Our Recycled Polyester
Taiwan, where we source all of our post-consumer water bottles, used to be called “Garbage Island". A small island nation of 23 million people, the government saw the danger of ignoring the problem, and through widespread change has transformed Taiwan into a world leader in recycling, with 55% of waste being recycled (as opposed to 35% in the US).
Recycling is a community affair in Taiwan. Each night people gather to sort their waste into containers as a community - recyclables, food waste, and garbage. Rather than leave, they stay and talk until the trucks come and pick it up, turning what could be a tedious affair into a connective one.
Programs and volunteer groups have sprung up all over Taiwan to help bring this community spirit outside of city centers. We spent time documenting the Tzu Chi Foundation, which sets up micro-recycling centers in rural areas across Taipei. Run mostly by retired people, they set up drop off points to both give people access and education to recycling, and to promote environmental stewardship in their free time.
Recycled Fabric Starts Somewhere
After all the bottles are sorted into their respective categories (#1, #2, #3, and #4 plastic), they are sent to their processing centers. Our leggings and bras are made from #1 plastic - or Polyethylene Terephthalate, also known as PET. Fun fact! All polyester yarn and fabric is derived from PET, which does not contain BPA, the plastic you find in hard reusable water bottles like your old Nalgene.
Our bottles are sorted, cleaned, and chipped into feedstock at the center. Our processing center is pretty special. It’s owned by a respected Taiwanese family that has been at the forefront of the recycling industry for decades.
We visited the facility, and were blown away by what we learned. It’s not only trusted by the Taiwanese government, it’s certified by them too. Being government certified means more than just having a certificate hanging on your wall saying that you can process plastic to resell. It means security measures are implemented and each facility is subject to accountability for how much plastic is taken in and how much is shipped out.
Why is being certified so important? It is a well-known fact in the recycling industry that in places like China with loose certifications and accountability standards, many will lie about where they get their plastic. It’s actually much easier to buy new plastic water bottles and recycle them, than to collect and sort post-consumer bottles. Often, recyclers will recycle brand new bottles as post-consumer bottles and sell them at a higher price to brands that are trying to use recyclables in their products. Gross.
At our facility, we have watched as bales of post-consumer bottles from all over Taiwan arrive at the facility. Each bale is weighed and logged. From there the bales go into a steam wash to remove caps and labels. After the caps and labels are removed, the bottles are sorted by color. We use the clear bottles for our fibers, and the colored bottles get sent elsewhere to be processed for myriad other uses.
Once the color sorting is done, we shred them down into tiny chips, wash them again, and place them in transport bags to be shipped to our manufacturing facility. Each bag is weighed and logged again to make sure that the output is equal to input. This ensures that we have an accurate count for how many bottles were used and can verify that they were the same bottles processed at arrival.
How Our Fabric Gets Made
As soon as our spinning mill takes the delivery of our raw PET chips from the recycling center, the bags of chips go through another wash, and are dried. Once they dry, the chips get sent to storage silos and are sent to a machine where the chips get heated up and extruded into long thick spaghetti like strands. From there, they are chipped down to little pellets.
The pellets then get reheated and are extruded again to make superfine threads that are spun together into our yarn. From there they are spun onto large bobbins, packaged, and sent to our knitting factory.
Our knitting process is unlike almost anything in the industry.
Our fabric is softer and more stable than your standard single-jersey. This process requires time and precision, which means each of our knitting machines can only produce about 100 pairs-worth of fabric in a 24-hour period.
Now that’s slow fashion.
Once our fabric is knit, it gets sent to our dye house. Not to brag, but we’re going to brag about that, too.
The dyeing process is often environmentally destructive, with many facilities opting for non eco-friendly dyes and chemicals, and choosing to dump wastewater freely into water sources like streams and rivers. If you look at photos of rivers that flow by cities involved in garment manufacturing, you will often notice bright blue or red water that enters the water tables that the community uses. This water not only damages the environment but is extremely harmful to people and crops that depend on their water sources to survive.
Guess what? We weren’t into it, so we didn’t accept it.
Our facility should be the standard for how wastewater should be treated. Every single drop of water that is used to dye our fabric gets sent to our wastewater treatment plant literally 100 feet away from the machines. It doesn’t even have time to think about escaping.
There, the water gets treated to separate out our OEKO-certified safe dyes and stray fibers. When everything is separated, we measure the water to make sure it’s safe to release. The devices that measure this are set up to send information in real time to the Taiwanese EPA. With their approval, we discharge the water into a healthy stream where it goes on its merry way.
Most facilities dump dye mud in the landfill, but we decided to get creative. Our dye mud is sent to a pavement facility, where it’s transformed to be used for paving stones, making sidewalks better for the community.
From fiber to fabric, we need to look at every step and make sure we know its impact.
Where We Cut and Sew
Cutting and sewing is the most human intensive part of making clothing, with 14 pairs of hands and eyes making each pair of our leggings. We believe they should be taken care of.
Our factory is owned and operated by a Danish family who’s been in the textile business since 1931. Their SA8000 certified factories are dedicated to people rather than profits, which is why we partnered with them. Our Danish partners opened up our Vietnam facility in 2005, bringing along with them values that have made them last for so long. This includes making sure every employee is treated with respect and paid a fair and living wage.
Our facility is managed by a Vietnamese powerhouse of a woman named Hien. Prior to working in the garment industry, she worked at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Through the UNDP, she worked for reform in agricultural and rural development in Vietnam, helping rural farmers by organizing and building infrastructure projects and getting them access to new technologies.
An SA8000 certification guarantees a slew of really important stuff, including no forced or child labor, safe working conditions, and the right to unionize.
These standards should be where every single factory is, because we see it as a perfect platform on which to build. Which is exactly what we’ve done.
We start pay at 125% of the local minimum wage, provide both free catered lunch (and dinner for those who work the evening shifts) instead of just a lunchroom, and guided exercise breaks, because no one likes to stare at a desk all day (us included).
While healthcare is often deducted from wages, we decided to provide free health check ups every 6 months at the factory for every employee, as well as health insurance.
We want you to know as much about who we are and what we believe as possible, because the more you look at where things come from, the more you can be invested in where they go. That’s why we’re going to include, in full, every bylaw SA8000 puts forth for their certification. Every factory with an SA8000 certification must be audited regularly to comply with the following (have fun! It’s a doozy!):
1. CHILD LABOUR
1.1 The organisation shall not engage in or support the use of child labour as defined above.
1.2 The organisation shall establish, document, maintain and effectively communicate to personnel and other interested parties, written policies and procedures for remediation of child labourers, and shall provide adequate financial and other support to enable such children to attend and remain in school until no longer a child as defined above.
1.3 The organisation may employ young workers, but where such young workers are subject to compulsory education laws, they shall work only outside of school hours. Under no circumstances shall any young worker’s school, work and transportation time exceed a combined total of 10 hours per day, and in no case shall young workers work more than 8 hours a day. Young workers may not work during night hours.
1.4 The organisation shall not expose children or young workers to any situations – in or outside of the workplace – that are hazardous or unsafe to their physical and mental health and development.
2. FORCED OR COMPULSORY LABOUR
2.1 The organisation shall not engage in or support the use of forced or compulsory labour, including prison labour, as defined in Convention 29, shall not retain original identification papers and shall not require personnel to pay ‘deposits’ to the organisation upon commencing employment.
2.2 Neither the organisation nor any entity supplying labour to the organisation shall withhold any part of any personnel’s salary, benefits, property or documents in order to force such personnel to continue working for the organisation.
2.3 The organisation shall ensure that no employment fees or costs are borne in whole or in part by workers.
2.4 Personnel shall have the right to leave the workplace premises after completing the standard workday and be free to terminate their employment provided that they give reasonable notice to their organisation.
2.5 Neither the organisation nor any entity supplying labour to the organisation shall engage in or support human trafficking.
3. HEALTH AND SAFETY
3.1 The organisation shall provide a safe and healthy workplace environment and shall take effective steps to prevent potential health and safety incidents and occupational injury or illness arising out of, associated with or occurring in the course of work. It shall minimise or eliminate, so far as is reasonably practicable, the causes of all hazards in the workplace environment, based upon the prevailing safety and health knowledge of the industry sector and of any specific hazards.
3.2 The organisation shall assess all the workplace risks to new, expectant and nursing mothers including those arising out of their work activity, to ensure that all reasonable steps are taken to remove or reduce any risks to their health and safety.
3.3 Where hazards remain after effective minimisation or elimination of the causes of all hazards in the workplace environment, the organisation shall provide personnel with appropriate personal protective equipment as needed at its own expense. In the event of a work-related injury the organisation shall provide first aid and assist the worker in obtaining follow-up medical treatment.
3.4 The organisation shall appoint a senior management representative to be responsible for ensuring a safe and healthy workplace environment for all personnel and for implementing this Standard’s Health and Safety requirements.
3.5 A Health and Safety Committee, comprised of a well-balanced group of management representatives and workers, shall be established and maintained. Unless otherwise specified by law, at least one worker member(s) on the Committee shall be by recognised trade union(s) representative(s), if they choose to serve. In cases where the union(s) does not appoint a representative or the organisation is not unionised, workers shall appoint a representative(s) as they deem appropriate. Its decisions shall be effectively communicated to all personnel. The Committee shall be trained and retrained periodically in order to be competently committed to continually improving the health and safety conditions in the workplace. It shall conduct formal, periodic occupational health and safety risk assessments to identify and then address current and potential health and safety hazards. Records of these assessments and corrective and preventive actions taken shall be kept.
3.6 The organisation shall provide to personnel, on a regular basis, effective health and safety training, including on-site training and, where needed, job-specific training. Such training shall also be repeated for new and reassigned personnel, where incidents have occurred, and when changes in technology and/or the introduction of new machinery present new risks to the health and safety of personnel.
3.7 The organisation shall establish documented procedures to detect, prevent, minimise, eliminate or otherwise respond to potential risks to the health and safety of personnel. The organisation shall maintain written records of all health and safety incidents that occur in the workplace and in all residences and property provided by the organisation, whether it owns, leases or contracts the residences or property from a service provider.
3.8 The organisation shall provide, for use by all personnel, free access to: clean toilet facilities, potable water, suitable spaces for meal breaks, and, where applicable, sanitary facilities for food storage.
3.9 The organisation shall ensure that any dormitory facilities provided for personnel are clean, safe and meet their basic needs, whether it owns, leases or contracts the dormitories from a service provider.
3.10 All personnel shall have the right to remove themselves from imminent serious danger without seeking permission from the organisation.
4. FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION & RIGHT TO COLLECTIVE BARGAINING
4.1 All personnel shall have the right to form, join and organise trade union(s) of their choice and to bargain collectively on their behalf with the organisation. The organisation shall respect this right and shall effectively inform personnel that they are free to join a worker organisation of their choosing without any negative consequences or retaliation from the organisation. The organisation shall not interfere in any way with the establishment, functioning or administration of workers’ organisation(s) or collective bargaining.
4.2 In situations where the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining are restricted under law, the organisation shall allow workers to freely elect their own representatives.
4.3 The organisation shall ensure that union members, representatives of workers and any personnel engaged in organising workers are not subjected to discrimination, harassment, intimidation or retaliation for being union members, representative(s) of workers or engaged in organising workers, and that such representatives have access to their members in the Workplace.
5.1 The organisation shall not engage in or support discrimination in hiring, remuneration, access to training, promotion, termination or retirement based on race, national or territorial or social origin, caste, birth, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, family responsibilities, marital status, union membership, political opinions, age or any other condition that could give rise to discrimination.
5.2 The organisation shall not interfere with the exercise of personnel’s rights to observe tenets or practices or to meet needs relating to race, national or social origin, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, family responsibilities, union membership, political opinions or any other condition that could give rise to discrimination.
5.3 The organisation shall not allow any behaviour that is threatening, abusive, exploitative or sexually coercive, including gestures, language and physical contact, in the workplace and in all residences and property provided by the organisation, whether it owns, leases or contracts the residences or property from a service provider.
5.4 The organisation shall not subject personnel to pregnancy or virginity tests under any Circumstances.
6. DISCIPLINARY PRACTICES
6.1 The organisation shall treat all personnel with dignity and respect. The organisation shall not engage in or tolerate the use of corporal punishment, mental or physical coercion or verbal abuse of personnel. No harsh or inhumane treatment is allowed.
7. WORKING HOURS
7.1 The organisation shall comply with applicable laws, collective bargaining agreements (where applicable) and industry standards on working hours, breaks and public holidays. The normal work week, not including overtime, shall be defined by law but shall not exceed 48 hours.
7.2 Personnel shall be provided with at least one day off following every six consecutive days of working. Exceptions to this rule apply only where both of the following conditions exist:
a) National law allows work time exceeding this limit; and
b) A freely negotiated collective bargaining agreement is in force that allows work time averaging, including adequate rest periods.
7.3 All overtime work shall be voluntary, except as provided in 7.4 below, shall not exceed 12 hours per week and shall not be requested on a regular basis.
7.4 In cases where overtime work is needed in order to meet short-term business demand and the organisation is party to a freely negotiated collective bargaining agreement representing a significant portion of its workforce, the organisation may require such overtime work in.
8.1 The organisation shall respect the right of personnel to a living wage and ensure that wages for a normal work week, not including overtime, shall always meet at least legal or industry minimum standards, or collective bargaining agreements (where applicable). Wages shall be sufficient to meet the basic needs of personnel and to provide some discretionary income.
8.2 The organisation shall not make deductions from wages for disciplinary purposes. Exception to this rule applies only when both of the following conditions exist:
a) Deductions from wages for disciplinary purposes are permitted by national law; and
b) A freely negotiated collective bargaining agreement is in force that permits this practice.
8.3 The organisation shall ensure that personnel’s wages and benefits composition are detailed clearly and regularly to them in writing for each pay period. The organisation shall lawfully render all wages and benefits due in a manner convenient to workers, but in no circumstances in delayed or restricted forms, such as vouchers, coupons or promissory notes.
8.4 All overtime shall be reimbursed at a premium rate as defined by national law or established by a collective bargaining agreement. In countries where a premium rate for overtime is not regulated by law or there is no collective bargaining agreement, personnel shall be compensated for overtime at the organisation’s premium rate or at a premium rate equal to prevailing industry standards, whichever is higher.
8.5 The organisation shall not use labour-only contracting arrangements, consecutive short-term contracts and/or false apprenticeship or other schemes to avoid meeting its obligations to personnel under applicable laws and regulations pertaining to labour and social security.
9. MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
9.1 Policies, Procedures and Records
9.1.1 Senior management shall write a policy statement to inform personnel, in all appropriate languages, that it has chosen to comply with SA8000.
9.1.2 This policy statement shall include the organisation’s commitment to conform to all requirements of the SA8000 Standard and to respect the international instruments as listed in the previous section on Normative Elements and Their Interpretation. The statement shall also commit the organisation to comply with: national laws, other applicable laws and other requirements to which the organisation subscribes.
9.1.3 This policy statement and the SA8000 Standard shall be prominently and conspicuously displayed, in appropriate and comprehensible form, in the workplace and in residences and property provided by the organisation, whether it owns, leases or contracts the residences or property from a service provider.
9.1.4 The organisation shall develop policies and procedures to implement the SA8000 Standard.
9.1.5 These policies and procedures shall be effectively communicated and made accessible to personnel in all appropriate languages. These communications shall also be clearly shared with customers, suppliers, sub-contractors and sub-suppliers.
9.1.6 The organisation shall maintain appropriate records to demonstrate conformance to and implementation of the SA8000 standard, including the Management System requirements contained in this element. Associated records shall be kept and written or oral summaries given to the SA8000 worker representative(s).
9.1.7 The organisation shall regularly conduct a management review of its policy statement, policies, procedures implementing this Standard and performance results, in order to continually improve.
9.1.8 The organisation shall make its policy statement publicly available in an effective form and manner to interested parties, upon request.
9.2 Social Performance Team
9.2.1 A Social Performance Team (SPT) shall be established to implement all elements of SA8000. The Team shall include a balanced representation of:
a) SA8000 worker representative(s); and
Compliance accountability for the Standard shall solely rest with Senior Management.
9.2.2 In unionised facilities, worker representation on the SPT shall be by recognised trade union(s) representative(s), if they choose to serve. In cases where the union(s) does not appoint a representative or the organisation is not unionised, workers may freely elect one or more SA8000 worker representative(s) from among themselves for this purpose. In no circumstances shall the SA8000 worker representative(s) be seen as a substitute for trade union representation.
9.3 Identification and Assessment of Risks
9.3.1 The SPT shall conduct periodic written risk assessments to identify and prioritise the areas of actual or potential non-conformance to this Standard. It shall also recommend actions to Senior Management that address these risks. Actions to address these risks shall be prioritised according to their severity or where a delay in responding would make it impossible to address.
9.3.2 The SPT shall conduct these assessments based on their recommended data and data collection techniques and in meaningful consultation with interested parties.
9.4.1 The SPT shall effectively monitor workplace activities for:
a) compliance with this Standard;
b) implementation of actions to effectively address the risks identified by the SPT; and
c) for the effectiveness of systems implemented to meet the organisation’s policies and the requirements of this Standard.
It shall have the authority to collect information from or include interested parties (stakeholders) in its monitoring activities. It shall also liaise with other departments to study, define, analyse and/or address any possible non-conformance(s) to the SA8000 Standard.
9.4.2 The SPT shall also facilitate routine internal audits and produce reports for senior management on the performance and benefits of actions taken to meet the SA8000 Standard, including a record of corrective and preventive actions identified.
9.4.3 The SPT shall also hold periodic meetings to review progress and identify potential actions to strengthen implementation of the Standard.
9.5 Internal Involvement and Communication
9.5.1 The organisation shall demonstrate that personnel effectively understand the requirements of SA8000, and shall regularly communicate the requirements of SA8000 through routine communications.
9.6 Complaint Management and Resolution
9.6.1 The organisation shall establish a written grievance procedure that is confidential, unbiased, non-retaliatory and accessible and available to personnel and interested parties to make comments, recommendations, reports or complaints concerning the workplace and/or non-conformances to the SA8000 Standard.
9.6.2 The organisation shall have procedures for investigating, following up on and communicating the outcome of complaints concerning the workplace and/or non-conformances to this Standard or of its implementing policies and procedures. These results shall be freely available to all personnel and, upon request, to interested parties.
9.6.3 The organisation shall not discipline, dismiss or otherwise discriminate against any personnel or interested party for providing information on SA8000 compliance or for making other workplace complaints.
9.7 External Verification and Stakeholder Engagement
9.7.1 In the case of announced and unannounced audits for the purpose of certifying its compliance with the requirements of this Standard, the organisation shall fully cooperate with external auditors to determine the severity and frequency of any problems that arise in meeting the SA8000 Standard.
9.7.2 The organisation shall participate in stakeholder engagement in order to attain sustainable compliance with the SA8000 Standard.
9.8 Corrective and Preventive Actions
9.8.1 The organisation shall formulate policies and procedures for the prompt implementation of corrective and preventive actions and shall provide adequate resources for them. The SPT shall ensure that these actions are effectively implemented.
9.8.2 The SPT shall maintain records, including timelines, that list, at minimum, non-conformances related to SA8000, their root causes, the corrective and preventive actions taken and implementation results.
9.9 Training and Capacity Building 9.9.1 The organisation shall implement a training plan for all personnel to effectively implement the SA8000 Standard as informed by the results of risk assessments. The organisation shall periodically measure the effectiveness of training and record their nature and frequency.
9.10 Management of Suppliers and Contractors
9.10.1 The organisation shall conduct due diligence on its suppliers/subcontractors, private employment agencies and sub-suppliers’ compliance with the SA8000 Standard. The same due diligence approach shall be applied when selecting new suppliers/subcontractors, private employment agencies and sub-suppliers. The minimum activities for the organisation to fulfil this requirement shall be recorded and shall include:
a) effectively communicating the requirements of this Standard to senior leadership of suppliers/subcontractors, private employment agencies and sub-suppliers;
b) assessing significant risks of non-conformance by suppliers/subcontractors, private employment agencies and sub-suppliers. [Note: an explanation of “significant risk” is found in the guidance document];
c) making reasonable efforts to ensure that these significant risks are adequately addressed by suppliers/subcontractors, private employment agencies and sub-suppliers and by the organisation where and when appropriate, and prioritised according to the organisation’s ability and resources to influence these entities; [Note: an explanation of “reasonable effort” is found in the guidance document]; and
d) establishing monitoring activities and tracking performance of suppliers/subcontractors, private employment agencies and sub-suppliers to ensure that these significant risks are effectively addressed.
9.10 Management of Suppliers and Contractors
9.10.2 Where the organisation receives, handles or promotes goods and/or services from suppliers/subcontractors or sub-suppliers who are classified as home workers, the organisation shall take effective actions to ensure that such home workers are afforded a level of protection substantially equivalent to that afforded to the organisation’s other workers under the requirements of this Standard.