  • Surveying the company on what employees think about sustainability
  • They have worked closely with the people in the factories who produce their products and see value in sharing more about the factories and the people who work in them
  • Create workshops and learning opportunities to broaden awareness and bring a more thorough understanding of the product lifecycle companywide
  • Focus on environmental considerations for their workplaces


By creating a shared awareness, you make sustainability accessible to all employees and partners, employees are engaged in setting the agenda and priorities, plans can be specific and contain enough detail to provide clarity so all are able to contribute, a shared social purpose creates meaning in the workplace and sustainability can then be embedded throughout company value chain.

Written by Teslin Doud for CFDA.

Learn more about CFDA here.





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