I had a really hard time determining if these NA-KD Organic Soft Rigid Wide Jeans were worth the purchase. Their pricing, which is middle-of-the-road, could be extremely competitive if their sustainability claims ring true. Their language on the website seems at times ambiguous and excusatory - for example, I cannot tell if the cotton used in this product is simply grown organically or is produced sustainably as well, because they list two different certifications and don’t stipulate which one this specific garment has.
However, as a brand NA-KD seems like it is trying to become more sustainable, and is just late to the party. Their first sustainability report was published based in 2020. All of their sustainability initiatives are very recent, however a lot of these initiatives are ambitious and impressive, in my opinion. There is a risk that the company is greenwashing: sustainability is “trendy”, and this brand definitely follows trends. They are “planning” to institute all of the right measures to achieve sustainability in their materials and production, but since all of the language is forward-thinking it is impossible to know right now if the company will follow through. I would give the brand a year or so to make some progress on their goals and prove themselves, before you support them with your dollar!
These specific jeans are made of 100% organic cotton, and the pockets are 100% polyester. NA-KD states that all of their organic cotton hold either a GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) or OCS (Organic Content Standard) certification. The GOTS certification applies to products that contain at least 95% organic fibres - if the product is labelled “organic”. These “organic fibres” must follow the principles of organic agriculture and be grown without synthetic pesticides, insecticides, or herbicides and GMOS. It also ensures that the processing, manufacturing, packaging, labelling, trading, and distribution of all textiles and product meets a certain environmental and social criteria. GOTS is the world’s leading organic textile certification and is based off of the USDA’s strict criteria for organic food certification; this certification can be trusted. The OCS certification applies only to the growing conditions of the cotton, not the processing of the cotton into the final product. For this reason, a product can have OCS certification and still not be fully produced and manufactured organically or ethically; the certification applies only to the raw material. This is an important and informative difference to keep in mind. Don’t blindly accept all certifications as gospel! NA-KD does not specify if this product has one certification or another - all they say is “All our organic cotton holds either a GOTS or OCS certification”. This ambiguity leaves me wondering how much of their organic cotton has the better GOTS certification, or if most of their cotton has only OCS certification. This would mean that the cotton they use is processed unsustainably - something that a fast fashion company like NA-KD would want to hide.
The pockets of the pants are made of polyester. The environmental impact of polyester is vast - with the fabric being made from fossil fuels and our vast inability to recycle it in a meaningful and impactful way at the moment. There are ways to recycle the original plastic of the weave of polyester, PET, by recycling bottles made out of PET and creating polyester from that. However, this is an expensive and therefore not a hugely popular choice. NA-KD does not address the environmental impacts of this material on their site, despite having a “product background” section for each item that is supposed to provide transparency. All that is said about polyester is that the company hopes to use more sustainable materials for 100% of their products by 2025. This is a future oriented goal, and does not say much about what the brand has done and is doing currently to mitigate the carbon footprints of their materials.
These jeans specifically are listed as processed and manufacturing in a factory in Turkey. NA-KD states that products such as these which are labelled as “more sustainable” on their website are created in factories that participate in their Environmental Performance Improvement Program - which follows the Higg Index. The Higg Index is a reputable framework and platform set by the Higg company, which provides a universal way to score and compare the sustainable impact of a company. It measures environmental management systems, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, water use and wastewater, air emissions, waste management, and chemical use and management. NA-KD states on their website that, as of 2020, 79% of their suppliers adhered to this Index. They stated that those who did not either produce cosmetics, which the Higg Index does not cover, or they are in the process of phasing those suppliers out.
NA-KD also released it’s first sustainability report in 2020, which stipulates the many ways that the company is turning a new leaf to head towards a more sustainable future. There is information in this report about the environmental impact of their operations. There was an impressive amount of transparency in this report, and I was pleased to learn that NA-KD has been offsetting the emissions from their shipping, delivery, and returns since 2019. They are investing in other offsetting projects in India regarding renewable energy projects, and this offsetting is accredited by the Gold Standard (a certification for non-governmental emission reduction projects). NA-KD also has begun a circularity initiative called NA-KD Circle. This is an app where customers can resell their old NA-KD products seamlessly and earn store credit. This project just launched in spring of 2021 and is currently only available to customers in the EU.
As a larger picture, NA-KD explores designing for circularity in depth in their Report, from materials and packaging to waste. Their packaging is made from 100% recycled materials, and half of their polybags are made from recycled plastics (which they add Biodegradable Organic Polymer to to speed up the break down of these bags if they do make it into a landfill. In terms of waste, some of their highlights are: 97% of goods returned to the warehouse are put back on the self to be bought again, and the remaining 3% are sold on the second hand market or are recycled (there was no other information on exactly how this happens).
NA-KD requires all of their suppliers sign their Supplier Code of Conduct and conduct social audits within 6 months from signing the contract. This Code of Conduct adopts the values of Amfori BSCI (Business Social Compliance Initiative), which conducts audits to hold companies and factories to certain human rights standards. This includes, but is not limited to, unionizing rights, anti-discrimination values, controls on working hours, no child labour, protection of the environment, and fair pay. NA-KD states that they communicate to their suppliers that the suppliers are expected to “cascade the same values up their own supply chains”. NA-KD’s human rights policy is based on the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, and they are “currently accelerating their efforts” to implement those principles.
NA-KD did come under fire in 2020 for working conditions, inclusivity, and their internship programs. They addressed these shortcomings in their Report from 2020, stating that they had auditing and consulting company EY come in and determine where and how they need to improve. They state that they have many initiatives and action plans in place to remedy these concerns - however since it was so recent I cannot confirm whether the issues have been resolved.