Research shows that a dress code in the workplace has its benefits, but how often do we consider the environmental impact of mass-produced uniforms? London-based Jermyn Street Design is working with businesses to champion sustainable workwear.
From boosting productivity to creating that community feel, uniforms play a significant role in the world of business. And although industry clothing is, in a way, a version of the Capsule Wardrobe concept, sustainability can always be improved.
“Uniforms and other purpose-made workwear have always been a sustainability initiative of sorts,” says founder of Jermyn Street Design, Susanne Malim. [jSD] has set up a cross-department Sustainability Committee covering the complete life cycle of workwear life cycle, from design, sourcing, Durability Indexing, and ethical manufacture to Right-Sizing, distribution, garment care, and end-of-life disposal. The independent company has previously worked with clients like Givenchy, Lancôme International, Ocado, and Nuffield Health, providing uniforms for 34 counties across the globe.
A driving force on the Sustainability Committee is [jSD]’s Senior Designer Lisa Cunningham-Sherret. ‘If you don’t design from the outset with sustainability in mind, you are always playing catch-up. Sustainability cannot be an afterthought, but needs to be a green thread starting with design’, she says. When it comes to fabric sourcing and manufacturing, she explains, the company works hard in weighing up environmental factors, from the carbon footprint of transportation to local water shortages or the use of toxic dyes, and are currently exploring the use of fabrics made from plastic bottles recovered from the ocean.
When it comes to the end-of-life deconstruction of garments, Cunningham-Sherret emphasises that, during the initial designing process, trim and accessories are often overlooked. ‘Difficulty removing these can be a show-stopper for recycling, so we work with clients on all these considerations to help them make informed choices,’ she says.
Operations also play a key part in the environmental impact of clothes at work. [jSD]’s work on right-sizing, for example, helps clients avoid not only unnecessary costs but the additional carbon footprint incurred by returns. ‘Stock control, storage and garment distribution are all under the microscope in 2020 as we help clients audit operations and assess the benefits of a sustainable uniforms approach,’ says [jSD] Production Manager Kam Gill. The Sustainability Committee has been careful to put [jSD]’s internal practices under scrutiny too, making changes to the type and volume of materials used in their packaging, or pioneering a Cold Wash initiative, and so acquiring an ISO 14001 accreditation for effective management of environmental risk.
‘Sustainability can have a beneficial impact in this way not only on the environment but on the client’s bottom line. Sustainability isn’t a trade-off,’ Gill says. According to Malim, the most inspiring clients of all are the end-wearers - on-going feedback from all sectors has shown the importance of the sustainability of employers. [jSD] clients know just how much impact wearer wellbeing can have on productivity, retention, and brand expression.