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Clothing (Apparel)

NavigationMinimum Sustainable Recommendations | What are the issues? | What are the options? 

Did you know...Conventional cotton, one of the most widely used natural fibers, is one of the most chemically-dependent crops, using up to 10% of all agricultural chemicals and 25% of insecticides on 3 percent of our arable land; that's more than any other crop per unit. That adds up to 1/3 of a pound of chemicals to produce enough cotton for a t-shirt, and 3/4 of a pound for a pair of jeans (Treehugger).

Minimum Sustainable Recommendations

Minimum specifications for the selection of apparel must include the following:

  1. Design and color choices aimed at longevity rather than planned obsolescence.
  2. All fabrics and fabric blends for the garments being proposed must be tested for shrinkage, color fastness and durability to ensure the garment’s color quality, size and shape remain intact when washed, exposed to light or rubbed. Confirmation the fabrics meet test criteria must be provided.
  3. All fabrics and fabric blends should not need to be ironed. Fabrics selected should be naturally wrinkle free and not chemically treated to reduce wrinkles.
  4. All fabrics must be breathable. If antimicrobial treatment is used to support odor control the treatment must be safe for the environment and must not be depleted during wear or during laundering. 
  5. All fabrics proposed must be easily laundered (machine washable) and thoroughly cleaned in cool water using environmentally friendly detergents and green bleaches, and quick dry;
  6. Contractor should propose fabrics or fabric blends that are either:
    • Certified organic natural fibers (e.g. cotton, linen); and/or
    • Highly renewable fibers (e.g. bamboo, hemp); and/or
    • Low-impact recycled synthetic fibres (e.g. polyester).  
  7. All fabrics proposed should be created by using non-toxic or reduced toxicity manufacturing processes and treatments.
  8. When required, the contractor must offer alternative designs/custom-made options to ensure persons with disabilities can be accommodated.
  9. The Procurement Services Branch of the Manitoba Government purchases clothing using the requirements outlined in the Responsible Manufacturers Policy - Clothing. To ensure Responsible Manufacturing, the following statement must be provided to bidders for their review and signature:
By submitting an offer with Responsible Manufacturers Informations, the Bidder will certify, that to the best of its knowledge, the manufacturer and any subcontractors for the item(s) offered, complies with Local Labour Laws and Minimum Labour RIghts noted in the tender; and will continue to do so throughout the duration of any contract resulting from this tender.
Bidders must provide the name and address of all factories and production facilities used in the manufacture and assembly of clothing and must declare that all clothing is manufactured in accordance with all laws applicable in the jurisdiction of their production and in accordance with minimum labour rights set out in the Manitoba Responsible Manufacturers Policy - Clothing.
The Bidder hereby certifies that the manufacturer and sub-contractors for the item on offer are in compliance with international labour standards and all applicable local labour laws in the location in which the item is manufactured.
Yes ______
Signature ____________


Other things to consider

Specifications in this document do not include specialized materials required for Emergency Services apparel (e.g. Fire Fighting apparel) Safety considerations must come first when selecting fabrics for various uniforms.

For added social and environmental benefit, consider purchasing clothing with a third-party certification such as Fair Trade (FLO) or the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI).


What are the issues?

In all aspects of our lives there are ways to lessen our environmental footprint. The production of fibers and the manufacturing of clothing have significant impacts on the environment.

Producing the fiber for clothing is extremely land, water and energy intensive. Different fibers have different impacts depending on what they are made of. Nylon and polyester, which is made from petroleum chemicals, are non-biodegradable. Nylon manufacture creates nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas and polyester uses large amounts of water for cooling, along with lubricants which can become a source of contamination. Rayon (viscose), another artificial fiber made from wood pulp which is often treated with hazardous chemicals such as caustic soda and sulphuric acid. Cotton although a natural fiber is considered a pesticide intensive crop. Cotton also takes up a large proportion of agricultural land and requires a lot of water to reach maturity. Chemical defoliants are sometimes used to aid mechanical cotton harvesting adding to the toll on both the environment and human health.

Manufacturing fiber into fabric may require bleaching, dyeing, and finishing, using yet more energy and water, and creating more pollution. Natural cloth such as cotton is often bleached using chlorine compounds before the dyeing process takes place. Clothing dye often contains heavy metals and dioxins which when released into the environment can be harmful to the ecosystems and human health. The dyeing process results in the release of unfixed dye that washes out of the garments and into the wastewater. Both the chlorine and unfixed dyes can end up in rivers if treatment plants fail to remove the chemicals from the wastewater. Additives such as flame retardants and chemicals such as formaldehyde to make crease resistant and permanent press cotton, may also be added to the fibers contributing to wastewater and human health impacts.

Impacts associated with creating the garments often center on the social issues.  In a constant chase for low prices, much of the garment production industry has been outsourced to developing countries where the production costs are comparatively low. In these countries, the workers' conditions are often forgotten. It is not unusual for workers to accept low wages and extensive overtime work in an environment that is directly hazardous to the worker. In an attempt to improve the social conditions, many companies have adopted codes of conduct and social standards.

In addition to the environmental and social issues associated with clothing, persons with disabilities may require alternatively designed clothing to accommodate their barriers. The Accessibility for Manitobans Act and its related standards require entities to identify and prevent barriers to accessibility in operations. For a person who has a physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment, a barrier is anything that interacts with that impairment in a way that may hinder the person's full and effective participation on an equal basis. Ensuring that goods and services we procure do not create new accessibility barriers is therefore important.


What are the options?

Many clothing manufacturers and their suppliers are working towards a more responsible, transparent supply chain. Many have made commitments to environmental stewardship and ethical supply chain practices. Because sustainability has become an essential core value of many clothing manufacturers/suppliers, many sustainable clothing options are available in the marketplace. Many clothing manufacturers and their suppliers have established supplier code of conducts and can accommodate our provincial responsible manufacturing requirements. For more information on responsible manufacturing and to develop specification wording for clothing bid documents refer to the Province of Manitoba’s Responsible Manufacturer’s Policy.

To accommodate persons with disabilities, options for alternate designs must be offered by the clothing contractor.


Last updated:  January 2019


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