It’s Great to Do Good: Interview With Carly Gerstman, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility

Social responsibility, AKA sustainable and ethical business practices, is a growing area of interest and opportunity for both consumers and companies. More and more, end-buyers and end-users want to know where the products they buy came from and what impact their purchase will have on the world at large. Take it from the 2020 Global Ad Impressions Study, which found that 46% of consumers have a more favorable opinion of an advertiser if the promo they received is environmentally friendly. What’s more, the same study found that women and adults 55 and over reported spending more on environmentally conscious products last year, compared to 2018. The numbers don’t lie: Consumers care about sustainable and ethical business practices and will show those preferences with their wallets.

To learn more about social responsibility and how to speak about it to your customers, we sat down with Carly Gerstman, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Next Level Apparel. Read on to learn why social responsibility is so important, what steps Next Level is taking to be as socially responsible as possible, plus simple ways you can do your part too. 

• Would you be able to tell me a little about your job and what your primary responsibilities are?
As the Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Next Level Apparel, I am responsible for defining and developing global CSR (corporate social responsibility) strategies. I drive the strategic direction of Next Level’s CSR program, which involves protecting the welfare of global workers, CSR & sustainability standards, philanthropy and the community. We’re also an approved Participating Company in the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and I’m responsible for leading us on our path to accreditation. This includes developing an effective monitoring/auditing strategy to ensure our workplace standards are met throughout our supply chain.

• What does a typical “day in the life” look like for you?
A typical “day in the life” for me is rarely the same every day. Some days I’m heavily focused on factory- or country-specific issues in one of our sourcing countries, while other days I’m working toward our environmental/sustainability goals. This all involves developing and implementing new policies and procedures in order to mitigate negative impact on our workers and the environment. I’m also fortunate to be in a part of an industry and community that frequently offers webinars and other opportunities to further enhance my CSR knowledge and skillset.

• What does “social responsibility” mean to you? What does it mean for Next Level Apparel?
To me, it’s the balance that all individuals and corporations must find between economic growth and the welfare of our society and our planet. We each have a responsibility to hold ourselves accountable for our decisions and actions, and Next Level recognizes this. We know that as a corporation, we have an opportunity to make a significant impact in each of these areas and we’re committed to doing so.

• What are some of the social responsibility activities Next Level Apparel has undertaken this year, and how do they align with Next Level’s overall mission?
Our mission, put simply, is to have a positive impact on our people, our communities and our environment. Next Level became an approved Participating Company with the FLA at the end of 2019, and we have spent much of this year developing an updated social responsibility program that aligns with the FLA’s Principles of Fair Labor and Responsible Sourcing. This includes our updated Workplace Code of Conduct, which aligns with the FLA’s code, and implementing it throughout our supply chain.

We recently finalized our partnership with Better Work and will be introducing new capacity building trainings throughout our factories. We have also finalized our partnership with City of Hope which includes T-shirt donations for all of their fundraising events and donations to their COVID-19 research.

Our environmental efforts this year have been focused on mitigating our waste. We reduced our fabric waste by 1.5 million pounds and will continue to work to increase that number.

• What is the overall outcome you wish to see as a result of your social responsibility activities?
It’s not uncommon in the social responsibility space to feel as though we are such a small piece of a much larger puzzle, so it’s important to focus on the small wins, whether that be reducing our fabric waste by a few more pounds or helping one worker achieve professional growth. I wish to ultimately look back and see that we’ve made changes that positively impact our people and our environment.

• How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted any of your planned social responsibility activities this year, and how have you worked around it?
It’s no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on social responsibility activities of most brands, including Next Level. With travel being restricted, we’ve had to shift all of our planned monitoring and training activities with our factories to virtual. As most brands are, we’re doing as much as we can to ensure compliance with our Code of Conduct from a desktop audit. The pandemic has also forced the CSR industry to adapt and get creative, which is always a good thing. For example, because of the pandemic, we’ve formed a relationship with City of Hope to donate to their COVID-19 research. There’s always a bright side, even in a pandemic.

• What are some ways we can all be a little more socially responsible in our daily lives and in our work lives?
I think most importantly is that we must all recognize that we each have this responsibility in the first place. People often feel like their actions don’t make a difference either way. However, if everyone believed that small adjustments can have a large impact, we would see positive changes in every aspect of our lives. Some simple examples could be reducing use of single use plastic, reducing usage of single-use plastic and printer paper, riding a bike to work instead of driving a car, and supporting brands that are taking steps in the right direction.

• Can you give us a sneak peek into some of the activities Next Level Apparel has planned for 2021 that we can look forward to seeing?
As we continue to develop our social responsibility program, we’ll be focusing on areas that are important to us as a company and where we believe we can have a significant impact. We will be expanding our environmental program and introducing more goals, and continuing to go down the path to accreditation with the FLA. Stay tuned for more details!