Sustainability for young Activewear Companies in the U.S

The purpose of this project is to make profound research about the importance of sustainability for young activewear companies in the U.S. and to explore actions that can be taken in companies’ production with an emphasis on innovation and supply chain management so as to increase the organization’s overall value to customers.
The introduction chapter provides the background of the research topic and explains how the topic of the thesis is developed from it. Accordingly, this chapter will start with a general discussion of sustainability then will be followed by specific research objectives, questions along with the significance of the research subject. In the end, the limitations of the study will be implied.


The concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) was forged in 1953 by American economist
Howard Bowen in his publication ‘Social Responsibilities of the Businessman’ (Sikdar, Sengupta, & Mukherjee, 2017) when large corporations were emerging in the US.

Fashion industry in particular is the second-largest consumer of water. Just after the oil industry. It is responsible for 8-10% of global carbon emissions. This is more than a combination of all international flights and maritime shipping, according to the United Nations Environment Program. Nidumolu et al. (2009) counted sustainability as the key driver of business innovation. He proposed five stages for companies to reach sustainability, which will be used as a framework here.

Stage 1: Viewing compliance as an opportunity to go beyond compliance.

Activewear industry in the U.S. offers a forever-moving environment thus is full of ambitious young companies who are all seeking for first-mover advantages by going beyond the existing rules. This is particularly beneficial for small or young companies because they usually focus more than big companies, making them more flexible in terms of adjusting their business strategy.

Stage 2: making value chains sustainable.

A product is not fully sustainable if the whole supply chain is not sustainable. Many companies claim their products as sustainable because they use organic or recycled fibers. However, the factories making the products might not practice sustainability on the same level. In order to be more proactive and make the whole chain green, activewear companies need to work with their suppliers and retailers to not only discover raw materials that are more eco-friendly while durable but also develop greener processing methods, especially for dying process.

Reducing and recycling material waste is also part of the process. The challenge here is the control over supply chain for young activewear companies considering that they have less negotiating power. However, small companies have the flexibility of partnering up with local material producer and manufacture in house. Conscious clothing for example is a small group of five people in Michigan handmaking sustainable female clothing and activewear.

Stage 3: designing sustainable products and services.

Young activewear companies can easily capture their customers’ needs and adjust their products accordingly. To reduce waste, lean manufacture, taking pre-orders and making customized activewear are quite possible and beneficial for them. Product innovation are usually more focusing on material and manufacture process. Some innovative production process such as laser cutting is also a subject. Customization is another way to increase user satisfaction and reduce return rate.

Stage 4: developing new business models.

After developing some sustainable products, the important question comes to customer value proposition and how to make the value sustainable. This part is the bridge that connects supply chain, the operation and the customers. The packaging and shipment are all parts of the sustainability chain, although this is not the focus of this study.

Stage 5: creating next-practice platforms.

This is the stage of innovating the next generation of product. Although it might be too risky to jump into the next generation, however, many start-ups actually start off with the newest practices so they will be the first one on the market to attract not only customers but also investors. These are usually the executives who are really questioning the status quo and asking bold questions such as can we make synthetic fibers bio-degradable?

Can we possibly replace carbon disulfide-based viscose production with healthier method so that customers can enjoy the benefits of bamboo fabric?
To sum up, sustainability could really be the starting point of a start-up or for a young company when launching a new product. The key point is to weave sustainability into product and process innovation with close and constant measurement.

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