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The Materials: How Bluesign aims to widen its scope in fashion and … – The SPIN OFF

Bluesign, a full-service sustainability solutions system for the fashion supply chain, wants to expand its action to include all fashion segments and grow its portfolio, which now counts about 750 system partners worldwide.

Since the Swiss company was founded in 2000, it has been cooperating with industry leaders, including manufacturers and chemical suppliers, and various brands, most of which are related to the outdoor and sports apparel market, including, for instance, Patagonia, Eileen Fisher, Nike, and Adidas, that partner with it to elevate their sustainability efforts. 

Daniel Rufenacht, CEO, and Kutay Saritosun, director of brand services and partnerships, Bluesign, explained The SPIN OFF how the company aims to extend the Bluesign partnership and services to new market segments and geographies.

What has Bluesign been focused on most recently?
Daniel Rufenacht: We have recently started a diversification in our activities, especially since I joined Bluesign two years ago. We, as a company, have a strong reputation in the outdoor apparel segment. In fact, we count around 120 outdoor brands as Bluesign partners. They are growing every day because this market is generally strongly tied to establishing deep connections with nature, and many new brands are mushrooming in this market.

How exactly did you start diversifying your actions?
DR: We started offering our support to different markets and industry segments we were not so involved with before.

Therefore, we moved our outdoor program and transposed it into denim by launching our new denim-focused program in May 2023.

We are also working in workwear and promotional wear, an apparel segment not many are aware of and include all of these transformed textiles, including all t-shirts, polo shirts, and similar items that carry a logo.

Bluesign promotional image

Photo: Bluesign
Bluesign promotional image

What about the footwear market?
DR: We have also started working in the sneaker market. The sneaker industry is an amazing one, as there are a few suppliers serving most of the brands. As its suppliers are very sensitive to act in order lower their impact, they are committed to convincing brands to also embrace us in supporting the industry become better.

What about the rest of the fashion market?
DR: Our aim is to enter all the textile markets, despite the fact that it is still very hard to enter the pure fashion industry because of its different approach to taking decisions.

What do you mean by that?
DR: Fashion is very different. It may often happen that big fashion brands start considering big themes of sustainability, but even after we start discussing them, the decision is not taken.

Who makes such decisions inside fashion brands?
DR: It’s very often made at the procurement level, that is, by the buyers. Some companies are so big that they have big buying departments. You might have talked with the design department, and then they handed it over to procurement. Then it gets complicated to find the right person to convince for Bluesign. This is not how such decisions shall be made…

How should they be made?
DR: For me, sustainability is a top-down approach. If the top management is not convinced, no decision will be made. In addition, today we have the problem of recession. Brands have a lot of overstock and inventory, so they try to squeeze and reduce… A collaboration with us cannot just run for one or two seasons.

How does Bluesign operate?
DR: Bluesign operates through on-site assessments, input stream management, and chemical inventory verification, using a holistic approach with our system partners to develop unique solutions to improve a company’s environmental performance, working conditions, and resource consumption to create the highest level of safety for workers, the planet, and consumers.

Bluesign is a partnership. We are not going to a company and saying, “You are bad.” 
Together, we sign a partnership, improve their processes and their outcome, and try to remove the bad chemicals from their processes. In fact, we have classified a list of 21,000 Bluesign Approved chemicals.

At the end of this process, we will be able to put a label on the product through a full traceability of companies that have data services, companies that work on reducing their impact, and companies that are doing positive things by transforming the business. All these steps will be the basis for the Digital Product Passport, another increasingly important target every European company will have to aim for. 

How will Bluesign help its partners be equipped for DPP?
DDP is about transparency and performance. The performance of a garment can be measured through CO2 emissions, waste materials, and waste water—all the KPIs likened to sustainability—and there will be a specific KPI linked to Bluesign including defining what chemicals are used in a company’s value chain.

Bluesign helps a company transform itself to use better chemicals. It’s a whole transformation you have to set up through your value chain.

Madewell's Cali Denim

Photo: Madewell
Madewell’s Cali Denim

You have recently announced that Madewell and Isko have signed the first partnership with you. How is Bluesign operating in the denim segment?
Kutay Saritosun: Madewell is the first denim brand to become a system partner brand. We hope that more brands pick this up.

In the denim industry, there are different steps that lead to jeans manufacturing. On the one side, there is the process of producing denim, which uses a lot of energy, chemicals and water to produce the fabric, and on the other side, after the manufacturing, there is the laundry step, which uses a lot of chemicals, energy and water to make that garment look vintage. Which is wicked in that sense.

How does Bluesign operate in this case?
KS: In order to become a Bluesign-certified denim brand, we operate according to a two-step process. A first step is focused on working with the mill, assisting them in production, and helping them learn the Bluesign system so that they manufacture fabrics based on our very strict environmental management focused on workers’ safety and resource efficiency criteria as the number one phase.

Then there is another step through which we help brands use Bluesign Approved chemistry by working with laundries and getting them on board as a system partner so that they also implement the Bluesign system. This way, we can check them on all the environmental and chemical management productive steps.

Therefore, we operate by recognizing and ascertaining that a combination of Bluesign Approved fabrics are cut, sewn, and manufactured at a system partner facility according to Bluesign criteria using Bluesign Approved chemistry. Then garments go to laundry system partners that process the garments according to our strict criteria using Bluesign Approved chemistry and based upon environmental resource efficiency and workers’ safety criteria. That’s how Bluesign Approved denim garments are produced. 

What processes in jeans manufacturing are not allowed to be used as a Bluesign system partner?
KS: We are not allowing the use of some chemicals. For instance, we are not allowing sodium hypochlorite as a bleaching agent, but it can be replaced with some Bluesign Approved enzymes or ozone. We also don’t allow the use of potassium permanganate. 

Stone washing is allowed, but not with pumice stones, you can use synthetic stones, biopolishing or enzymes.

How long does it take to become a Blusign Approved jeans brand?
KS: It depends on whether a denim manufacturer or laundry are ready. If they have no system and management in place, then those are some critical no-goes for Bluesign as you can’t be ready for the next step. Therefore, it could take from four to 12 months.

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