Salewa Committed: Five questions for Alexandra Letts

With the first collection of 2022, Salewa is introducing its Salewa Committed icon. 243 styles in the SALEWA apparel collection and 16 items in the equipment collection are labelled with the icon to make it easier for customers to identity the most sustainable products.

All the company’s products that stand out due to their environmental or social responsibility features will be labelled with the company’s own special hang tag. We spoke to Alexandra Letts, Sustainability Manager Salewa, about the new Salewa Committed icon.

Salewa is installing its own label for sustainability and transparency. What is the goal behind this and why don’t you take up existing seals – FWF, Bluesign – together as a network so that they become more present with the end consumer?

Sustainability is a wide and diverse topic, there is currently a whole jungle of logos and labels out there. In our opinion most of them are not able to cover all aspects of sustainability and transparency. They might provide objective standards, however the consumer is obliged to go away and do their own research to get informed We want to underline our values and our philosophy – for example that we are a people business, that we assume social responsibility, promote new ideas and offer a vision – the Salewa Committed label confirms these values. It is a holistic concept that combines corporate social responsibility, safe use of chemicals and material sourcing with clear standards and full transparency – values that are important to both us and our customers. In addition, we don’t want to be dependent on extremal certifications.

Two of the three Salewa Committed criteria are obligatory: The social audit of our manufacturers and chemical testing of materials. The first criterion is based on the Oberalp Code of Conduct, which was put in place to ensure that there are fair social standards and working conditions in our factories. This is audited and certified by third party agencies. We have no intention of resting on our laurels with our Fair Wear Foundation Leader Status, instead we are continually monitoring what the conditions are like for the workers who sew our clothes. This audit underpins this first criterion.

The second compulsory criterion is chemical testing of the materials used. All products are subject to the Oberalp Chemical Policy. The policy is effectively a catalogue of chemical substances that are either banned, or subject to strictly limited use. Our policy has a stricter Restricted Substances List (RSL) than bluesign®, which already provides a good basis for sustainability standards, yet in our opinion does not go far enough. This is why we also conduct our own tests, or have our materials tested by external laboratories. These tests guarantee that only chemically safe products are using during manufacturing.

Moreover, in addition to these first two criteria, at least one further criterion needs to be fulfilled for a product to conform with the Salewa Committed label and which can apply to different products, from fabrics, to footwear or textile equipment. For example, the individual manufacturing stages of our down products are certified by the Responsible Down Standard, or certain products are made of more than 50 per cent recycled or upcycled materials, or products are made of natural or sustainably grown materials (for example, linen, viscose, Tencel or hemp) or made of our Alpine Merino wool or TirolWool and have a PFC-free, water-repellent finish.

What is the USP of Salewa Committed? How does it compare to other sustainable labelling or certification schemes, such as the Grüner Knopf (Green Button) in Germany?

Due to our annual Sustainability Report and the Brand Performance Check by the Fair Wear Foundation, we are able to constantly evaluate how we are doing and make holistic improvements. Many certifications only apply to certain aspects relevant to the sustainable fabric manufacturing. With Salewa Committed, we can offer customers greater transparency that covers a wider range of sustainability criteria.

The above-mentioned Chemical Policy and Code of Conduct are obligatory for all our suppliers. The latter bans all use of child labour, all forms of discrimination, and protects the right to fair pay and reasonable hours of work. Salewa Committed goes a step further: in addition to auditing our manufacturing sites and chemical testing, a further third criterion must be fulfilled.

The Green Button certification label does cover many relevant aspects. However, it is a national scheme, specific to Germany, which is not sufficient for us as an international brand.

How can customers find out more about Salewa Committed? Which methods are you using to explain the certification label?

From Summer 2022, each Salewa Committed product will have its own label – for textile products, it’s a label on the fabric, for footwear, socks, equipment and accessories, we use a hang tag. The Salewa Committed criteria are already on display in Salewa stores and on our website. Moreover, there will be a Salewa Committed communication campaign in February.

Are there plans to make the standards for the Salewa Committed Label even stricter? For example, by adding additional compulsory criteria, so 2+2 instead of 2+1?

This is a new certification icon, so naturally there is plenty of potential for further improvements. This could also be in response to feedback from customers or sales staff. In the first phase, we intend to improve as many products as possible to bring them up to Salewa Committed level. Making the criteria stricter could be part of a second phase. For example, it would be conceivable to include a ‘circular’ standard. This could apply to products that meet criteria for having an extremely long lifespan and easy repairability, that minimize use of raw materials and are recyclable. There is a further conceivable criterion relating to leather sourcing, where we are currently investigating best practices. And we want to introduce the Salewa Committed standard for our proprietary technical hardware – naturally without making any compromises on safety.

Does using renewable raw materials, such as cotton, automatically guarantee that these meet environmental and socially responsible standards? Is Salewa planning to focus more on where it sources its raw materials in future and then apply the Salewa Committed label here too?

Correct, renewable materials are not per se environmentally friendly and socially responsible. For this reason, when Salewa sources fabrics and materials, it insists that they comply with our environmental and socially responsible standards and that they are fully traceable. We have a long-term relationship with most of our suppliers, which is based on trust and mutual support. The wool in our TirolWool apparel is supplied by a project with Tirolean and South Tyrolean mountain farmers.

We found a technique to process the wool from their sheep, which is naturally coarser, to make it suitable for use in our technical clothing, while supporting local shepherds in the process. As a result, this helps to uphold both alpine sheep farming traditions and nature protection measures. We know exactly where these sheep are reared and are able to guarantee the highest social and environmental standards. The Alpine Merino wool in our functional T-shirts and base layers is produced by Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) certified farms where mulesing is prohibited. Our hemp suppliers have a fully traceable supply chain and are happy to provide information about their materials and production at any time.

We are currently conducting trials with European hemp; Our mid-term goal here is to cultivate our own hemp here in South Tyrol. The viscose we use is from Lenzing, a supplier that meets the very highest procurement standards. Our cotton is supplied by companies that make no use of forced labour, where it is grown organically we communicate this.

These are all additional factors that we have not included in our first Salewa Committed communication phase, in order to keep it as simple as possible. Nevertheless, we have deliberately identified “natural/ renewable materials” as a criterion for the reasons mentioned above.

Moreover, we view Salewa Committed as a pledge to continue making further improvements, so yes this does mean that our criteria will become stricter over the time. If you would like to know more, we would be very happy to provide more detailed information.

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