How to achieve an eco-friendly uniform

Thursday 25th January 2018

Sustainable Fabrics

Taking its roots from hundreds of years of Japanese and Korean hospitality, western manufacturers are using sustainable materials such as hemp, organic cotton, soybean and bamboo fibre to produce completely eco-friendly uniforms.

Moves such as this towards sustainable fabrics are very positive for the apparel industry, but eco-friendly materials are more costly and many big corporations still need to put their bottom line before the planet.

So if sustainable materials aren’t yet achievable as an industry standard, what else is being done to minimise the environmental impact of uniforms?

Innate to Design

When it comes to uniform design, sustainability and eco-friendliness should begin as soon as the pen touches the paper, as the process should immediately consider not just how they will look when worn, but what their end-of-life plan is.

It is a good idea for procurement personnel to work closely with the designer to ensure the uniform is as eco-friendly as possible, not just in the design but in how many items are actually needed for staff, how they will be cared for (i.e. low temperature machine wash or dry clean), and how long-lasting they will be.

Supply Chain Responsibility

Companies are starting to scrutinise their suppliers more closely. They want to work with industry partners who not only offer competitive pricing and quality but who are also ethically compliant, and follow strict codes of conduct. This includes ensuring that workers are paid fairly and consistently, that no child labour is used in their production, and that materials and processes are sustainable and environmental concerns considered and protected where possible.

There should be absolute transparency in the supply chain. An indicator that your supplier is legitimate is if they are signed up to the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (SEDEX) or SA8000. You can also ask your suppliers if independent audits have taken place.

Recycling Programmes

At present, approximately 90% of old uniforms end up going to landfill or incineration - this amounts to around 30 million items.

However, many companies are now modifying their uniform procurement in order to bring every element of their business into line with their corporate social responsibility policy. This is leading to more companies seeking to ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ their uniforms. However, for business reasons, companies don’t want their old ‘look’ or brand to continue in circulation, and for many companies, passing unused uniform to good causes creates a security risk too due to identity fraud.

Businesses are overcoming this by thinking outside the box when it comes to material reuse and are using recycling programmes which break unwanted uniform down to its core elements and turn it into an entirely different product. This could be building or vehicle insulation, or it could be recycled textiles where it can be fed right back into the uniform supply chain.


Whilst the costs of sustainable fabrics may currently be prohibitively high, as you can see there is lots that can be done through a little knowledge, planning and collaboration between the procurer and the designer to minimise the impact of company uniform on the environment.

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