For simplicity’s sake, we are going to break down the process of sustainably producing a dress into a few steps, but you should know the process of making anything is nonlinear and probably happens in more than three steps. When completing our own eco-friendly dresses, we found ourselves bouncing back-and-forth between steps, so keep in mind that each phase informs the next.
With that said, let’s get into it! Making a dress can be broken down into the following steps:
And just because we’re sneaky — there’s a buy-in (you know the *small* task before all the other tasks).
The truth about this step is that it goes on for-ev-ver and, truly, is integrated into every other step.
Before you design, you should get a good idea of what kind of technologies and materials are available to you. This is a big part of making more eco-friendly, ethical decisions. You can frame your research with the question: what are the most eco-friendly materials, dyeing practices, and manufacturing practices? While researching, you should contact suppliers and manufacturers who share your values, ask questions about pricing, minimums, turnaround times, and order swatches. Feel comfortable to ask them about their environmental practices and to ask if you can visit their workspace/factory. This allows you to understand the possibilities and limitations for your potential design.
We know everyone says to source first, but sourcing as you design is probably what really happens. You should never design blindly because you may come up with a perfect garment on paper that is quite difficult to manufacture.
Crack open your sketch books and start putting your design ideas on paper. Everyone will have a different design process and there are no hard and fast rules. We narrow down the fabric selection and our concept, mood or inspiration. Then we spend some days sketching. While designing, some of our guiding questions are: how much fabric will this take? How can we minimize leftover fabric?
Although you may have a general idea about the production, as you design you will discover there are more specific questions that you need to research further. For example, we had decided to screen print and had several potential screenprinters in mind. In order to design efficiently, we needed to better understand stand the exact limitations of each screenprinter. What is your largest screen size? Do you charge based on complexity of design? What is the most yardage you can print at one time?
Our designs are heavily influenced by the inspiration, amount of unused fabric generated, longevity of design and functionality, and availability of fabric printing technology.
While in the research phrase, your questions are more general. In the design phase, your needs become much more clear and your questions, more specific. Moreover, this step works closely with the next one, so sometimes the order may be reversed or just entangled. If you are beginning with designing, you need to know what kind of material you are designing for and based on your research, you will know how accessible this fabric will be to you. If you source before you design, you will be able to work with the fabric to dictate the design, like with draping on a dress form or trying techniques like pin-tucks.
This section easily could have been called Research 2.0, however in this stage we form contractual relationships based on research. You should already have an idea of fabric suppliers, fabric printers, garment dyers, etc. Complete part of this step, like choosing the fabric, before designing and then return to it to choose your colors, garment dyers and/or fabric printers. Here, it is really about making a decision about who you want to work with.
Our principles guided us in finalizing decisions around suppliers. Relationships are really important to us, so we ended up using a screenprinter located in Brooklyn. We wanted our dresses to be completely made in the United States, so we chose a fabric supplier that provided 100% organic, American grown and manufactured cotton.
Sourcing can easily be both the most fun and most frustrating step. On one hand, there is the excitement of fabric swatches, color options, and meeting the people who are integral to bringing your design to life. On the other hand, you need to ensure that you are buying from a reputable source, being cost efficient, and working with partners who value relationships, people, and our environment.
This is the step you’ve been waiting for, and it’s possibly the most rewarding step since your vision becomes tangible. When choosing a manufacturer, do your research (there’s that word again)! The best case scenario is that you already have a few manufacturers in mind.
When manufacturing in the U.S, or even your own city, it’s important to research the factory, and visit them if you can. Read any reviews they may have and watch their videos if they have one. There are several benefits to manufacturing countryside, like shorter shipping time, less air pollution for garment transportation (because it’s traveling a shorter distance), the ability to easily visit your factory (!), support of the local economy and the ability to cultivate face to face relationships with the people you are partnering with. Good luck!
You can check out my dress line here: marielleejiama.com
Got an idea for an eco-friendly product?
Follow these three simple steps to streamline your production:
- Login and create a project.
- Start searching for eco-friendly factories on Maker’s Row.
- Request a Quote.
- Recognition for Sustainable Sourcing and Production
- Manual of Sustainable Materials
- 7 Things We’ve Learned About Ethical Sourcing In The Garment Industry
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