Ecofriendly Clothing: The Challenges of Sourcing and Finishing

In our first article, we broke down the steps of creating an eco-friendly dress. This time, we want to go deeper and explore some of the challenges around sourcing and finishing.

We approach these challenges with the perspective that constraints fuel creativity rather than hinder it. One of our favorite quotes that we pinned on our Pinterest board is:

We take this to mean that creativity is the act of imagining things as different than what they are, and then bringing about those dreamed-up improvements (which is exactly what ecofashion does). Even though ecofashion has gained tremendous ground in the last several decades, it still is yet to be considered mainstream. This presents another set of obstacles onto the already standing challenges that any designer faces when creating a product and building a brand. Particularly for ecofashion there is an immense commitment to research because you are always searching for the most earth, and people, friendly option. This means e-mailing countless suppliers, printers, dyers, factories and the like to investigate their process and to ensure that what they are producing truly aligns with your vision and goal. At the end of the day, there is no greater joy like the triumph that comes from finding the perfect fabric or the perfect printer.

Let’s start by creatively tackling the challenges of sourcing and finishing!

Sourcing & Finishing Challenges:

1. Sourcing Ecofriendly Fabrics:

When considering the most environmentally conscious fabrics, you have several options and, perhaps, even more limitations. You could choose to use organic fabrics, like organic cotton, organic flax (linen) and peace silk. You could also choose recycled fabrics like recycled PET polyester or fabrics that have a virtual closed loop production process, like lyocell.

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If you are a small, emerging designer, it is likely that fabric minimums will present a high hurdle for you. Buying at lower quantities means that fabric will be more expensive per yard. Additionally, fabric options like PET and lyocell are difficult to source if you’re not ready to work with fibers and a mill to develop your own fabric. So, what’s your next best option?

Solution:

Organic, natural fabrics are the most straightforward to obtain. You can buy it from domestic fabric suppliers and skip working with fibers and mills until you are more established. Of course natural fabrics present printing/dyeing constraints, but there are several other finishing techniques available to you. Buying in smaller quantities means you likely forgo quantity discounts, but small runs are more manageable at an emerging level. Another option is unused, surplus fabric, which is purchased from other designers.

2. Printing:

The fabric printing process can sometimes not be ecofriendly, however there are green ways to print on fabric and each has its benefits and drawbacks. We recommend researching (there’s that word again…) which is best for you based on the following factors: fabric choice, price point, intricacy of the print and your desired aesthetic. Each of these factors presents some issue to work around; for example, some printing techniques only work with synthetic fibers or they require large minimums or both.  Some printing techniques only accommodate a certain level of detail and intricacies.

*We searched for our printers on Makersrow.com. Here are a couple good options in the Tri-State area alone:

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The Dogwood Dyer | Brooklyn

Solution:

For us, the first step was to understand our limitations. The optimal combination of fabric selection, print technique, cost was completely dependent on the factors we listed above. In many ways, your “limitations” become design challenges. How can you create a design that can be printed with your desired technique, fabric, and budget?

We chose to work with a printer that was able to give us a tour of their facilities, because knowing that you can communicate well with your manufacturer is key in having your products produced just how you plan. When you are getting ready to pay for yards of fabric being printed, you want to be sure that are getting what you pay for and getting what you had imagined and discussed!

3. Dyeing:

Dyeing can be one of the most environmentally damaging steps in the production process. This is due to the dye itself, the excess amount of water used, the chemicals used to ensure that the dye fixes to the fabric and the leftover dye water that is not always correctly disposed. A typical dye process incorporates a lot of chemicals that are not environmentally friendly and especially harmful when they are disposed into waterways and in communities. How can you dye your fabric and stay ecofriendly?

Solution:

The ideal, ecofriendly dyeing technique depends on the same factors that printing does: fabric choice, price point, intricacy of the print and your desired aesthetic. First, you have to decide what role dyeing is going to play: dyeing can be the focal point of your piece, like with batik designs, or can be used to complement your designs, like with dip dyeing. You can dye garment-by-garment or dye by yardage. There are also many alternatives to toxic pigments:

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→Vegetable dyes
→Water based pigments
→Also look for options that reduce water usage, such as dye sublimation.

We haven’t used dyeing to date, but it is something we would like to introduce into the Spring/Summer ‘15 collection. Once again, we like being able to form relationships with our supply chain, so we will go with someone that is local. This also will help drive down cost (and pollution) because it eliminates shipping costs across long distances.

How do you tackle the challenges of sourcing when creating ecofashion? Leave a comment below or continue the conversation on Twitter.

Stay tuned for the second part to this article where we tackle retail challenges after creating an ecofriendly dress!

Image from: Maker’s Row Cotton Inc. Tour