By Tessa Battistin (Founder, Asset Designs)
At Asset Designs, we are striving for a future where clothing has a cycle of life and death that is expertly managed by farmers, producers, consumers, and municipalities together.
“The facts proving the environmental impact of the garment industry are hard to argue with. Fashion is one of the biggest polluting industries in the world, and in 2016, supply chain waste was estimated at over 800,000 tons. Waste occurs at every stage of the fashion supply chain, and therefore each stage needs unique solutions for reducing waste” (“Valuing Our Clothes: The Cost of UK Fashion”, Loved Clothes Last, 12).
Our pledge for supply chain transparency
How can we manufacture garments with the least environmental impact possible? How can our garments be laid to rest without producing waste? In November 2017, I set out to design and create the ultimate “Pocket Poem” tee, with a transparent supply chain. I envisioned a sustainably sourced, super-soft, high quality wardrobe staple for Asset Designs' flagship line. I needed to source fabric, find a pattern I liked, find a cutting and sewing facility, and order garment tags. I wanted to define and simplify the Asset Designs supply chain, and publish my findings to all of my customers.
Sourcing ethically made fabric
There are lots of things to consider when ordering rolls of fabric on an industrial scale. I needed to compare the price per meter for 50+ meters of different fabric samples while finding the colour and high-quality knit type I was looking for. I learned to note the shrinkage percentage of each fabric sample, so that my customers didn't purchase a size medium, only to discover that the tee shirt had shrunk to a size small after washing. The thickness of the fabric rolls matter too, as this measurement shows essentially whether or not the fabric supplier is charging a fair price for the quantity.
Struggling to meet minimums
I continuously hit the same wall: the low volume of fabric I wanted was much lower than the high minimums fabric producers required. How could I find a fabric producer that met all of my sustainability requirements, but would still let me purchase a very small amount of fabric for an affordable price? Remember that bigger brands order thousands of meters at a time, so my order was low on the totem pole of priority for most fabric distributors. Small brands often struggle to meet order minimums for suppliers, and are forced to pay more for less of the same product. This partially explains why locally produced textiles come with a higher price tag.
Pattern cuttings, April 2017, Asset Designs cutting & sewing facility
Securing a cutting and sewing facility
Most of the cutting and sewing facilities in Montréal's now dwindling garment industry are not listed on the internet (otherwise known as “the Millennials worst nightmare”). After extensive online searching, I had found only dead ends. I realized that I was going to need an introduction from an industry ally in order to uncover the connections I would need to make this possible. Thankfully, a Montréal-based supplier of tote bags took me under her wing and showed me the ropes! This was the big break I was looking for. Everybody in the industry seemed to know each other on a first-name basis. Once I was introduced, the rest fell into place.
Our supply chain story
I am proud to report that SS2018 is made from GOTS certified organic cotton. This chemical-free crop is farmed in Tamil Nadu, India. It travels by boat to Vancouver, and then by rail to Montreal, where it is spun, knit, and dyed in a factory in the north of the island. I took a slew of public transit (I don't have a car) to get to the facility in Anjou, where a kind employee took me to see the massive machines spinning raw, organic cotton into soft, snowy ropes.
Triumphantly, I took my hard-earned bolt of fabric to my cutting and sewing facility, located in Montreal's Mile End neighborhood. I'm getting to know the seamstresses there quite well, and am happy to visit the factory often for pattern approval and production updates.
Each pocket tee is silkscreen printed by hand in my studio with water-based ink, and is finally shipped to you, my customers, in a recycled and recyclable poly envelope.
Boxes of thread, April 2017, Asset Designs cutting & sewing facility
How will SS2018 be laid to rest?
I was able to devise the environmentally conscious supply chain leading to the creation of SS2018. I collected all of the cotton scraps left over from the pattern cutting process, and I brought them back to my studio to use for other projects. For every step that was under my influence, I have done everything I can to eliminate waste and carefully track the impact of my products.
However, I have to leave the responsible disposal of the finished product up to you, my customers.
The myths of textile 'recycling', and best practices for consumers
Unfortunately we don’t live in a world where the post consumer waste stream for textiles is properly managed. Right now, in 2018, textile-to-textile recycling doesn't exist. (Shocking, I know). Really, your old clothes should be collected and disposed of responsibly, like we do with plastic, paper, and metal recycling. (Shoutout to the municipality of Markham, Ontario, which diverted 1.4 million kilograms of textiles from landfills with it's unique collection program).
Frankly, consumers today don’t have many options for responsible garment disposal. Your best bet is to donate unwanted clothing to vetted charity shops that repair and resell. But be careful, because clothing donation bins may not be what they seem.
SS2018 as part of the slow fashion solution
I wrestle with the thought that these pocket tees may one day end up in a landfill. But, I tell myself this: Asset Designs garments are still part of the solution. They're born from a small supply chain, which means less CO2 emissions per garment than your typical fast fashion tee. They aren't made using harmful chemicals. Instead, we are supporting organic cotton farmers in Tamil Nadu, India. Furthermore, the workers in Montréal who make these garments are paid fair, living wages. And, we managed to make our pocket tees much more affordable than similar products, which often cost upwards of $60CAD per tee shirt. So, it's a start.
- Understanding Sustainability Means Talking About Colonialism by Celine Semaan for The Cut
- Fashion Transparency Index 2018 created by the interdisciplinary team of scientists, designers, and researchers at Fashion Revolution. See how your favorite brands rank on sustainability metrics.
- Fashion at the Crossroads, by Greenpeace. This publication reviews the initiatives that are already working to slow down our consumption of textiles.
- The Planet Money team followed a simple cotton tee shirt throughout the global economy, and made a series of podcast episodes about it. Listen here
- Fashion is your Business Podcast - "Stacy Flynn of EVRNU : Shapeshifting Materials with Three Beakers and a Dream" Listen here
- The Life Cycle of a Tee Shirt by Angel Chang, TEDed
- Planet Money Makes a Tee Shirt in 5 short videos, NPR
- The True Cost movie, available for free online.
- Write a postcard to a policy maker and use this free downloadable template
- Write a letter to a brand and ask if their products are being made by people who are paid a fair and living wage. Use this free downloadable template. (hint: you don't even have to physically send it ... take a photo and email it, or post it on social media and use hashtags & tag the brand.