Eco-Friendly Factories: How Do You Know Your Manufacturer Is Green?

As consumers increasingly look for transparency around the making and sourcing of the products they purchase, designers are striving to meet that need not only the conception of the product, but the manufacturing. While finding the perfect, environmentally-friendly fabric poses a challenge that’s equal parts fun and gratifying, locating a factory that adheres to sustainable practices can prove more daunting. So what are the key things you need to know when identifying the factory that keeps your production process green? We spoke to Kathy Hattori of natural dye studio Botanical Colors, a Maker’s Row company, to get some words of wisdom.

What constitutes a green factory, and how can young brands identify them?

This is an evolving question as a number of organizations are providing resources to address safer chemicals in textile processing by certifying all the chemical inputs that are used in creating clothes, while others focus on social justice, fair labor and fair trade, and yet others are providing solutions for visionary brands to be first to market with sustainable apparel.

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There are a number of important initiatives that are striving to create cleaner manufacturing practices that protect resources, the environment, and the workers. Among them are the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) which provides organic certification for both products and manufacturers.  Another service that really digs deep into safe chemistry for textile processing is bluesign, which is used by Eileen Fisher and Patagonia along with other brands. Finally, Cradle2Cradle is active in certifying materials and processes as sustainable, requiring that all inputs into a product are reusable or recyclable. Their initiative is called Fashion Positive and has a number of brands that are committed to sustainability including Stella McCartney, Loomstate and G-Star Raw.

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Finally, a number of manufacturers are cleaning up their own processes to include solar energy, making sure that they are using appropriate amounts of water and energy, and recycling and cleaning their wastewater for reuse in the factory. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) did an audit called Clean by Design where they reviewed some of the largest factories in China and made recommendations for simple energy savings such as fixing leaks, reusing water, using heat exchangers and this made a significant difference in energy and water consumption.

Key certifications to look out for when choosing your factory:

GOTS (organic), bluesign (non-toxic chemicals), Fashion Positive (circular supply chain), Oeko-Tex (toxicity)

What are the key things to keep in mind when building an environmentally sustainable line?

  1. Do your homework. Where in the sustainability continuum do you want to be? You can start small and focused or you can dive right in.
  2. Be informed: ask your supplier questions.
  3. Develop a relationship with your suppliers. Sustainability is evolving: there will be more choices and options as more designers request them and if your supplier knows you are looking for these options, they can be invaluable in helping source new products and materials.

Looking for an eco-friendly factory of your own? Look no further. 

On the Maker’s Row platform there are more than 40 factories that value being sustainable and eco-friendly. Use the code GREENWEEK17 to get $10 off our essentials plan! (Ends on 4/22/17)

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