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Sustainable workwear – is there such a thing?

Posted by Cathy Houghton at

The most straightforward answer we can give to this question is yes. 

However, not many people know or understand sustainable and ethical workwear, nor do we know just what to look for when working with workwear suppliers and brands. 

If you’re responsible for the corporate clothing attire for your company, then you will most likely be looking for quality clothing. Workwear that is comfortable, durable, and ultimately fit for purpose. 

Today there are also considerations to be made regarding where clothing is manufactured and the impact on the environment. 

sustainable helly hansen workwear

By considering this criterion too, you can begin to build upon your company’s CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) agenda, tying everything together perfectly. 

These factors combined will also then influence the workwear supplier you’ll work with, ensuring their values and vision are aligned to your own. 

In this post, we look at sustainable and ethical workwear, looking at the Helly Hansen brand as an example, as well as what to look for when sourcing workwear and the impact workwear has on the environment. 

What to look for in a sustainable workwear supplier 

Working conditions 

You need to know as much as possible about who makes your clothes and where they are made. 

For example, what are the conditions of those manufacturing the clothes like? For many of us, the answer to this question will be relatively unknown; however, today, you can look on suppliers’ websites for their statement on the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and some of the ethical policies the workwear brand cares to adopt. 

Working closely with your suppliers in such a way allows you to build long-term relationships, both supporting high sustainability and positive environmental standards. 

Some brands may also be part of the Ethical Trading Initiative, and this is worth investigating further, too. 

What are their ethical standards? 

To find this, you can look towards their accreditations and compliance to ISO 9001 Quality Management and ISO 14001 Environmental Management. 

Both of these accreditations help to ensure a consistent standard in products and services, with quality continuously improving. It also shows a recognition of their environmental responsibilities and ensures specific standards are met. 

Within this area, you can also look out for: 

  • EU Ecolabel 
  • Fair Wear Foundation 
  • Global Organic Textile Standard 
  • Fairtrade Foundation 
  • Selex 
  • Oeko – Text Standard 100 
  • REACH 

What is their (and your) current environmental impact? 

In these instances, look for brands that actively seek to lower the carbon footprint of their production processes. 

Products that are labelled “quality” should only hold this label if they have been manufactured in a way that is environmentally friendly as well as socially sustainable. 

Throughout your work clothing’s life cycle (from production to disposal) there will be some environmental impact to be aware of: 

  • Resource consumption 
  • Air and water pollution 
  • Water consumption and the effect of pollution 
  • Toxicity 

Do they use sustainable textiles? 

When on the search for workwear, look for ethical and sustainable textiles — those like organic cotton, linen, wool, fabrics made from recycled plastic, etc. 

All workwear brands should be able to demonstrate full traceability to where their products originate and what they’re made of. 

Impact of plastic 

Many clothes contain plastics, such as nylon, polyester, acrylic, etc., and throughout the life of a garment, they will shed tiny particles of the plastic in which they’re made up of. 

These microplastic fibres are cause for great concern.  

For example, plastic microfibres can escape into the ocean and enter the food chain, all through us simply washing our clothes – with one load of washing shedding up to 17 million plastic fibres. 

This makes taking care of our clothes vital. 

To help you can: 

  • Wash your workwear in a special bag 
  • Fill the washing machine 
  • Wash workwear at low temperatures 
  • Reduce spin speeds 
  • Air dry rather than tumble dry 
  • Keep your workwear for longer 
  • Choose workwear that is made from natural fibres 

Purchase workwear that lasts 

It’s important to look for quality workwear that you can get a lot of use out of. Having workwear that is fit for purpose provides you with the peace of mind that it’s been designed to last. 

Following the manufacturing guidelines carefully with regards to washing and storage helps to extend the life of your clothing. 

However, when workwear has reached the end of its life, it should be disposed of responsibly. 

To reduce the environmental impact of discarding clothes, you can look to work with a recycling company, send clothing to a textile processor, upcycle uniforms, donate old clothing, etc. 

A brand who knows sustainability 

Helly Hansen’s corporate social responsibility is an integral part of their business strategy, and it is also an element that has contributed to the brand's considerable growth over the years. 

Helly Hansen does have a Code of Conduct which all of their suppliers must comply with, and all of their standards are mentioned within (workers' rights are also included in this). 

They’re also a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative, incorporating this into their overall CSR, and they have joined the Bluesign System Partner Network, which sets and controls standards for environmentally friendlier and safer productions. 

Helly Hansen’s workwear range is world-famous and first-class. 

It has remained this way due to their focus on sustainable and ethical workwear. 

Publishing annually detailed audit summary reports with follow up actions, as well as continually driving to reduce damage to the environment. Helly Hansen has also begun reducing PFCs in its water-repellent treatments across all of its ranges, and they no longer use antibacterial substances that have been identified to cause potential dangers (substances that are used in some textiles to reduce odour). 

Helly Hansen has built their reputation and brand on trust, and for over 140 years, this is something they have never forgotten. 

At Active Workwear, we take our environmental responsibility very seriously, and we work with some of the leading brands in the industry, those who are proud, alongside ourselves, to show we’re taking clear steps to reduce our carbon footprint. 

To check out our full workwear ranges, visit our online catalogue or call us on 0113 256 7021, where we’d be happy to help. 

Read next the blog: Tips on choosing the best workwear for you and your team


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