CEO discusses environmentally friendly fashion
Anchor Knitwear CEO Anthony Corsano: “We all have to take a more active role in supporting the companies that we believe are doing the right thing because if we don’t use our dollars, which is our most powerful means to move an organization or move the world, we let an opportunity go by.”

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1:34 p.m., March 19, 2010----Anthony Corsano, CEO of Anvil Knitwear, gave a behind the scenes perspective of the T-shirt production industry during a Fashioning Social Responsibility distinguished lecture, held Tuesday, March 16, at the University of Delaware's Trabant University Center Theatre.

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Corsano explained to an audience of students, faculty and community members how the products Anvil makes are created and the justification behind some of their decisions in a lecture entitled "Do You Know Where the Products You Buy Come From? Do You Care? Should You Care?” Marsha Dickson, professor and chairperson of the Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies, introduced Corsano and said it is rare for companies in the fashion industry to disclose information about product production to the public.

Anvil Knitwear's six point mission -- constant innovation, unequivocal excellence in customer service, outstanding products at affordable prices, social responsibility, fiscal soundness and environmental stewardship -- is used to ensure it operates with a deep and continued commitment to respecting the planet and all who live on it, Corsano said.

“We've been around for 131 years,” he said. “The reason we've been around that long is that we are the innovators, believe it or not, in the T-shirt industry. Our competitors are multibillion dollar corporations, very big ships that find it very difficult to turn. We're about a $200 million business, and we're able to bring to market product that's needed and new product that's up and coming that customers desire, and we're able to bring it to market quickly and we're able to exit quickly. Our place in this market has always been innovation.”

When Anvil Knitwear entered the environmentally friendly product market, Corsano said the prices for T-shirts with organic cotton ranged from $5 to $6. He said he wanted Anvil Knitwear to be able to set their prices as close to the price of a traditional shirt (approximately $1.90) as possible so that their clientele would be more likely to buy the products in mass. Today, Anvil Knitwear's least expensive shirt produced with organic materials costs $2.77.

Corsano said that their environmental product makes up approximately 10 percent of their volume, so at this time, the greatest environmental impact the company can make is with their policies, practices and procedures, rather than the final products.

Not only does Corsano think that the company's environmental friendly actions are the right thing to do, but it also saves the company money as a manufacturer, adding that its sustainable initiatives saves the company about $900,000 annually.

Over the past four years, Corsano said, Anvil Knitwear has become the sixth largest buyer of organic cotton in the world and the largest U.S. buyer of U.S. grown cotton.

“We can take off the table whether this is a fad or a trend, or whether this is where the world is going,” he said about the use of environmentally friendly components in clothing products. “We know this is where the world is going.”

Among those efforts, Anvil Knitwear tries to spread environmental awareness and education.

“I think most people get their arms around why they might want to, for instance, eat organically grown food, but I'm not sure everybody has a real understanding of why they might want to wear organically grown cotton in their apparel,” he said. “So we're trying to go out to the world and educate them as to the benefits. We are not saying that it's healthier -- there are some people who believe it is healthier -- but for us, it's really about the environment and the fact that pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers aren't used.”

As a part of the company's efforts on expanding knowledge of organically made clothing, the company produced TrackMyT.com, an interactive Web site that allows purchasers of Anvil Knitwear products to watch how their individual product was created, via a customized code found on each shirt. At the Web site, visitors can learn about the machines, facilities and individuals that are responsible for the creation of their T-shirts through videos, pictures and stories. The service is currently implemented with the company's youth T-shirts, and Corsano says he hopes to expand that to all of Anvil Knitwear's T-shirts in the future.

Since Anvil Knitwear sells primarily to the business-to-business market and under private label brands, Corsano said product safety and integrity is crucial, as it is important for other businesses to be assured that they are getting exactly what they think they are getting from Anvil Knitwear.

“People are really tuned in to the product they're buying and whether it's made safely and whether it's actually made at the level it was supposed to be made at. We take product safety and integrity very seriously,” he said. “[Major brands] need to know that if we say to them that we have social and environmental programs in place and the product we are providing them meets those standards and is grown with organic cotton, they need to be 100 percent sure of that. They can't afford to take our product out with them and then find that it's not made at the standard we said.”

While acknowledging that people have many things to do at any given time, Corsano urged the importance of people being responsible consumers.

“We all have to take a more active role in supporting the companies that we believe are doing the right thing because if we don't use our dollars, which is our most powerful means to move an organization or move the world, we let an opportunity go by,” he said. “So decide on a product or a group of products and do research, and put your hard earned dollars into those products because that's what will move companies to do more of this.”

The lecture was cosponsored by the UD College of Education and Public Policy, Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies, Fashion Merchandising Club and UD Office of the Provost, and is supported by the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics.

Article by Jon Bleiweis
Photo by Evan Krape

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