Champion and its parent company Hanesbrands have made tremendous strides in setting and reaching sustainable goals as well as providing insight into their operations to consumers. However, the company still lacks transparency in terms of the specifics of their production processes and product composition. For these socks, little is known about the sourcing of the cotton, polyester, spandex, etc. or about how each is produced and combined into a final product. Given what can be determined with the limited information available, the socks are not sustainable, although they might start to move in this direction in the future if Hanesbrands continues to progress its initiatives and provides more information in the coming years.
Champion has a number of different clothing items targeted towards sportswear, including these socks. They are made from cotton and double dry moisture wicking technology to reduce sweat. The composition matches the traditional combination of inputs seen for most mass-produced socks today: 69% ring-spun cotton, 27% polyester, 2% spandex, 1% natural rubber and 1% other fibers. Ring-spun cotton is a nicer, more expensive version of regular cotton which is made by twisting and thinning cotton strands into fine, strong, soft ropes of fiber. The process for making this kind of cotton is likely more energy intensive than traditional cotton but allows for softer fabric. Polyester is a synthetic fiber generated by a chemical reaction and derived from from coal, air, water and petroleum. Spandex is also synthetic, made from a petroleum-based polymer. Spandex is harmful to the environment as a fuel-based, energy intensive and non-biodegradable product. The rubber industry is notoriously controversial, and so it is unclear where this natural rubber is sourced and also what the other incorporated fibers are. Given this account and the lack of concrete information provided for the sourcing of each input, this sock cannot currently be considered sustainable, especially when there are so many other companies employing alternative materials, repurposing practices, reduced synthetics and more to make their socks (including Organic Basics, People Tree and even Patagonia). As is expected in the apparel industry, smaller companies lead the way in sustainability.
Despite the sock’s current suboptimal track record, Champion and its parent company Hanesbrands are working towards improving the sustainability of their products. For example, the company is working towards using 100% organic and sustainable cotton by 2025, and currently sources 60% of its cotton from the US and Australia in water-rich regions. In certain apparel lines, though not for these socks, recycled polyester fibers are being used, and a goal has been set to use 100% recycled polyester by 2025. As far as packaging goes, Champion and Hanesbrands still employ single-use plastics but are currently recycling them and have plans to eliminate them by 2025. For the same year there’s a set goal to reduce packaging volume by 25%. There are also initiatives to create a more circular economy by recycling cotton, although such cotton will most likely be directed to specific sustainable fashion lines rather than across the inventory of products, at least for the near future.
While these initiatives are encouraging, Hanesbrands and Champion have a general issue with materials sourcing transparency, as specifics are not given on how and where each input is sourced, so it is unclear what practices are currently being employed or will be employed in the future. There’s a long way to go in materials sourcing, material composition and corporate transparency until these socks will bring a enough of a benefit to the planet to offset its current harm.
Mass-produced socks are made using a circular knitting machine operated by factory workers. Knitting machines follow a coded pattern, and in some cases the produced socks are fit around a metal frame to allow them to retain their shape. Once the socks are produced, they’re shipped off to retail locations. As a large company that produces and sells products internationally, there’s no doubt a substantial amount of emissions come from transportation, though Champion doesn’t specify.
Hanesbrands is unique within the apparel industry as it owns most of the facilities where its apparel is produced. Currently, 70% of Hanesbrands’s products are made in their own facilities, meaning that the majority of Champion’s products are made in-house. This allows for the company to employ environmental and labor practices and keep track of the supply chain in ways that other companies are unable to.
Most of Hanesbrands’s planet goals have to do with their processes. In the past few years, the company has transitioned from a B+ to an A score awarded by CDP for their environmental practices. These include having reduced waste usage, energy use, carbon emissions and water use substantially as well as transitioning 41% of energy consumption to renewable resources and diverting 86% of supply chain waste from landfills. Continuing with this momentum, the parent company set goals last year to be met by 2030, including cutting emissions, water use and energy use even more, increasing recycled fibers and transitioning to completely renewable. Hanesbrands’s progress and ambitious goals are commendable, especially in comparison to other top apparel companies, but the company currently lacks transparency on the specifics of product materials or processes. Reports on current emissions/energy use/water use are not provided, so it is unclear the current impact of the company’s operations.
Champion’s parent company is Hanesbrands, the world’s largest marketer of everyday basic apparel. The company has a proven track record in demonstrating a commitment to sustainability action and ethical business practices. Last year, the company launched a new sustainability website to increase transparency in accordance with their new 10-year sustainability goals. These initiatives will focus on three facets: people, with the goal of making 10 million lives better off, planet, which continues the company’s existing track to environmental stewardship, and product, which improves materials sourcing. Such policies are paying off, as Champion recently received an A rating for its ethical fashion production while Hanesbrands was named one of 2021’s most ethical companies by Ethisphere.
As a Fair Labor Association member, Hanesbrands goes into specific details about its labor practices for both itself and its suppliers, and seeing as the company produces a large amount of its products in-house, these standards seems to stand up well. Hanesbrands’s Global Ethics and Compliance policy includes emphasis on antibribery, transparency, human rights respect and environmental responsibility. There is zero tolerance for child labor, forced labor, wage violations, health and safety violations and harassment, which the company works to eliminate through regularly conducted factory assessments and audits. Any serious violations can result in terminated relationships with a supplier, and indeed, Hanes cut ties with 121 facilities in 2019. Though the company never explicitly states that there are no poor labor practices or human rights violations present in its supply chains, the degree of regulation and in-house production is enough to confirm that it is barely present and quickly being eradicated.
Similar to most Fortune 500 companies, Hanesbrands as well as Champion have an extensive involvement in community and philanthropy affairs. The company aids homeless shelters and organizations, donating 250,000 pairs of socks annually as well as volunteer hours. Champion is also making impressive efforts for both social and environmental sustainability. The company recently launched a sustainable streetwear line made of recycled fabric named Re: Bound. On the diversity and inclusion end, Champion partners with different sports organizations including the Special Olympics and children’s basketball summer camps to provide clothing and scholarships that encourage opportunities for minority groups.
On the end of diversity and inclusion, Hanesbrands is fairly transparent about its demographics. The gender distribution is strong for all levels but high leadership, although at each level there is a disproportionate number of white employees. The fact that the company provides this information in an accessible chart, however, is very important for transparency with consumers.
Hanesbrands’s sustainability website: https://hbisustains.com/
the product: https://www.champion.com/double-dry-performance-low-cut-socks-6-pack.html?color=40
eco-friendly sock brands: https://www.sustainablejungle.com/sustainable-fashion/sustainable-eco-friendly-socks/
how socks are made: https://www.soxy.com/blogs/guide/how-socks-are-made#:~:text=How%20are%20socks%20made%20by,each%20individual%20sock%20are%20uniform.
champion sustainability: https://www.championusa.com.au/sustainability