For our SUMANI project, our team was paired with the sustainable undergarment company, In Common. We were tasked with creating a product life cycle assessment (LCA) focusing on GHG emissions that would help the company achieve its goals of accountability and increased carbon transparency. Starting the project was fairly difficult due to an unclear scope and internal indecision about which product the team should perform an LCA on.
It was not until the midpoint presentation that the team and In Common determined what our final deliverable would be. Although it took us several weeks to get to this point, we were well prepared for the task. We began by doing general research on the materials the company uses, as well as where these materials are sourced from and manufactured. Part of the team members carried out literature reviews while other teammates focused on the data necessary to carry out the LCA. LCAs are heavily reliant on the accessibility of data and it is usually a challenge for a small business to complete them. It was unrealistic for the team to complete an entire cradle-to-grave LCA because In Common did not possess the necessary full value chain information. However, In Common did have some data available, so we were able to perform a partial LCA on one pair of its “Better Bikini” underwear, which analyzed only the sewing process of its manufacturing phase. To do this analysis, we used the EcoInvent database and academic sources to obtain the emissions factors associated with five key sewing processes: fabric lamination, body sewing, elastic sewing, gusset sewing, and finishing.
We found that the sewing phase for one pair of the “Better Bikini” emits 112.71 g CO2e. To make this more tangible for In Common, we compared this number to the emissions associated with the sewing process of a denim jacket. We determined that approximately 14.8 pairs of underwear are equivalent to one denim jacket and that In Common’s current sewing process– in terms of GHG emissions– is in line with the rest of the fashion industry. Although we were not able to help In Common determine whether or not their products emit less (or more) than similar products on the market, the team provided a comprehensive list of suggestions for the company. We suggested the ongoing collection of data in order to perform a life cycle assessment that will map out a garment from its raw materials phase to its end of life. Additionally, we discussed the GHG hot spots associated with the fashion industry as a whole and how In Common could make changes to its current processes to ensure that the company is minimizing its GHG impact overall. This LCA of their sewing process is a good starting place for In Common to build a full LCA on in the future. Though there were many learning curves during the project, we found this experience to be extremely valuable for gaining experience in sustainability consulting.