The deaths of more than 1,200 garment factory workers in Bangladesh this past year, following two separate building disasters have raised questions about socially responsible and sustainable practices in clothing manufacturing.
The inaugural event in the Executive + Scholar Lecture Series at the University of North Texas will bring the president of TAL Apparel Ltd., which has garment factories and offices in seven nations; and representatives from the internationally recognized sustainable retailer Patagonia and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition to UNT for “Pursuing Sustainability in the Global Apparel Industry: Inspiring the Digitally Connected Consumer.” The event will be held on 24th September, 2013.
The lectures from the three executives will be followed by a luncheon and a workshop from 1:15 to 3 p.m. on the Higg Index, which was recently developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition as a standard industry approach for customers to measure and evaluate sustainability impacts of clothing and footwear and identify ways for the manufacturers and retailers to improve the products.
The Executive + Scholar Lecture Series is organized by the Global Digital Retailing Research Center in UNT’s College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism. Dr. Jiyoung Kim, UNT assistant professor of merchandising and digital retailing, said the series “supports the importance of academic and industry research in educating, empowering and building collaborative networks in academia and industry.”
Sustainability, she said, “is one of the biggest issues in the apparel industry.” She noted that U.S. consumers may be reluctant to pay more for a piece of clothing that is manufactured with environmental-friendly materials in a factory with sustainable practices than for a less expensive piece of clothing of lesser quality, manufactured in a factory in Bangladesh or another Third World country.
“My students tend to blame companies and retailers, but not themselves, for disasters at garment factories. They don’t see themselves as having ultimate power to change the mindset and influence retailers to adapt sustainable practices, which starts in the factories,” said Kim, who will also speak during the first lecture series as the scholar.
Delmon Lee joined TAL in 2000 and has served as president and chief technology officer since 2010. The company produces men’s and women’s clothing for Brooks Brothers, Dillard’s, Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, among others. The Apparel Group, Ltd. in Lewisville, which designs branded and private label apparel collections for some of the U.S.’s largest retailers, is a sister group to TAL.
Ryan Young will speak after Lee. He joined the Sustainable Apparel Coalition in March 2012. He previously worked closely with the U.S. dairy industry and on greenhouse gas reduction efforts, leading a large project to increase renewable energy generated from cow manure.
Todd Copeland will be the final speaker and also lead the Higg Index workshop. As the environmental product specialist for Patagonia — also a founding member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition — Copeland is responsible for researching and assessing the environmental impacts of the company’s products and making recommendations for improvements. During the past seven years, he has helped Patagonia choose environmentally preferred materials, eliminate toxic chemicals and implement the Higg Index.