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Sew Shop Talk: Introducing APaDS

Note from Shannon: This is a guest post by Savannah Fender who is currently a Master of Science candidate in the Department of Textile and Apparel, Technology and Management, College of Textiles, at North Carolina State University. 


When you think of fashion and apparel what are some of the top cities that come to mind?

The majority of people would probably identify with New York and Los Angles or Milan and Paris. However, it is what’s hidden under our noses that can help entrepreneurs thrive.

Against popular belief, the sewn goods and textile industry is alive and well within the United States.

Many times the facilities are a lot closer to home than you think. Perhaps they are even your next-door neighbors.

Today, we are going to be touring Apparel Prototyping and Design Solutions, LLC (APaDS) in Pelzer, SC. With a population of just below 100 people, you probably weren’t taught about Pelzer in your eighth-grade geography class! Pelzer is about a 20-minute drive south of Greenville, SC.

There I met with Darlene Martin, the senior pattern maker at APaDS with 28 years of experience; and Elroy Pierce, Founder of APaDS with over 38 years of experience in apparel manufacturing.

Before we got started with an in-depth discussion about domestic production, I took a tour of APaDS. The facility was established in May 2014, as a result of Clemson University making a decision to shut down Clemson Apparel Research (CAR). APaDS, where Darlene and Elroy are today is located at 6931 Hwy 29 N, Pelzer, SC, with six office spaces, a digital patternmaking room, and an open floorplan sewing/cutting room.

Darlene got started in the industry when she was in her early 20s. She had taken a home economics course in high school and discovered her passion for sewing. Darlene went to work  at a local “blouse plant” and from there, her mentor taught her pattern work straight from fabric draping.

They worked for clients like Victoria’s Secret, Sears, and Coldwater Creek. As CAD (computer-aided design) programs became more popular, Darlene’s company encouraged her to go to Atlanta for a two-week program to learn digitizing and grading. Darlene hasn’t stopped working in the industry since.

Even in shutdowns she managed to keep pushing.

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Today APaDS is working with about 150 different clients, including Reese Witherspoon’s brand Draper James.

When you enter APaDS you can see firsthand the passion the employees put into their work. For the people at APaDS, domestic manufacturing was what they always knew, so why move away from it?

They understand the industry has changed drastically and are willing to adapt everyday.

When asked what trades-off companies have to take to stay domestic, Elroy responded:

“There is still a large skill set in the States, it is diminishing very quickly… companies are going to have to look to semi-automation… produce smaller qualities on a faster turn time, than what they did in old production… ”

APaDS is very optimistic about the future of American manufacturing, although it will take time, they feel they are doing their part to promote domestic manufacturing and help entrepreneurs grow.

APaDS is passionate about what they are creating.

If you are looking for someone in the same time zone (or even just a few hours off) that is willing to work with you face-to-face to produce outstanding quality, this is certainly a place your products can be developed.

apads, sew shop talk

Breaking it down:

  • What can APaDS do for you?

>> They are the front people you want to be working with before manufacturing or mass-producing. APaDS can help with your sewn product needs from pattern design, pattern grading, marker plotting, garment samples, garment costing, industrial engineering, apparel consulting, and even small runs (upon request). These are some of the initial steps you MUST take before finding a manufacturer that will work with you.

  • How much do they cost?

>> They are very competitive and cost varies depending on the services and needs of a client.

  • Do I need a Tech Pack?

>> Not necessarily, however it will save APaDS some time when it comes to product development. If you don’t have a technical pack created, APaDS is more than happy to help you format exactly what you need page by page.

  • Am I allowed to visit the facility?

>> APaDS loves it when their clients come for initial consultations, or later in the process to view their work. However, if you aren’t near the area don’t let that stop you! Darlene is very accessible via phone, email, and even Skype.

  • What is the time frame for a returned product?

>> Anywhere from 4-6 weeks.

  • What if I already have a pattern ready?

>> The timeframe may be shortened a bit, but the pattern will still need to be reviewed by Darlene for marking and digitalizing.  

To learn more about the incredible people working at APaDS, be sure to check out their website here and Facebook page here.


savannah fender, apads, sew shop talk

Savannah Fender is currently a Master of Science candidate in the Department of Textile and Apparel, Technology and Management, College of Textiles, at North Carolina State University. She completed her B.F.A at Radford University in Fashion Design and Marketing. She is currently in her last semester at NC State working on her thesis, which focuses on domestic manufacturing within the sewn goods and  textile industry. Savannah is passionate about garment production and helping entrepreneurs thrive!

 

 


important product testing

The 2 Most Important Things You Should Know About Product Testing

Consider this scenario.

You spend years dreaming up the perfect apparel product.

You spend months meticulously creating it.

You tweak and stitch and hem and haw over it until…

It’s perfect.

To you.

But what about the lady on the other side of the country, who really wishes the zipper slid up and down a little easier?

Have you tested it to make sure it’s also perfect for your customer?

There are two phases of product development that I would say are a must.

1.) To test your product in the pre-product development process.

2.) To test your product in post-product development.

First, you want to test your concept.

The easiest way to do this is by sending out a survey to your target market (ideally through your email list). This should help you identify your ideal customer, as well as let you know how likely they are to pay for your product.

Once you receive the feedback, consider every bit of it. Make any necessary changes before you move on to develop your patterns and samples.

An important note here: People may not know what they want, but they definitely know what they don’t want. Phrase your survey questions in a way that provokes your future customer to tell you what they don’t like about similar garments on the market and how they feel they could be improved.

The second test is a user test of the product after the sample has already been made.

Start this process by checking to see what is federally mandated by your country for the manufacturer. For example, in the United States, baby clothing has required testing.

If you aren’t sure what testing may be required by law, use this page on the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website to find out. (Note that this is specific to the U.S.)

You want to ensure that you’re offering a product of quality, value and safety. You need go that extra mile to make sure what you believe to be perfect, is actually perfect.

Don’t let this overwhelm you. Testing agencies are out there who specialize in a wide variety of consumer products. Many of these tests are budgetfriendly, as well. Do the research, find out what you need and factor it into your budget.

Your other product testing outlet is going to be much easier

Your family and friends.

This has proven by many first-time entrepreneurs to be the most honest and easiest form of feedback. Reach out to someone in your target market who will be brutally honest and let you know what they like and what can be improved.

Once those two tests are completed, you’ll feel ready and confident to move into production.


7 Tips For Getting a Fabric Supplier to Respond to Your Email

As a new business owner, it is vital that you know how to write an effective email that will earn a response.

Depending on who you’re writing to, it can be easier said than done.

When it comes to reaching out to fabric suppliers, especially, there are seven key rules to remember:

1.) Consider the audience you’re reaching out. The supplier is likely receiving hundreds of emails per week, so you want to make sure your inquiry gets straight to the point. The supplier does not care about your background or the mission of your company. At the end of the day, they just want to make a sale.

2.) Keep the email short and sweet. Yes, you will want to include a nice “Hello” and an appropriate “Thank you.” But again, make sure you are not wasting the recipient’s time.

3.) Do your due diligence. Make sure you do your own research on the supplier’s website before you reach out. Oftentimes, you can get many of your questions answered on the supplier’s About, Shop and FAQ pages.

4.) Know your stuff. Many fabric suppliers are going to want to see that you actually know what you’re talking about, so they don’t risk wasting their own time. One great way to show that you’re serious about being their customer is to send over a design, spec sheet or a visual example of the piece you’re needing the fabric for.

5.) Don’t ask about MOQ’s. Especially not in your first email. This mistake will make you come off as overly frugal and price-conscious before even making initial contact.

6.) Foster the relationship. Once you’ve received an initial response, take your time in building a relationship with the sales rep. While being courteous of their time, you want to cultivate the relationship and make it easy for them to help you. Down the road, they’ll be much more likely to negotiate MOQ’s with you later on.

7.) Stay persistent. Be mindful of not overwhelming the supplier, but don’t give up. Finding sustainable and low-impact fabrics is not an easy task for anyone. Stick to your values and keep up your search. Fabric sourcing is one of the steps in product development that can take the longest, so be patient.


4 Ways to Negotiate Minimums with Fabric Suppliers

There are so many moving parts that go into launching a sustainable apparel company and one of the steps that can take the longest is fabric sourcing.

As any seasoned designer knows, the moment you realize you have found the fabric can be a mixture of relief, hope and — apprehension.

The first question that will come into your mind is:

Can I meet the supplier’s minimum order quantity (MOQ)?

Maybe you’re planning to start out with 500 yards (or less) because you’re just getting your brand up and running.

It wouldn’t be unheard of for a supplier to require an MOQ of 1,000 (or more) yards, and there may be many reasons for it depending on who you’re working with.

The first thing you need to is find out why the minimums are set at the amount that they are, keeping in mind that the exact reasons will be specific to the individual suppliers.

Once you find out their “why,” you’ll be better equipped to negotiate.

And then you can devise a plan.

Before you start to propose negotiations, make sure you’re not making one of these other fabric sourcing mistakes and take a look at the supplier’s website before you call or email.

Sometimes you can find the MOQ and the company’s capabilities right on the site, and it can help set you up to make the perfect proposal for negotiation.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you devise the right plan:

>> When a supplier sets a MOQ because of time efficiency for custom dyeing your fabric, offer to pay  a flat “dye fee” in addition to the per yard cost of the fabric. This may add to the final cost of the order, but it will likely be much cheaper than ordering three times the amount you need just to meet the MOQ.

>> If the MOQ is in place because it “costs what it costs,” then you can either offer to put down a deposit, but place smaller orders at a time OR you can see if there is the option of “piggy-backing” onto one of their existing client’s orders and splitting the cost. Keep in mind that your production schedule will need to be flexible.

>> If the MOQ is in place because it’s a custom order, let’s say there’s a very particular blue fabric you want but it’s never carried in stock, it may be worth conceding to what the supplier already has available in their warehouse. If you can meet the minimums of an in-stock fabric that is only a slightly different shade of blue, then it’s probably worth settling for it. You don’t want to be so committed to your original vision, that you can’t see the “good enough” version staring you in the face.

>> And lastly, you can try offering to pay a higher price per yard, in order to purchase less than their normal MOQ.

There are many ways that you can go about this, and you will find and choose what works best for you. Go with your instincts, but don’t force it. 

If a supplier won’t budge, then it’s better to cut your losses amicably rather than burn a bridge. When one door closes another opens…

Remember, that no matter what avenue you choose for negotiation this is your journey, your brand and your company’s future.

Give it all you got.


 

Factory45 6 Months Later… Where Are They Now?

The Factory45 2014 program officially ended yesterday, and it’s been hard to find the words to describe the past six months.

Challenging? Yes.

Rollercoaster? Oh, yeah.

Personally fulfilling and potentially life-changing? No doubt about it.

When I started brainstorming the concept of the program at the beginning of 2014 I threw myself in without a backup plan. I outlined what the program would look like on paper, made a billion to-do lists, and mapped out a timeline of when and how I could launch what was only sitting in my brain.

Following a track record of unpredictable situations I get myself into (silent meditation retreat in Thailand, anyone?), I put my head down, focused on the goal at hand and didn’t give much thought to all of the reasons why it wouldn’t work out.

It seemed that with each step — outline a program, build a website, open applications, tell the media about the program, review applications, accept 10 applicants, launch the program — I found myself reaching the next step not really knowing how I got there. It was kinda like, “Well I guess that worked. I should probably keep going.”

And while this thought process may sound a bit flippant and borderline irresponsible, it’s the only way I would have been able to move forward with something as colossal as what I was about to take on.

So come June, I found myself with 10 companies under my guidance, a 26-week program in the works, and the promise that my plan would work for everyone. Six months later, here I am (thankfully), having done what I said I would do.

The best part is that 11 entrepreneurs have also successfully made it through the program. Because honestly, they are the ones who did the heavy lifting. And throughout it all, they have been the ones responsible for moving their companies forward.

Teach a (wo)man to fish, if you will…

While some of the entrepreneurs in the program have made giant leaps, others have made smaller bounds. Many were going through the program with full-time jobs or taking grad school classes or in the case of one, planning a destination wedding.

Originally, I had envisioned everyone launching crowdfunding campaigns now, but I’ve since learned that you can’t rush the process. People work at different paces, certain tasks take longer than others and if you’re not enjoying the journey, then what’s the point?

Regardless of where each company is in comparison to one another, every single one of them now has the tools, structure, resources and community to successfully launch a company. And that’s not something most people can say.

For those of you who are interested in the tangible results of the past six months, here are a few examples of some of the progress that has been made:

JESSE

jesse

Where she started: Jesse had been working on her women’s apparel company, Eenvoud, since she graduated from Parsons School of Design two years ago. She had created sketches of her first collection, done some draping, and had started looking for sustainable fabrics but was unable to make much traction.

Where she is now: All of the patterns and samples for Eenvoud’s first collection have been completed and are production ready. Jesse has sourced the perfect fabric that fits her sustainability guidelines. She has created a defined and targeted brand vision and is launching her new website in the next few days. She has written and created a strategy for a Kickstarter campaign and will be launching it early spring.

MIKAELA

mikaela-featured copy

Where she started: Mikaela joined Factory45 in June with no fashion background, very little tech experience, and zero knowledge of manufacturing. She came to me with an idea for organic cotton children’s clothing and wanted to print her own photographs onto each piece in a “non-toxic” way. I was hesitantly optimistic, knowing how difficult it would be to find the printing option she wanted at the minimums she was looking for, but I encouraged her to keep after it.

Where she is now: After being told “no” by supplier after supplier, printer after printer and factory after factory, Mikaela has set up a supply chain within the U.S. that has never before existed. She also found a textile printer to work with on a special process that doesn’t require PVC plastic or plastisol. Mikaela also set up her own Shopify website, has production-ready patterns and samples, sourced 100% U.S.-grown organic cotton and has already been contacted by bloggers wanting to write about her. Ruth & Ragnar will officially debut February 2015.

HEIDI

heidi

Where she started: When Heidi was crowned “Miss Wheelchair Kentucky” in 2012 she had the opportunity to speak to physically disabled youth all over the country. Time after time, she empathized with her peers about the lack of fashionable clothing that was also functional and comfortable for people in wheelchairs. She knew she wanted to create what she and her friends couldn’t find on the market, but she had no idea where to start.

Where she is now: With the help of a talented designer within my network, Heidi has created two prototypes of blue jeans for both men and women in wheelchairs. She has sourced American-made denim and her entire supply chain will be set up within a 100-mile radius in North Carolina, reducing the carbon footprint of her company to a fraction of most companies. She has written and created a crowdfunding campaign that will launch early spring 2015.

ANGELA

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Where she started: Angela and her husband, Mike, started working on their product, the Mamachic, three years ago. They trademarked and registered their company name and logo, created a projected production budget, and worked with consultants to source materials and design a prototype. And then, as can often happen, they hit a standstill.

Where she is now: Angela has four samples of a newly designed prototype that is more functional, sustainable and durable than the original. She can’t leave the house wearing one of the samples without someone stopping her and asking about it. She has sourced all of her materials, launched a brand new website, is working with a production partner in Colorado and will launch a Kickstarter campaign in early 2015.

TINA

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Where she started: Tina has also been working on her product, The Spark Board, for the past two years. She says she did all of the “fun” stuff first (like branding) and when she reached her launch deadline this time last year, she realized there were some holes in her supply chain so she hit the brakes.

Where she is now: Tina was the only furniture maker in Factory45 but through sustainable fashion connections, I was able to connect her with a reclaimed wood supplier. From there, she put all of the other pieces into place for her supply chain, set up her manufacturing and fulfillment center, and relaunched her blog and social media presence. She will launch a Kickstarter campaign for The Spark Board in February 2015 in addition to her brand new Shopify site.

LARA

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Where she started: Lara was the only person in Factory45 who already had an established business. She came into the program wanting to grow her existing sales and also launch a new piece that better fit the long-term vision of her company.

Where she is now: Lara has redesigned and relaunched two beautiful websites (one for her company Forest and Fin and one for her artwork). She has a completed design and prototype of her “bicycle wrap skirt” that she’ll launch with a Kickstarter campaign in spring 2015. The sales for her Forest and Fin tees have gone up, she’s writing regularly on her blog and she is steadily growing her social media presence. She has also grown her community of entrepreneurs in Savannah and is one of the featured makers in a month-long holiday pop-up shop this year.

I could go on and on about everyone (and I will in blog posts to come) but for now, that’s a quick recap featuring a selection of Factory45’ers whose finish was much different than their start. Jenn, Emily, Sharon, Jon & Alexander, I am just as impressed with the progress you have all made and will make sure everyone knows about it, too. : )

A personal note: to everyone in Factory45, I am blown away by your dedication, hard work and persistence throughout the past six months. It amazes me that you were all so willing to put your faith in me, knowing that I had never done this before, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Whatever Factory45 becomes in the future, I will always owe it to the 11 of you for helping me get started and for making the inaugural year so memorable.

With deepest gratitude,

Shannon

From Humanitarian to Mompreneur: Meet Mikaela of Factory45

This is a guest post from Factory45’er Mikaela Wallinder Clifford, founder of children’s clothing line, Ruth & Ragnar. You can view the original post here

My name is Mikaela and I have a story to tell.

My intention is for the story to end with “…and that’s how fun, funky and color-popping kidswear changed the fast fashion industry forever.“ I can’t write that just yet because we are still at the beginning of the story. But, I would love for you to join me on the journey, and be here with me when we reach our goal. It will be like my favorite children’s movie “The NeverEnding Story”. I’ll be Atreyu (I’ve always wanted to be Atreyu!) and you’ll be Bastian reading about Atreyu’s journey only to find yourself eventually inside the story by helping me shape it.

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Follow me back to my hometown in Northern Sweden, back to my graduation day where I’m standing with my diploma in one hand, a one-way plane ticket in the other and my whole body filled with passion and determination to make a change in the world. We’ll go to Africa, Asia, Europe, and America where I first realized the global impact of our consumption. Follow me back to the day my worldview and my life changed forever — the day my daughter Milou was born.

Join me in all that happens next, from the frustration of learning what chemicals were in the clothes my daughter wore, to the idea of trying to make a change, to the initial spark that shaped the mission for Ruth & Ragnar.

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Join me in the determination to support manufacturing at home – we will proudly be sourcing and creating everything right here in the USA. I hope you’ll join me as I meet the pattern maker, the Texas cotton farmer and the inspiring North Carolina printer who took quite a few extra steps to help me as I shape my brand.

Join me as I introduce you to the designers of the organic Scandinavian brands soon to be available right here as I launch Ruth & Ragnar’s web store.

Join me while I’m learning how to turn an idea into reality, how to get back up and keep going when experts tell me it can’t be done. Stay close as I launch Ruth & Ragnar, a socially-responsible apparel company for kids and conscious parents alike. Finally, join the roller coaster ride that is the everyday life with a toddler, the most wonderful, exhausting, educational, provoking, spiritual, humbling and loving experience I have ever had.

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Join the story, Share your story, Shape the story. Let’s change the fast fashion industry — one funky garment at a time.twitter-bird-light-bgs1

Welcome to Ruth & Ragnar.

All photos courtesy of Ruth & Ragnar.

4 Things To Remember When You Shop for Clothes

There are things every single one of us can do to help alleviate the damage done by the traditional fashion industry. Here are the big four:

1. ) Buy local

At the most basic level, when you buy from a local designer or from a local boutique more money stays in the community. According to SustainableConnections.org, “Several studies have shown that when you buy from an independent, locally owned business, rather than nationally owned businesses, significantly more of your money is used to make purchases from other local businesses — continuing to strengthen the economic base of the community.”

Not only are you investing in your own city, but you’re also reducing your individual environmental footprint, creating jobs, and putting your tax dollars to good use.

Putting that into dollars and cents, Businessweek reported “for every $100 spent at a locally owned store, $45 remains in the local economy, compared with about $13 per $100 spent at a big box store.”

2.) Buy “indie”

Support independent designers who are conscious of the production process all the way through. Many of these designers are mindful of where they source their fabric and are involved in the manufacturing from front to back. Some are even doing the sewing themselves in small independent sew shops or incubators.

The stories behind companies like Piece x Piece, Seamly and Manufacture NY are a refreshing glimpse into transparent clothing production.

thrift-shop-photo mombot3.) Buy used

Huge progress can be made by consumers purchasing second-hand. It is imperative that we start making use of the resources already available to us instead of buying new clothing.twitter-bird

Any remaining stigma against thrift shopping has gone out the window with the popularity of consignment chains like Buffalo Exchange, Plato’s Closet, and the many local thrift shops popping up all over the world.

Second-hand clothing has even entered the tech scene with websites and apps such as Bib + Tuck, Twice, Poshmark and Nifty Thrifty, boasting beautiful user interfaces that encourage the purchase and reuse of someone else’s unwanted clothing.

Not only are the price tags competitive with the fast fashion giants, but many of the garments appear to be practically new. It’s a win-win for your wallet and for the planet.

4.) Buy less

Buying less is ultimately the solution that can change the world. (And no, it will not lead to an economic Armageddon.)

Considering the fact that society’s throwaway consumption habits are at an all-time high, there are ways to use our dollars more economically and efficiently than buying six H&M dresses for $9.99.

Instead, you can use that same $59.94 (6 x $9.99) to buy an ethically-produced dress from a local designer and wear it for years to come.

I’m not advocating to stop spending. I’m advocating to use your purchasing power in ways that go beyond wearing something once and throwing it away.twitter-bird

And if that’s all a piece of cake, here are a few secondary factors to keep in mind:

seamly-coLook at labels

It can’t be said enough. Do you know where your clothes came from? Who made the t-shirt on your back? Are you comfortable with the possibility that your jeans were made by a modern-day slave on the other side of the world?

Look at the labels on your clothes and ask questions. You can start here.

Wash cold & hang dry

In the United States, the average household does 300-400 loads of laundry per year. A whopping 1,000 loads of laundry are started every second of the day — that’s 13,000 gallons of water per household. Three-quarters of the carbon footprint from a load of laundry comes from drying.

And let’s not forget the amount of chemicals and phosphates that are used in laundry detergent and then leaked back into our water supply, depleting aquatic ecosystems.

To reduce your individual carbon footprint: always wash cold, hang to dry and use phosphate-free laundry detergent.


Have alternative solutions to add to this mix? Tweet me your thoughts at @factory45co.

Photos courtesy of Fashion Revolution Day and Chic Vegan.

 


 

6 Things You Should Know About Your Clothes

Not too long ago, I received this comment on one of my posts: “I want to know more about what you know. I’m such a mindful consumer when it comes to food but have never thought about how my purchasing decisions with clothes, etc could be negatively impacting the change I so emotionally pursue.”

It inspired me to go back to the basics, realizing again how new the sustainable fashion movement is to most consumers. For those of you wondering why you should care about what’s in your closet, here are the big six:

1.) There are chemicals on your clothes. And they’re often carcinogenic. (Carcinogenic = cancer-causing). While the slow food movement is starting to catch on and consumers are becoming increasingly more conscious of what they eat, we don’t yet think of clothing in the same way.

Most of us haven’t caught on that the pesticides, insecticides, formaldehyde and flame-retardants on our clothes are also damaging to our health. Skin is our body’s largest organ and it instinctively absorbs whatever we put on it — clothing chemicals included.

(Next time you’re browsing through the racks at your favorite big box retailer, rub your finger tips together. You’ll notice a grimey film that has transferred off the clothing and onto you.)

2.) There are 27 to 30 million slaves in the world today. Yes, slaves.

Have you ever wondered how companies like Zara and Forever 21 can sell t-shirts for 5 dollars?

There are people in countries such as Uzbekistan, Cambodia, Bangladesh and India who are forced to work against their will. Whether they’re picking cotton or tanning leather, they aren’t being paid to make your clothing. They are literally bound to a life of enslavement with very little hope of getting out.

Factory workers who are being paid are probably who you would think of as “sweatshop” workers and are most likely earning less than a living wage — that means they can’t afford to feed or shelter themselves, let alone their families. In 2012, a Swedish broadcaster reported that workers in Cambodia were being paid so little they had to borrow money for food.

3.) Big retailers are a big problem.

Our bargain shopping, big sale seeking, cheap consumer mentality is directly related to the people making our clothing. Because we expect to be able to buy a shirt for less than 20 bucks, retailers are forced to find ways to lower costs and compete in a highly-saturated market. This usually requires cutting corners in manufacturing overseas.

In November, H&M made a public statement saying it plans to deliver a “living wage” to more than 850,000 textile workers by 2018. While it sounds like a noble gesture, it raises the question of why the giant retailer wasn’t paying its workers fairly in the first place. In the past, H&M has been accused of promoting poverty pay, unsafe working environments and malnutrition.

H&M is not alone — Forever 21, Inditex (the parent company of Zara), GAP, JC Penney, and many more, are major players in human rights and labor issues around the world.

4.) Our old clothes (and disposable behavior) are ruining Africa’s economy.

Ready to drop off a big pile of donations at your local Goodwill? While the reselling of second-hand clothes is ethically sound, it’s the massive amounts of donations that cause a problem. Goodwill, Salvation Army, and the like, receive more clothing donations than they could ever resell. So what happens to the excess?

According to an op-ed in The Business of Fashion, “The majority of donated clothing is sold to second-hand clothing merchants, who sort garments, then bundle them in bales for resale, usually outside the country in which the clothing was originally donated.”

In Sub-Saharan Africa, where one-third of all globally donated clothes are sold, the used clothing business is undermining Africa’s own textiles and manufacturing industry. Even more, “dumping” our unwanted clothing into countries on the other side of the world gives us an unrealistic sense of security that we can continue to consume and throw away at unsustainable rates.

5.) It takes decades for your clothing to decompose in a landfill.

The fast fashion industry has turned four regular seasons into 52 “microseasons” to push new trends and encourage rapid consumption. Retailers make it easy for shoppers to buy a cheap dress, wear it once, and never wear it again. We don’t think about where those clothes go after we’re done with them.

The average American throws away 68 pounds of clothing per year. Nylon, rayon, polyester and other synthetic materials are essentially plastics that will most likely be around for far longer than you will. At the rate consumer waste is piling up, it doesn’t look good for the future of the planet.

6.) We’re not helpless.

Consumers have the purchasing power. We all have the ability to change the industry by choosing which companies deserve our dollars. It comes down to educating yourself and adjusting your lifestyle in a way that doesn’t require excessive consumption of disposable clothing.

Education can be as simple as following a few ethical fashion blogs on Facebook. You’ll learn something throughout the day just from reading the headlines. (A few of my favorites are: EcouterreEcoSalonMagnifeco & Ethical Fashion Forum.)

What more can you do? Read my follow-up post, 4 Things to Remember Every Time You Shop For Clothes on the Huffington Post.


Sew Shop Talk: An Interview with Open Arms Shop

The Open Arms Shop started as a sustainable apparel brand empowering refugee women through living wage employment. Currently, its founders and employees are transitioning into a full-development sew shop based in Austin, TX, adding another Made in the USA production facility to the growing comeback.

Unique to Open Arms Shop is its “triple threat” of providing a living wage to refugee women, being based in the USA, and using repurposed and recycled materials. Having already taken on production of established brands such as Raven + Lily and Blue Avocado, I spoke to founder Leslie Beasley about Open Arms’ new business model and her advice for new designers looking to manufacture in the USA.

open-arms-shopFactory45: When you think back on the designers and entrepreneurs you have worked with, can you describe your ideal client? How can new designers be great to work with, too?

Open Arms: Our ideal clients are those who come prepared with their initial mock up along with a detailed tech pack and have a clear vision with the ability to commit to a six-month to a year production contract. It’s a client who is committed to being a socially-conscious brand made in the USA and see a long-term partnership with Open Arms.

New designers can be great to work with as well. It is more of a challenge with new designers because they often need smaller quantities and would like a variety of designs. The ideal new designer for us is one who is committed to being a socially-conscious brand (understanding it will be more expensive than outsourcing out of country), is willing to be flexible in order to make it work, and can commit to one or two designs to begin with instead of multiple designs.

F45: What is the most challenging part of running a sew shop?

One of the most challenging parts is having the client collect all of the elements needed to roll into production at the time production is scheduled to begin. All elements are needed to operate at optimal efficiency. When a customer has the correct amount of fabric, hardware, internal labels, etc. when production begins, things run much more smoothly.

F45: What are your goals for growth and moving the industry forward?

Our goal is to partner with socially-conscious brands that have the ability to commit to a six- month to a year production cycle. This allows us to hire and train refugee women and give them the stability of a long term job. It also gives us the ability to increase efficiencies, allowing more affordable rates. This model will allow us to grow as well as move the industry forward.

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F45: What is your advice for designer entrepreneurs who want to manufacture in the USA?

Stick with your conviction to manufacture in the USA! Don’t give up too quickly. Get creative. See your manufacturer as a partner and work closely with them. Have flexibility and creativity in order to keep it affordable. It can be done. Target retailers and customers who are also committed to USA made apparel with a transparent supply chain and who are willing to invest more in your products.

open-arms-shopF45: Price can often be a deterrent for new companies and they end up outsourcing. Do you have any suggestions for keeping manufacturing domestic and affordable?

It is a challenge to keep manufacturing domestic and affordable, no doubt about it. The best way we have found to keep it affordable is to do larger quantity runs of the same or similar designs. This enables our team to become skilled and efficient at one thing increasing production time, insuring quality products, therefore allowing it to be more affordable. In addition, designers should consider sales strategies that allow them to make a commitment for a lower monthly volume for a longer timeframe. This enables designers to spread out the manufacturing expense over time and Open Arms can dedicate fewer staff to the project but for a longer period of time. Peaks and valleys in demand cost more and are harder to manage.

F45: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I would like to encourage any designers who desire to “do it differently” to stay domestic and demonstrate social consciousness. Don’t give up. Stay true to your vision. Stay passionate. Keep believing. You can do it!

To learn more about the work of Open Arms Shop you can check them out here.

 


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