Responsible Buying for Nonprofit Needs
Apparel is by far the largest product category in the promotional products industry. A 2013 study by Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) cites the category as 27.84 percent of industry sales—nearly three times as much as the next-nearest category, writing instruments, at 10.42 percent. So if you're a nonprofit working with the promotional products industry for giveaways, fundraising or whatever the case may be, it likely goes without saying that you're either selling apparel or thinking of ways to utilize apparel to benefit the brand or fundraising of your organization.
Whether you're currently sourcing and selling apparel or hoping to, it's imperative that you have solid knowledge and understanding about the product safety and compliance standards governing the apparel category, which is especially important for nonprofits that are out to better the world. You don't want to get caught giving away T-shirts at your next event that are made in a sweatshop, nor do you want that direct mail trinket to be made in unsafe factory conditions. These factors can seriously damage a nonprofit's reputation, particularly those human rights and services organizations.
So what do you need to know about apparel product safety, social responsibility and compliance, in general? It turns out a lot.
There are federal regulatory organizations (note the plural here), state laws and regulations that vary from each of the 50 states, and several non-government organizations that also set important standards for the industry. There are flammability requirements, children's product regulations and decoration laws that all must be followed. There are also labor standards, environmental standards, labeling standards, etc.
The path to education on product safety is a long, complex one and also, as experience shows, one that shifts. In order to build a true knowledge base, you need to work to constantly educate yourself on compliance and safety. That might include attending seminars or workshops, participating in webinars, staying up on the current news, networking, and discussing the issues that impact the industry as a whole with your peers. It's also critically important that you talk with your suppliers about issues of safety and compliance and make sure that you are fully versed on the efforts they are taking to protect your nonprofit and your constituents.