When I set out to create a moisture-wicking, heat-managing nightgown business, I knew it had to be sustainable. I naively believed that creating it wouldn’t be that difficult because I knew what needed to be done. The reality is, creating truly sustainable apparel is way more challenging than I thought. Part of the problem is that the industry isn’t set up to be sustainable. Finding companies that will produce small order quantities and use natural materials (including thread), was akin to finding Waldo. I was fortunate because word of mouth led me to my wonderful garment makers, who were incredibly patient as I asked them for requests most of their clients don’t make (Can you please use cotton thread? Do you have organic cotton labels? Can you please save the leftover fabric cuttings for me? – alas, they couldn’t and didn’t – but they did save the fabric cuttings for me!).

To make something sustainably means the ability to make products today without compromising the needs of future generations.[1] You could add that to do so without polluting the local resources or using child labour while adding fair pay, are also part of this definition.

I started with my own personal intention:

  1. Make a product that is effective at managing heat and moisture
  2. Make it organic so it is good for the person wearing it and good for the planet
  3. Practice a zero-waste philosophy at every stage possible

To stick to these guiding principles, I had to consider 5 areas of the garment – design, materials, order quantity, packaging and, greenhouse gas emissions.

Design

If you don’t design something people want to wear, it’s as good as making something that gets thrown directly in the garbage. Comfort is important, but you want your clients to look forward to wearing it; to be happy to go to bed for a change- which isn’t always the case when you suffer from chronic night sweats. So, it needs to look and feel good. If you’re designing a sustainable garment you also need to think about the details like zippers, buttons, thread and any other accessories that might be used – most of which are plastic these days. Further, we want to make a garment with as little fabric waste as possible, so making sure that patterns are laid out on the fabric to minimize waste is also important. The more fabric waste, the more money and resources you are leaving on the floor.

Materials

Finding a fabric with a low impact on the environment that could manage heat and moisture was actually the easy part. Early in the journey I located a supplier with the same environmental ethos I had. Our fabric uses minimal resources and water compared to other crops, and because it’s made from non-petroleum-based resources, there is no worry about microfibre beads ending up in the water system.

However, locating the labels and thread was more challenging. Although I wanted organic, in the end, I had to settle for conventional cotton labels and polyester thread (non-biodegradable). As our volume increases, I will be able to use organic cotton labels and thread.

Order quantity

Because I’m working with a small, local shop, I am able to order small runs at a time, which they can produce quickly. This means that we can adjust order quantities as necessary, depending on which sizes are ordered most often. We intend to always produce medium-sized batches of apparel, so as to not waste resources (or money!) on producing things people don’t want.

Packaging

I thought finding labels was going to be the death of me until I started looking for packaging solutions. There is a lot of conflicting information out there but in the end, I relied on the Common Objective’s research. CO is a non-profit organization that partners designers, brands, sewing shops and, materials, with the objective of making the apparel industry more sustainable. Their recommendation is that at present, it is best to use, 100% recyclable plastic polybags for each garment in as small a size as possible. The reason for this is that not all “biodegradable” polybags are actually biodegradable, and many townships, counties, and municipalities don’t offer commercial composting facilities for compostable polybags. Regarding craft cardboard envelopes, they aren’t waterproof which limits their effectiveness at protecting from all the elements. It’s not an ideal option, but it’s the best of the worst for the time being. We will continue to investigate better solutions. On the positive side, our little cards inside the bag are 100% hemp paper! Our sachets of lavender (if your package contains it) use off-cuts of fabric from the nightgowns and organic lavender.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

We’re constantly looking at our overall environmental footprint and doing our best to keep it to a minimum. We tried to find locally manufactured hemp fabric, but unfortunately, it isn’t made in North America at this time. On the positive side, hemp is grown here, so maybe one day we will have fabric manufacturing facilities. In the meantime, our hemp fabric is imported so we have to account not only for the greenhouse gas emissions from the transport from the factory to our sewing shop but also to our customer. At the year-end, we will tally up all the emissions from the transportation footprint and offset them using carbon offsets.

The bottom line: The apparel industry is responsible for 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions and is the second-largest consumer of water. For these reasons alone, it’s critical that if a new company is participating in the apparel industry, it practices sustainability from the very beginning of its journey. By putting systems in place now, and finding suppliers to work with, we will always be able to produce high-quality clothing with the lowest impact on the environment possible.

Let me know if you have any comments, questions, or, suggestions in the comment box. Thanks for stopping by.

 

[1] This is a very rough adaptation of the term “sustainable development” coined by the Brundtland Report in 1987.

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