Icebreaker says it wants to inspire other retailers by launching a transparency report as 'powerful' consumer increasingly focus on ethical companies.
"The consumer is more powerful than any brand and this is a key change within the global landscape - it's not the manufacturer, it's not the retailer, it's the consumer, and that's exciting because the consumer is the toughest judge," said Icebreaker chief executive Greg Smith.
Smith, who has been chief executive since June last year, said Icebreaker hoped to lead the way on transparency among retailers, with the launch of its transparency report which outlines every aspect of its operation, including supply chain information and its carbon footprint.
Fashion apparel has fast become the second largest polluter in the world, after oil. Total greenhouse gas emissions from textile production are more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined, Icebreaker said.
The industry impacted the environment in every way, Smith said.
"From the fibre which is used and what it takes to generate that - whether it's natural or synthetic, the transportation ... and factories," he said.
"Any industry which makes something, and it's not purely limited to fashion, is creating waste, a carbon footprint, an impact, and to understand that impact gives us the chance to try and reduce it."
Icebreaker has most of its garment factories in China but also has some in Bangladesh, Vietnam, America and Italy. Its factories scored 8.7 out of 10 for efficient waste management. The current industry average was 7.1.
Smith said Icebreaker decided to produce a transparency report, which took four months, on the back of a receiving a D- grading by Tearfund in its ethical fashion report last year. This year, the company was graded an A+.
One hundred and fourteen companies were graded by the relief and development group on their ethical fashion practices, with three of five highest-rated brands from New Zealand.
Icebreaker was found to be the most improved retail brand, jumping from a D- grade in last year's report to an A+, based on its transparency across supply chains, worker rights, policies and practices in place.
The companies were assessed at three critical stages of the supply chain – raw materials, input production and final stage production.
"Last year we didn't participate in the actual survey so whilst it looks like we're the most improved [this year], we received a D- because we didn't participate and that [information] was all they could find on our website," Smith said.
"That was disappointing, and so we thought 'Ok, we've built a company over the last 22 years that has been designed on sustainable and ethical practices but we haven't done a great job of sharing that with anybody."
Icebreaker wants to be PVC-free by 2020 and hopes to switch its packaging used globally to a bio-degradable alternative by the same year.
Smith said its report was designed to inspire the industry "to do the right thing".
"What we'd like to do is to inspire other brands to think more deeply about the environment, to think more deeply about the practices that they have within their supply chain and to try and make it better," Smith said.
"When people think it's too hard or too expensive, it's not. It is complex but it doesn't need to be as expensive as people may think," he said.
"It doesn't matter what size you are as a brand, it comes down to who you want to be. The consumer more and more is looking at brands which are taking this seriously," he said.
"We're making a start, we're wanting to do better than what we are, we're far from perfect, but we hope that the way in which we've gone about putting this together that other brands and companies will consider it in their future planning to make the planet a better place for our future."