Calvin Klein is one of the biggest faces of minimalist fashion and underwear. They’re in a position where how they choose to shape their brand can be defining for the conduct of similar brands in their industry - which is why a push in how well they practice sustainability could have such broad, positive implications.
The vast (vast) majority of the information available on Calvin Klein’s sustainability is found on parent company PVH’s website. For Calvin Klein itself to not have a website section on even corporate responsibility is a bit disappointing; it’d be unusual for the average consumer to know who owns Calvin Klein and thus where to look here for a sustainability report.
It’s a little frustrating to see parent companies making blanket sustainability reports that lack brand-specific sustainability initiatives or data; I couldn’t rate the bralette particularly high on its sustainability without knowing how sustainable specifically Calvin Klein’s products are. Consumers have no way of knowing to which brands or products the claims PVH makes on sustainability (e.g. half their cotton being sourced sustainably in 2020) apply. Calvin Klein’s levels of transparency are also in need of some thorough improvement - the tiny ‘How It’s Made’ section of this review indicates this alone...
Calvin Klein has so much potential to be a trailblazer in sustainable clothing basics, but as a standalone brand seem lacklustre in this area, despite PVH’s grand sustainability goals.
The bralette’s composition is 53% cotton, 35% modal, and 12% elastane. It is unspecified whether or not the cotton is organic and where it is grown. In 2020, PVH reported sourcing half of its cotton footprint sustainably, but there is no way of knowing if this applies to specifically Calvin Klein, let alone this particular garment. Generally, the cultivation of cotton can degrade the quality of soil, consequently destroying habitats. Many pesticides are used in the production of cotton which can pollute local ecosystems and bodies of water.
Modal (made of beech tree pulp) is known to be less water-intensive than some other textiles, which is a plus. However, the process of modal production can be quite chemically intensive; sodium hydroxide and carbon disulphide are used in its treatment. High concentrations of sodium hydroxide ions can result in toxic effects for aquatic organisms - but it doesn’t tend to persist in the environment, so these risks are minimal.
Elastane is made from non-renewable and energy-intensive fossil fuels, and its production is another chemical-heavy process. Synthetic dyes, which can be very polluting, tend to be used for elastane. There is also the issue of non-biodegradability with elastane; its fibres gradually shed and hang around in the environment.
Having a blend of fabrics for this bralette (especially the combination of natural and synthetic) makes separation for recycling very difficult, requiring high levels of energy to produce any meaningful results. This garment is also not fully biodegradable as a result of the elastane running through it.
The website states that the bralette’s country of origin is Sri Lanka. I couldn’t source any information on its production, either from components of the supply chain or from the actual manufacturing of the garment. PVH mentions efforts to reduce levels of carbon emissions, but they don’t mention whether they actively offset all of the emissions occurring from garment production. The lack of transparency in Calvin Klein’s production processes is a little concerning...
There is no information on the actual people who make this bralette, or those further down the supply chain. With respect to the broader picture of who makes this product, we look to PVH. Their website’s section on responsibility flexes transparency and movement of the fashion industry toward innovative and responsible futures. They have a key target of PVH offices, warehouses and stores being powered by 100% renewable electricity by 2030, with the company reducing the emissions of its supply chain by 30%. All PVH offices, distribution centres, and stores are to achieve zero waste by 2030. PVH also expresses these aims with the word ‘will,’ as opposed to phrases such as ‘aim to.’ It looks like they have made some reductions in their carbon usage, but it’s unclear if they are actually on track for these ambitious goals.
Regarding social responsibility, PVH claims to give back to global communities through their PVH Foundation through partners (such as Save the Children, focusing on youth employability) and programmes (e.g. associates area offered paid time off each year to volunteer with organisations of their choice - something I personally don’t think is going to create a big enough dent in the efforts of the charitable organisations PVH wishes to support; but, this can be seen as beneficial in the sense that it allows employees to feel like they can personally make a charitable contribution whilst working for Calvin Klein).
I don’t feel that the responsible and transparent image pushed by PVH is consistent with Calvin Klein’s approach to sustainability. Calvin Klein does have products which they mark as sustainable under their CK Reconsidered line. Here, they use Refibra jersey - a biodegradable blend of wood fibres and recycled cotton (although CK Reconsidered garments still don’t include information on production processes). But, this is something I just don’t understand about brands: they’re essentially proving that they can produce products very similar in appearance and performance to what they’re already doing, but still continue to produce the original unsustainable products without expressing any plan to stop. Adding extra lines focusing on sustainability isn’t true change, it feels performative and like the brand is simply hopping on a trend.
I end with what I too often have to say, which is that my overall rating here boils down to the issue of a brand’s many future goals, but few tangible, current changes. Calvin Klein talks the talk, but we won’t see until 2030 if they can walk the walk.