Sustainable T-Shirts: From Cotton Picker to Customer | Ministries


Blog entry | 2021-07-21 | Others about BZ . work

How can a cheap shirt be sustainable? The clothing company Ziemann thinks about every step of the process and wants to be transparent about it. For example, a clothing label does not contain “Made in China”, but contains a link to the country of production. Interview with Arnoud van Vliet, Director of Sustainability at the family business.

picture: Sailor

Fair and sustainable production of clothing, especially in low-wage countries. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs wants to make sure that Dutch clothing companies comply with this abroad. One of the companies for which it bears responsibility is the ZEMAN company. Whereas in 2016, only 5 percent of the total cotton in Zimanwinkel was produced sustainably, in 2020 this percentage was already 42 percent.

Even 2 percent of it was recycled cotton. This is a fairly coarse cotton made from leftovers, such as bits of waste and yarn that would have ended up in a mountain of waste. Perfect for socks, for example. We are constantly raising the bar,” says Arnaud van Vliet, CSR and Quality Director who previously spoke of Zeeman’s ambitions. “We want better sustainable materials for farmers, people and nature.” Goodwill, but how does it go hand in hand with lower prices?

Boat Transportation

‘Cheap has to be bad,’ is the logic sometimes. Remember, it’s not necessarily the other way around: an expensive piece of clothing does not guarantee that the product has been sustainably produced. According to Arnaud, sustainability is in essential things. “Our focus is on basic textiles: clothing that is insensitive to fashion trends, such as white T-shirts.” This puts less pressure on the supply chain.

No rush, so Zeeman can transport the T-shirts to Holland by container ship. After a month of sailing, the shirts were transported not on a truck in the port of Rotterdam, but on inland freight to the distribution center in Alvin aan de Rennes. This takes longer but is cheaper.


picture: Sailor

Basic T-shirts always sell out

You can always sell basic items of clothing, because everyone needs them at some point. Zeeman can maintain a consistent low price because we sell every T-shirt and therefore never leave stock. Unlike fashion brands that sell fashion. Often they raise the price a little, because they take into account that a part will be sold through the sale. What also makes the price low is the fact that Zeeman pays suppliers immediately after shipment rather than months later. This way, Zeeman does not have to pay additional interest charges.

Moreover, Zeeman chose a simple design – which saves on production costs. You also won’t find fashionable store fixtures or expensive packaging in Zeman; Loose shirts in the trash. A team of 9 buyers only works in the head office. In addition to running this smart business that keeps the price down, the family business is trying to work on sustainability in other ways.

Intelligent Business Processes

picture: Sailor

Sustainable clothing and textiles

For example, Zeman has committed to the ICSR on Sustainable Apparel and Textiles, an initiative to which the State Department is a party; The ministry, for example, is a member of the steering committee. Arnaud: This helps a lot. We can ask the account manager questions and attend workshops on how to implement OECD guidelines to prevent human rights abuses such as exploitation and environmental damage.

Furthermore, Zeeman is the first Dutch opponent to join the Fair Wear Foundation. This organization works – with the support of the State Department – to improve working conditions in factories, such as the living wage. “It’s not enough just a living wage,” Arnaud says. It is also related to other aspects such as obtaining an employment contract, compensation for overtime, equal treatment of women and good arrangement during pregnancy.

a poster

In factories where Zeman makes T-shirts, there are labels with information about workers’ rights and a line of complaints. Workers can file a complaint anonymously to Fear Wear if they believe their rights are being violated. Fair Wear and Zeeman are working together to resolve these complaints and Fair Wear reports publicly. Arnaud: It’s twofold: I naturally hope there are no problems that could lead to complaints, but the textile sector still faces many challenges. Openness is necessary to improve working conditions.

Labels with a link to the country of production

Zeman has a look at the factories where their clothes are made. But the company also wants to have a deeper control in the chain, and therefore it has also mapped the supply chain. This is a good job, because Zeman has no direct contact with the cotton growers of Turkey, India, the United States and China. There are still a number of parties between them: suppliers buy cotton from spinning mills, who, in turn, buy cotton from their suppliers. ZEMANN lists all manufacturers and suppliers on the website and in the annual report.

Consumers can search the care label of their shirt. Instead of “Made in China”, here is a link to more information on the relevant country of production: For each region, we provide insight into where the products come from and the situation there.

Transparency risk

There are also risks associated with transparency: negative publicity. In May 2021, research by Sumo and Arisa showed that several Dutch clothing brands are dealing with Indian spinning mills where forced labor occurs. Zeeman was also mentioned in that study – it’s one of the few clothing brands that’s transparent. The cotton was purchased by a middleman for an Indian supplier who produces for Zeman. Arnaud: We’ve entered into a dialogue with Textile Charter, ETI and Fairwear, but unfortunately the respective yarn mill has not been willing to enter into discussions with us. After repeated attempts, we had to end the cooperation in July 2020.’

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