What is Sustainable Workwear? Ethical Work Clothes, Technologies & Brands

As businesses and employees become increasingly aware of the impact manufacturing has on the environment, the demand for sustainable clothing is growing. It is particularly relevant in the workwear sector, where there is a recognition that sustainable products also provide other valuable benefits.

Healthcare workers wearing sustainable work clothes

In this article, we explore the topic of sustainable work clothes, answering frequently asked questions, discussing the benefits to employees and employers, and examining several workwear brands that are ahead of the game for sustainability.

What is sustainable workwear?

Sustainable workwear is clothing worn in a professional environment that is designed and manufactured to minimize negative social and environmental impact. It includes uniforms, protective equipment and other items used in the work setting and is an increasingly important consideration for businesses and employees. While some organizations provide their staff with workwear – so the decision over whether to use sustainable clothing is up to the company itself – many employees are responsible for sourcing their own workwear. As such, the sustainable work clothes sector operates on both a B2B and B2C level.

What makes work clothes and clothing in general sustainable?

Sustainability refers to several different factors, and genuinely sustainable workwear will consider all of these factors. For instance, workwear that employs environmentally friendly manufacturing processes but utilizes unsustainable or environmentally damaging raw materials cannot be deemed sustainable.

The critical factors affecting sustainability include:

Materials

Certain raw materials have a profoundly negative impact on the natural environment and are considered unsustainable. Often, how these materials are grown or harvested can affect their sustainability, too. For instance, regular cotton is regarded as environmentally damaging and unsustainable. However, in many cases, organic cotton is considered sustainable. Sustainable workwear will always utilize sustainable materials. 

Manufacturing processes

Sustainable workwear requires businesses to employ environmentally friendly manufacturing methods and attempt to reduce their water and energy consumption. It also typically involves minimizing waste and emissions.  

Employment practices

Businesses looking to produce sustainable workwear must also consider employment practices and ensure the provision of fair wages, safe working conditions and ethical treatment of employees. Critically, this must occur throughout the supply chain. Companies that source raw materials from sources that exploit human labor cannot be considered sustainable.

Durability

Sustainable work clothing is built to last and prioritizes longevity. This is because the vast majority of a product’s environmental footprint is tied to the manufacturing stage. As such, products that don’t last particularly long require users to make more regular purchases, drastically increasing ecological costs and resource use. With this in mind, sustainable workwear benefits from a long product lifespan.

Recyclability and end-of-life considerations

Sustainable work clothing considers a product’s entire life cycle, including the post-use stage. Consequently, it prioritizes materials that can be recycled or are biodegradable and avoids harmful materials, such as those that contain microplastics. The ultimate aim is a circular economy, in which as much of a product is recycled, upcycled or repurposed, minimizing the amount of clothing sent to landfills.

Certification

To ensure transparency and build trust, manufacturers of sustainable workwear look to independent certifications and accreditations. This validates the claims made by the manufacturer and enables businesses and individuals to make informed decisions. Transparency in every aspect of the manufacturing process, including the supply chain, is required.

Generally, sustainable and ethical workwear seeks to minimize its products’ ecological footprints and encourage responsible work practices. While ethical work clothing manufacturers will attempt to take positive steps towards achieving all of the above aims, many will find it easier to tick off certain criteria and more challenging to achieve others. 

Workers in a factory wearing sustainable uniforms

Benefits of sustainable workwear for businesses

  1. Reduced environmental impact

Sustainable workwear typically utilizes more eco-friendly materials and incorporates technologies that lower lifetime environmental impact. As such, businesses benefit from a reduced carbon footprint and products that are better for the environment and more appealing to customers. 

  • Brand image

Customers look more favorably on organizations that attempt to reduce their environmental impact or manufacture sustainable products. Consequently, brands enjoy broader customer appeal when they make a concerted effort to shift towards more eco-friendly manufacturing processes, products and technologies.

  • Improved employee morale

Employees who recognize the importance of sustainability and environmentally friendly business practices will feel more comfortable in an organization that promotes or provides sustainable work clothes. When employer and employee values align, employees are more likely to feel satisfied in their work, resulting in improved performance and productivity. 

  • Cost-savings

If a business provides workwear for employees, rather than staff paying for it out of their own money, sustainable apparel can generate significant cost savings. By its very nature, it is generally more durable and longer-lasting than standard workwear, as longevity is intrinsic to sustainability. Fast fashion and disposable items cannot be sustainable. Thanks to this enhanced durability, sustainable workwear does not need to be replaced as frequently, lowering long-term costs.

  • Innovation

Some organizations distinguish themselves by their innovative approach. Adopting sustainable workwear can help companies achieve this and is particularly useful for businesses that position themselves as market leaders. It can help the organization attract clients, partners and investors who prioritize a forward-thinking and innovative approach.

  • Future-proofing

There can be little doubt that the long-term trends suggest sustainable clothing is the future. Making the switch to sustainable uniforms now enables businesses to leverage all the benefits listed above, many of which won’t apply if you are last to the party. At the same time, it prepares your organization for the future and ensures you are ahead of the game.

types of sustainable workwear

Benefits of sustainable workwear for employees

  1. Comfort and quality

In general, sustainable workwear utilizes higher-quality materials, resulting in a more comfortable fit and feel. At the same time, innovative sustainability technologies like Polygiene StayFresh™ further enhance comfort by guaranteeing a fresher-for-longer feel that ensures employees benefit from greater self-confidence.

  • Employee satisfaction

Many employees take pride in working for an employer that prioritizes sustainability and ethical work practices. Sustainable work clothes can feed into this pride and ensure staff feel positively about the company they work for. This alignment of values is especially important for environmentally-conscious employees and can be a powerful motivator. 

  • Durability

When employees pay for their workwear, they want apparel that will last a long time. Otherwise, they are constantly spending money to replace items. Sustainable workwear is necessarily durable and should provide many years of service, reducing overall costs to the employee.

  • Lower maintenance costs

At the same time, sustainable workwear that incorporates Polygiene StayFresh or Polygiene OdorCrunch™ technology can also be washed less frequently. This means the employee uses less energy and water, reducing washing costs and cutting utility bills.

Polygiene solutions enhance sustainability

Polygiene solutions can play a significant role in enhancing workwear sustainability. The Polygiene Freshness portfolio includes two odor-control solutions that provide effective antimicrobial protection and enhance sustainability. These are Polygiene StayFresh™ and Polygiene OdorCrunch™.

Polygiene StayFresh is based on silver chloride – a salt that occurs naturally in water and soil – and stops odor-causing bacteria on textiles by binding to the bacterial cell wall, interrupting replication and affecting the enzymes that help bacteria produce energy. In doing so, it keeps clothes fresh and smell-free. You can find Polygiene StayFresh in a lot of modern workwear.

Polygiene OdorCrunch is a sand-based technology that takes a slightly different approach. It crunches the molecules responsible for bad odors. Essentially, it attracts the oxygen, nitrogen and sulfur molecules that cause unpleasant smells, surrounds them and breaks them down, releasing them from the fabric and eliminating the odor. Polygiene OdorCrunch is also used extensively in workwear. These chef uniforms are an excellent example.

Chefs wearing sustainable workwear

These Polygiene solutions are incredibly effective ways of creating more sustainable products. Both solutions are incorporated into textiles at the point of manufacture and provide protection for a product’s entire lifespan. By eliminating smells and keeping clothing fresh, they ensure workwear does not need to be washed as frequently. This saves time, money and natural resources. It also extends the product’s expected lifespan, as washing is very tough on materials. In a recent life cycle assessment, Polygiene StayFresh was proven to reduce a T-shirt’s ecological footprint by up to a third.

Examining the best sustainable workwear brands

Many workwear brands are now producing more sustainable apparel, and there is a wealth of brands to choose from when discussing the sector’s leading lights. Below, we have highlighted five of the most impressive and innovative workwear brands on the market, all focused on improving sustainability in their products. 

General Tactic

General Tactic manufactures sustainable uniforms for law enforcement agencies and military personnel. With more than 25 years of experience in the industry, General Tactic has built a reputation as an innovative manufacturer that prioritizes smart technology, cutting-edge fabrics and extensive research and development. General Tactic integrates Polygiene StayFresh into its workwear to guarantee a fresher-for-longer feel, reduce the need for washing and improve sustainability. This has allowed it to replicate traditional law enforcement and military aesthetics while delivering groundbreaking performance. 

Bonmax

Bonmax is one of Japan’s leading providers of workwear and corporate uniforms, providing products for large swathes of the country’s service sector. The company can trace its origins back to 1906 but began producing uniforms in 1948, developing a strong client base focused primarily on hotels, offices and retail businesses. Uniforms are mandatory throughout much of Japan’s service sector, and Bonmax provides both ready-to-wear and made-to-order uniforms, the latter via one of the company’s subsidies. In recent years, Bonmax has placed a greater emphasis on sustainability and began integrating Polygiene StayFresh into many of its uniforms since 2018.

workwear antibacterial
Bonmax workwear

Tricorp

Tricorp is the foremost provider of workwear in the Netherlands and is renowned for its progressive and sustainable approach to design and manufacturing. The company successfully balances aesthetics, comfort, and sustainability concerns, resulting in apparel that looks and feels great while boasting a reduced environmental impact. The brand aims for 100% circular workwear and has implemented a recycling program where used workwear is collected for reuse in new textile products. It also treats its RE2050 collection of T-shirts and polos with Polygiene StayFresh.

Worksoul

Berlin-based Worksoul is looking to shake up the medical workwear sector by manufacturing scrubs and other healthcare garments with an improved look and feel. Tired of workwear that didn’t fit or completely ignored aesthetics, Worksoul wanted to create apparel that bucked the trend and showed scrubs could be comfortable and stylish. Of course, the items also needed to perform to the highest standards and function in a healthcare environment. By incorporating Polygiene StayFresh, the Worksould team met all of its design criteria, enhancing product sustainability and ensuring healthcare employees enjoy the benefits of fresher-for-longer clothing.

Worksoul scrubs

Wholesafety

A global manufacturer with sites in London, China, India, Bulgaria, and Bangladesh, Wholesafety leverages extensive design expertise to create innovative uniforms for organizations in varied industries, including healthcare, emergency rescue, transport, military and law enforcement, and oil and gas. Recognizing that washing clothes significantly impacts their longevity and material strength, Wholesafety introduced Polygiene StayFresh into many of its uniforms, enabling employees to Wear More and Wash Less. While this clearly benefits the employees, it also results in more sustainable uniforms and a more environmentally friendly approach to Wholesafety’s product life cycles.

Polygiene and sustainable workwear

At Polygiene, we believe sustainability, outstanding performance, and style go hand-in-hand. Our solutions enable manufacturers to incorporate effective antimicrobial protection into any garment, keeping it fresher for longer and enhancing product sustainability. Polygiene StayFresh and Polygiene OdorCrunch can be used individually or in conjunction to extend products’ expected lifespans, reduce resource consumption, and save users time and money. As this article discusses, there are also considerable benefits for employers.

To learn more about our solutions, head to the Polygiene StayFresh and Polygiene OdorCrunch solution pages or reach out to our expert team to discuss your workwear needs.