Apparel Impact Institute: A Fashionable Approach to Environmental Change

Aug 10th 2021

For Lewis Perkins, president of the Apparel Impact Institute, there’s almost no better—or bigger—way to address the most pressing environmental issues in the world than by reimagining the apparel industry.

“When you look at the complex web that this industry touches, from cotton farming to petroleum extrusion, it’s one of the easier sectors to help people understand the negative impacts,” says Lewis. “Even if you don’t consider yourself fashionable, everybody wears clothes, so we can all relate… It’s a fascinating industry to explain impact because it touches so many lives across the globe.”

Touching lives is exactly what Apparel Impact Institute aims to do. Founded in 2017, the organization helps apparel and footwear brands around the world identify and scale proven solutions for producing more sustainably, reducing their environmental impact, and boosting their bottom lines.

Through its Clean by Design program, the organization works with brands, government partners, and manufacturers on scaling sustainable solutions that create water and energy savings, reduce a product’s carbon footprint, and use less (and oftentimes safer) chemicals. These programs also align with the manufacturer’s decision to source preferred materials.

“It’s much more efficient and impactful if [partners are] pooling their resources of time and money,” says Lewis.


Though the organization is only four years old, Apparel Impact Institute is already making significant impacts for brands in the industry, including:

  • An average carbon reduction of 10 percent for brands in the Clean by Design program
  • Water savings of approximately 20 percent
  • An average return on investment of $440k a year for Clean By Design program partners (manufacturers) within the first 14 months.


Moving forward, Lewis is starting to consider how much of the organization’s work is likely to require financing for brands seeking to optimize their facilities with solutions for renewable energy (e.g. solar arrays and power purchase agreements), as well as for clean water stewardship (e.g. waste water treatment and in some cases innovations like waterless dyeing systems).

That future-minded line of thinking is part of what led Lewis to move the company’s funds from a large corporate bank to Bank of the West in 2019. “There’s a Bank of the West in my neighborhood,” says Lewis. “I thought, ‘We should really switch to a bank that’s actually matching our values.'”

Since then, Bank of the West has helped Apparel Impact Institute prepare to launch a version of its Clean by Design program in California. The company is currently conducting feasibility research in the region, with the end goal of creating a tailored version of the program to increase efficiencies and renewables in the state.

Learn more about Bank of the West’s actions on sustainability here.

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