June 8, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a broad range of challenges to your company and everyone else across the globe. Factory closures, the rising costs of raw materials, currency fluctuations in China and container shortages are just a few of the obstacles your team has had to overcome.
When a crisis like COVID-19 had put your revenue in jeopardy and when manufacturing expenses start rising, how do you keep your standards for sustainability from slipping?
We spoke with SanMar Senior Product Development and Sourcing Manager, Joanne Gimelli, about the pandemic, its impact on the global textile and apparel industry, and how SanMar has successfully served its customers over the past 12+ months.
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, SanMar® Corporation, a premier supplier of wholesale apparel, bags and caps, has continued to innovate and deliver high-quality, sustainable products. They partner with many of the world’s leading brands, including Nike, OGIO®, Eddie Bauer®, Alternative®, New Era®, The North Face®, Carhartt®, Rabbit Skins®, Red Kap®, Port Authority®, Champion®, Port & Company®, District®, Red House®, Sport-Tek®, CornerStone®, TravisMathew®, Allmade® and Cotopaxi®.
Here are six strategies for financial and environmental sustainability:
Gimelli says the greatest market opportunity for SanMar is sustainable products, with the pandemic highlighting the need for companies and individuals to reduce their impact on the environment.
“Everybody is looking toward sustainability, especially with the impact of COVID-19 on reusable products,” she said. “When we got to the point where we couldn’t even bring reusable grocery bags into stores, it prompted people to recognize how much waste we are putting back into the Earth right now and the need to do something about it.”
Even prior to the pandemic, SanMar had been engaged in a number of sustainable initiatives. The company’s Re-Tee and Re-Fleece products are made of recycled polyester from post-consumer waste combined with recycled cotton from pre-consumer waste such as scraps from factories.
“Our customers are much more educated nowadays,” commented Gimelli. “Gen Z and Millennials are driving demand for this environmentally friendly product. We contract with many universities and they want to know where our products are made and whether they are comprised of responsibly sourced materials.”
Gimelli’s main focus for SanMar is knit and sweater product development, and her goal is to deliver consistent, high performance and durable products in a cost-effective manner.
“As a wholesaler, our customers decorate our product and resell it to an end user. Therefore, it is imperative that we deliver our products at a value that supports their business,” explains Gimelli.
The COVID-19 pandemic has directly impacted the costs of many materials that SanMar relies on for its product manufacturing.
“Petroleum costs have increased, which is a major one. Raw material costs have gone up across the board. Cotton – especially recycled and other sustainable options – has increased a lot and is very difficult to get. Polyester and carton prices have also risen. Then there are the currency fluctuations in China and container shortages across the world. The pandemic has impacted costs at every layer of the supply chain.”
To counteract these challenges, we have found that companies like SanMar are examining where they can offer customers the same high-quality product – even added features – at the same or lower cost. For example, SanMar recently switched to the Sciessent Agion® antimicrobial for superior, long-lasting and sustainable odor protection of garments.
Sciessent has worked hard to reduce costs for our customers by offering free testing, lower shipping costs, free hang tags and other services and support.
“Our previous antimicrobial was no longer meeting our needs so we switched to Agion® and it has been a win-win because our factory has been able to keep the same price,” said Gimelli. “For any apparel company, pricing is key.”
Manufacturers like SanMar are finding it more difficult to purchase recycled raw materials because of the skyrocketing demand, but SanMar’s huge buying power is an advantage when it comes to acquiring these resources.
To help drive greater production of sustainable products, SanMar has been leveraging its relationships in Honduras to manufacture sustainable fabrics. They have partnered with a local mill that will take SanMar’s t-shirt scraps, grind them up and produce yarn from which the company can make additional shirts.
“It will be a completely closed loop,” notes Gimelli.
“We are also doing things like using non-fluorocarbon stain release agents in some of our products,” Gimelli stated. “We are always looking for ways to give our customers the best product performance with less impact to the environment.”
SanMar’s use of the Agion® antimicrobial supports the company’s sustainability goals as well. Sciessent has garnered industry recognition for its commitment to sustainability, including bluesign® approval for all of its technologies – Agion®, ActiveXL, Lava®, Lava XL® and Curb®, listing of these products on the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) Foundation ZDHC Gateway, and Level 3 compliance from the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) Foundation.
Gimelli notes how SanMar conducts extensive testing on its products to ensure enhancements do not alter the color or hand feel.
“We do a huge amount of testing. I have worked in the industry for more than 20 years and I can say that at SanMar we go above and beyond what a regular apparel company might do.”
There is also greater interest among SanMar’s customers in reducing carbon footprint. Gimelli described a new initiative to reduce SanMar’s impact on the environment as it relates to product packaging.
One of SanMar’s main products is polyester polo shirts. Unlike cotton t-shirts that can be stacked on top of one another in large quantities, the polos require special packaging to protect their integrity (e.g., maintain collar shape, prevent wrinkles). SanMar has eliminated the need for individual polybags by using multi blister packs that allow for six garments to be packed together.
“When you are talking about polyester on a container ship that is rocking like crazy, every product in the box shifts,” said Gimelli. “We have been trying to get rid of the blister packs and did some tests. If it’s a polyester product it looks like a tossed salad by the time it arrives – everything is wrinkled and a complete mess in the box.”
Understanding how the company must continue using blister packs when shipping these shirts, Gimelli and her team are working to switch the majority of packaging over to recycled plastics.
“Everybody hates those polybags and there are a lot of countries that have banned single use ones,” said Gimelli.
“Switching to recycled materials would have a huge impact. What is super exciting is that many recycled polybags and blister packs are sold at the same price as normal polybags in many parts of the world. It is going to be a great new, more sustainable option.”
While the pandemic has impacted SanMar’s business in many different ways, what hasn’t changed is its commitment to consistency, performance and durability. These factors are particularly important when manufacturing uniforms and other apparel worn long-term.
“We have to keep the color and hand feel consistent among all of our stock at any time in our products’ lifecycle. When someone, for example in the hospitality industry, has been wearing the same polo shirt day in/day out for years, they recognize when a replacement shirt doesn’t look or feel the same.”
SanMar continues to innovate for its core customers and their everyday needs. For example, they have developed the new SuperPro React polo from the brand Port Authority®. This garment offers a variety of features for added performance and durability, including snag resistance, stain release and easy care. It’s available in 18 colors and four matching styles in the wovens category.
“If a restaurant wants a consistent look across the board, they can uniform their employees from the front of the house to the back in this new polo design,” said Gimelli.
Because SanMar’s customers decorate its apparel, Gimelli points out how careful design consideration is critical to success of the end product. For example, SanMar must design products to stand up to high heat for embellishments such as screen print or heat transfer images. Its designers must also take into account where they place zippers to avoid blocking where customers intend to place features like embroidery.
“There is also a challenge in innovation,” Gimelli added. “How do we come up with a polo shirt design that is different from any of the other 3,000+ styles that we currently offer? And create a look that will stand the test of time. A style is not successful for us unless it lasts a minimum of three years on the market and often we carry it for more than 10 years. My work is very different from retail where it’s a one-and-done.”
While SanMar has worked to overcome its COVID-related challenges, its customers and the end users to which they supply products have had their own struggles. Restrictions have forced many to work remotely, prompting the need for business process changes.
“Everybody has had to figure out how to work from home,” commented Gimelli.
“And when you work with an actual, physical product, such as a garment, with timelines for fittings and approvals, it has been really challenging to coordinate all of it.”
As for the companies and individuals who are the consumers of SanMar partners’ brands, they too have been impacted by the pandemic in their own lives. Recognizing the change in work environments, SanMar has responded with apparel innovations.
For instance, the company has developed zippered pouches for storage of power cords and other supplies to accommodate individuals who are working remotely or traveling between sites.
“Just drop them in, get to the office or go to the park and work from there,” commented Gimelli on this new offering. “This is an example of how we are examining the ‘new norm’ and what we can offer for products to support it.”
Gimelli notes that during the pandemic there has been a shift in demand for more casual apparel.
“With working from home there has definitely been a shift in the type of products our customers are looking for. Tees and sweatshirts have been really hot. Not many people are going back into the office so they are looking for casual and comfortable styling.”
As healthcare organizations worldwide faced shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gowns, many textile and apparel manufacturers, including SanMar, have stepped in to help, shifting production lines to produce these critical supplies.
“Face coverings and other personal protection, such as gaiters and isolation gowns, surged this year,” said Gimelli. “We also started offering scrubs through our partnership with WonderWink.”
Our work with SanMar has helped the company develop innovative offerings for its clients, while containing costs and protecting the environment.
The Sciessent team has decades of experience working with textile manufacturers on product innovations designed for performance and safety.
We aim to provide a seamless transition to our technologies through unparalleled service and support – from solution selection, testing, manufacturing and marketing.
Contact us at 781.224.7100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’d love to explore how we can help lower your costs and improve the effectiveness of your products’ antimicrobial technology – all while protecting the environment. Let’s get in touch.Contact Us