For this Arizona company, garment decorating is about more than fashion; it’s a platform for socially responsible business.
In the garment world, this means knowing where the materials come from, how they are finished, and the conditions under which they are manufactured. “Our vetting process is extensive,” Nelson says. “I try to go back to the fiber. If it’s cotton, for example, I look for whether it’s grown in America and in what region, which can make a difference in how soft the fabric is. I also look for manufacturers that don’t use heavy metal pigments or dyes in their products. A sustainable, responsible manufacturing model is also important. I read what’s been written about the company, check for EPA violations, and check its Glassdoor.com reviews to get a feel for it from the inside. If possible, I like to actually visit the plant and see who’s making the garment and the working conditions.”
In addition to 100-percent organic cotton, which accounts for about 60 percent of its business, the Fed By Threads sustainable materials lineup includes bamboo, hemp, and an rPET recycled plastic/organic cotton blend. Bamboo is used primarily for upscale fashion garments, hemp as an alternative to organic cotton in applications requiring a little more durability, and rPET – which Nelson calls “urban cashmere” – for hoodies, sweatshirts, and specialty apparel.
While Nelson has no preference in fabrics for most applications, he finds the density of hemp gives it a touch similar to that of 6-ounce cotton with the durability of a heavyweight cotton. He also points out that even with a higher thread count, bamboo garments tend to weigh less than those made of organic cotton, making it possible to pack more units in the same size box. And bamboo breathes and moves well, but it calls for a thinner ink deposit to preserve its extremely soft hand, frequently making it a better choice for light-colored garments that don’t require an underbase for printing. On the other hand, organic cotton seems to offer more color choices, Nelson says, noting that the choice of fabric often gets down to the customer’s expectations. When custom dyeing is required, it is done by a sustainable house using soy-based formulations.
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