Science-based targets for apparel brands: What they are, and why you should be setting them. It’s December in Paris. 10°C and cloudy. Inside a room 15 km north-east of...Read more
In conversation with Merryn Chilcott, BAM Bamboo Clothing
by Lara Pizzato | May 27, 2022 | Data & transparency
“In conversation with” is a series of interviews by Green Story with leading fashion brands, sharing their stories, what sustainability means to them, the challenges they face, and how they communicate their green stories. Read on and get inspired!
Tell us a bit about yourself and the story behind BAM Bamboo Clothing.
At BAM (the British designed sustainable bamboo activewear brand), we’ve been pioneering natural activewear since 2006 when our founder, David Gordon, discovered that bamboo – one of the world’s most sustainable crops – could be turned into a supersoft, high-performance fabric. For the first year or two David was operating out of his garage packing orders, but as word spread about the quality of the clothes, business grew. We still work with bamboo fabric today.
As for me, my background is in garment and fabric technology. I joined BAM in 2017 focusing on garment technology and product development. Today I’m BAM’s sustainability and technical manager, driving our sustainability agenda forward.
Sustainability and transparency. What do they mean to you?
Sustainability as a word in itself has started to lose some meaning for me – as I’m sure it has for others. It’s such a loose term used in so many different ways that it can be difficult for consumers to understand what the impact of their choices are – is choosing something labelled “sustainable” enough?
There’s also a real opportunity for the clothing industry to go beyond merely sustaining what we already do and to actually have a positive impact. The nature of clothing and its global, complex supply chains means its impacts are far-reaching, affecting people, nature, climate, waste and more. We have the opportunity as an industry, for example, to lift people out of poverty in the way we treat our workers all along the supply chain, and to support the transition to regenerative agriculture in the way we source our natural materials.
That’s why transparency is essential – it’s really important to be able to see, in details, what tangible actions a brand is taking. It would sometimes be easier not to explain the complex challenges we’re tackling or the decisions we’ve made, but consumers want and deserve to know the truth – even if it’s not perfect yet.
This is why having the Green Story impact savings on our product pages really helps; it’s numbers and facts but it’s simple to look at and understand, and it’s accessible without being vague.
What are the main sustainability challenges a brand like BAM faces today?
As we’ve started to measure and understand the true impact of our clothing, we’ve uncovered the complex challenges the clothing industry as a whole is facing, with manufacture and customer use of our garments – as well as our own direct emissions – to consider. As an industry, we also need to think about the people involved in making our clothes and ensuring they’re treated fairly.
We can’t take full control over the emissions our suppliers and our customers create, so we focus on what we can control through the choices we make as a business. For example, we offset the emissions from the first 50 washes of every garment we sell, and we choose and vet our suppliers and manufacturers carefully to ensure they meet our rigorous environmental and ethical standards, both in how they treat their workers and their production methods.
One major challenge is balancing resources and costs with making continued progress on reducing our impact; we need to be in business to make a positive change! Our team is working relentlessly on solutions that will enable us to reduce our impact while producing items at accessible prices. This is one of the reasons we are so proud of our 73 Zero fully circular jacket, which is designed to perform, yet is made from recycled materials and is 100% recyclable.
Finally, our biggest challenge is probably the one we’ve set ourselves – to become impact positive by 2030 – for people, nature and the climate.
What are your top priorities for this year or next few years?
Everything starts with traceability & transparency –we need to understand where and how our products are made so we can understand our full impact and work towards leaving things better than we found them.
Mapping our supply chain is the first step, but it’s a mammoth task. We’ve been working on it for four years and we’ve now mapped 100% of tier 1, 99% of tier 2 and over 70% of tiers 3 & 4, going right back to the fibre level. We’ve also identified the forests our bamboo raw material comes from. We’ve made good progress but there is still so much more to do.
Over the next few years we’ll be working on getting all those numbers to 100% and collaborating closely with Green Story to build on the accuracy of our LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) impact data and how we share all this information clearly with our customers.
The other big focus for us will be moving towards our fully circular goals, building on the success of our 73 Zero jackets within our own product range, as well as supporting research and collaborating with the wider industry to drive bigger change.
Why did you come to Green Story and how does the work we do together fit into your broader sustainability strategy?
When we started assessing BAM’s environmental impact, we found that most of the emissions associated with our products came from the manufacturing stages before garment production.
Our commitment to becoming Impact Positive means we take responsibility for these emissions, even though we are not directly responsible for creating them.
To really understand where we can make the biggest difference, where to focus our resources and how to measure our progress properly, we had to get more accurate with our impact measurement.
This is where Green Story comes in; as true experts in life cycle assessments and communications around impact, they provide us with confidence and credibility, both externally through our messaging and backing up our claims, and internally as we measure our impacts and set strategies for reducing them.
More on our blog
A comparative delve into the Higg Material Sustainability Index (MSI) methodology versus Green Story's LCA study
The blog series by Dr Subramanian Senthilkannan Muthu, PhD in Environmental Life Cycle Assessment is divided into three parts. In this third and final part, Dr. Muthu...Read more
Ask anyone who works at the intersection of fashion and sustainability, and they’ll tell you: fashion has a data problem. Sustainability claims are popping up everywhere...Read more