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Two key components used in the production of apparel and footwear are textiles and leather. Whilst these two materials are manufactured in different ways, they share a number of similarities and are produced in a series of discrete processing steps designed to give the raw fiber, textile or skin the appropriate color, feel and performance required for its end-use.

In order to achieve this, more than 40 different types of chemicals may be used to produce any individual garment, and significant volumes of water may be used and discharged from the factory. In Europe alone, around 15,000 chemical formulations are used in textile production and 9.3 million metric tons of chemicals are used in the global production of textiles each year. Indeed, approximately 25% of all chemicals produced worldwide are used directly or indirectly in the textile industry.

The chemicals used to manufacture textiles and leather have very diverse characteristics and may, if not appropriately verified, lead to issues for both consumers and the environment. Fortunately, there is much knowledge available to enable safer chemistries to be used, as well as systems and techniques available to verify chemical risk. Many countries around the world have legislation designed to safeguard the consumer against exposure to potentially toxic chemicals in apparel and footwear.

Textiles and leathers may be produced in countries and regions that do not have appropriate legislation or safeguards to ensure that the environment is protected against potentially toxic chemicals. Responsible sourcing by responsible brands and supply chains require consideration and action at the factory level, both in how materials are produced and how waste streams (water, solid and air emissions) are appropriately treated.

A major challenge for the whole apparel and footwear supply chain is to ensure that products can be manufactured in a sustainable manner whilst mitigating chemical risk. The trend in product compliance has steadily moved away from simply testing final products, such as garments and footwear, to assessing input chemicals and products further up the supply chain. The concept is that if only environmentally friendly and safe chemicals are put in to manufacturing, then only environmentally friendly and safe products should be produced. The question remains – can this be achieved by the textile and footwear supply chains?

Eliminating Hazardous Chemicals

Whilst many different approaches have been taken to address the question of how the industry can continue to improve its environmental performance, one of the more widely supported concepts is to consider how hazardous chemicals can be eliminated from the supply chain. In order to ensure that final products and the various waste outputs (waste water, air emissions and solid waste) are free of hazardous chemicals, a focus on the chemical profile of input streams such as raw materials and chemicals is required. The use of an appropriate chemical management strategy within manufacturing facilities has the potential to lead to some of the biggest environmental improvements in the textile and footwear industries.

However, while the industry is working toward eliminating hazardous chemicals, it is clear that factories may require technical support. Many facilities have expertise in manufacturing intermediate and final products, but they may then have gaps in technical knowledge on chemical management best practices and how they can develop an effective strategy to work towards the elimination of hazardous chemicals.

Technical Support

We have developed a range of services under our Trio Approach for Zero Discharge Holistic Solutions which offer a powerful opportunity for facilities to systematically improve their hazardous chemical profile. The three key elements of this approach are:

  • Training
  • Assessment
  • Implementation

As a first step, it is critical that the factories have knowledge of what is required. By ensuring their key individuals receive appropriate training, they can strengthen their understanding and advance their knowledge and competence in chemical management. We offer a Hazardous Substance Control workshop which is a practical training course for the industry and covers key chemical management strategies as well as providing toolkits which the facilities can use.

Once facilities have an understanding of chemical management, it is critical that they can effectively assess the environmental conformance of input materials such as chemicals and raw materials as well as the output product and waste streams. We have developed a number of services including chemical screening, chemical testing and measurement of waste emissions (liquid, solid and air emissions) which allow factories to assess their current baseline and identify where future improvements can be made.

Following effective factory training and benchmarking of their chemical management performance, facilities are positioned to employ advanced systems in their goal of eliminating hazardous chemicals. One example may include the selection of chemicals that have undergone extensive assessment, not just for whether they contain hazardous components, but also understanding their overall environmental profile and the ability of the chemical manufacturer to consistently produce the chemicals. bluesign® bluefinder is a market leader in providing a positive list from which facilities can confidently select processing chemicals knowing that they have been expertly assessed.

During this journey toward the elimination of hazardous chemicals, facilities will need to employ an effective monitoring strategy to gauge their current performance and to see where improvements can be made. One key aspect is to identify potential risks and understand where non-compliances (e.g. restricted substances in final product or waste outputs) may originate. Our Root Cause Analysis service highlights high risk restricted substances that may be used within the manufacturing process and validates individual chemicals for compliance.


Whilst there are many environmental challenges facing the global textile and footwear industries, a key strategy is to work towards eliminating hazardous chemicals from supply chains and to identify opportunities to effectively improve performance. By having access to technical expertise and services, the textile and footwear sectors really do have a credible opportunity of working effectively towards zero discharge of hazardous chemicals.

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For more information contact your local SGS representative, or our global team and visit Softlines and Accessories.

Andrew Hudson
Consumer and Retail
Global Softlines Technical Head
SGS United Kingdom Limited


SGS is the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company. SGS is recognized as the global benchmark for quality and integrity. With more than 90,000 employees, SGS operates a network of over 2,000 offices and laboratories around the world.