Fanatics seems to have a good company culture that is working towards becoming more sustainable, however, its products are inherently facing the same challenges as many fast fashion brands with constant demand from fans to produce new jerseys. It will be interesting to follow how Fanatics works to drive sustainability initiatives in the coming years while dealing with this problem.
The Official Fanatics Basketball Jerseys are a trademark for fans in the sport to support their favorite players and teams. Although Fanatics does not detail its own manufacturing process, authentic jerseys are generally comprised of a polyester mixture that allows for a soft texture and smooth feel. For example, jerseys worn by professional basketball players are made with 190-gram polyester and include ClimaCOOL mesh to help with sweat.
Polyester is a fiber that is usually manufactured with plastic and derived from petroleum through a high-energy process. Although they have positives such as durability and can be made from recycled plastics, polyester is by no means a sustainable material. The petroleum that goes into making it has many problems as a non-renewable resource with complicated social and political implications. The plastic incorporation creates microplastics that can be shed with every wash and ultimately be found everywhere. In terms of basketball jerseys, the NBA has only recently started looking into making jerseys with recycled plastics, which means there is no reason to believe that replicate fan jerseys are currently being made from recycled materials. Otherwise, these jerseys are not biodegradable or sustainable by any means.
I gave an overall score of 0.25 as polyester does tend to be more durable compared to other fabrics allowing for long-term use. The dying process of polyester also tends to be less energy-intensive. However, the nature of the material and how often sports fans usually buy new jerseys for new players and teams more than cancels that positive.
For design and manufacturing, Fanatics boasts about its “innovative vertical-commerce (v-commerce) model”. At a simple level, v-commerce generally refers to online retailer companies that own, market, and sell their own merchandise without third parties in between. This means that a company like Fanatics can easily scale up and always provide customers with new products at a quicker rate than others. This is a loop that drives profits, but not necessarily sustainability. The constant demand for new basketball jerseys (think specialized jerseys with custom names, numbers, colors, etc) creates a high production of unsustainable material as analyzed in the materials section. One positive to being able to produce products at such a high speed means that Fanatics does not have to start producing jerseys until a sports event is certain. Where sports apparel manufacturing companies will sometimes create products with multiple outcomes to plan for uncertain results, Fanatics can reduce waste by waiting until a sporting event has been finalized.
Fanatics also features a page that details its fair labor principles. It is affiliated with the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a global organization that works to ensure fair labor practices throughout a company’s supply chain (represents more than 4.5 million workers worldwide). Fanatics also has a Workplace Code of Conduct that describes the standards for itself and its supply chain partners. The code includes considerations for compensation, workplace harassment, forced labor, hours of work, safety, and discrimination among others. The company requires that new supplier partners comply with their standards before a formal partnership is started and has built-in evaluations to benchmark standards over time. However, Fanatics does not go into detail as to how it actually measures performance, and ramifications for failing those standards only seem to be a corrective action plan, not a termination of the partnership.
Finally, Fanatics provides an updated list of Tier 1 suppliers on its website, but they word the section vaguely enough that it could perhaps allow for them to list higher standard suppliers and leave off others. Regardless, the effort at transparency is definitely a positive as many companies do not even come close to disclosing their suppliers.
As an organization, Fanatics appears to make genuine strides towards sustainability. They have a sustainability page that targets human rights and the environment, which is underscored by a letter from their CEO Doug Mack. Most notably, the letter mentions a goal for their US manufacturing facilities to be able to divert 100% of their waste from landfill disposals by 2030. To achieve this goal, they partnered with Link International, which has helped companies divert millions of tons of waste from landfills since 2008. Additionally, Fanatics is affiliated with the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), which is an industry-leading alliance that helps companies promote sustainable production.
It is worth noting that Fanatics says it has a unique relationship with Nike, which traditionally has come under fire for malpractices in their manufacturing facilities. However, it does seem that the partnership is one where Fanatics produces apparel for Nike, and does not involve Nike’s own manufacturing processes. The partnership itself does seem to be contradictory to Fanatics' commitment to fair labor practices though.
Besides Nike, Fanatics has a lot of alliances with nonprofits and seems to encourage its employees to volunteer outside of work from its global impact snapshot of 68,000 hours volunteered by employees in 2020. Its alliances include the Special Olympics, LGBT Foundation, Make-A-Wish, and Good Sports among others.