Careful planning, ethical sourcing, and customer education are the keys to a truly sustainable company.
By Skya Nelson
Corporate marketing departments that treat printed apparel as an afterthought have been a thorn in my side for as long as I’ve been in the industry. About three years ago, we pivoted our company and restructured almost all of our operations. We looked at the landscape of apparel decoration and custom printing, and saw an opportunity to expand our sustainable clothing line.
We got rid of our retail and online stock design businesses and focused Fed By Threads entirely on cut and sew. In 2016, every product we printed had been purchased as a finished garment; now, we contract manufacture 70 product groups that we have designed at four factories across the United States. We only use sustainable fabrics and it’s been difficult to buy what we need off the shelf. To meet our needs, we’ve been engaged with mills to develop our own proprietary fabrics. Now, we’re producing jackets, aprons, resort wear, swimsuits, and even mascot uniforms for sports teams – all under the banner of ethically made American clothing.
I’ll admit, the cost is higher and the planning requires a level of discipline that may be difficult for a small shop to achieve. Above all, the move to sustainable production has forced us to think about time differently. We’ve learned that if we mismanage time, we can’t recover easily or inexpensively.
The Instant Economy
Let’s be realistic: Our customers are human beings, and that means they’re selfish. They want what they want, when they want it. Amazon and Walmart have enabled them to buy little treasures quickly online and then have them in hand the next day. The unforeseen problem from this business model, sometimes called the “Amazon effect,” is the excessive shipping waste such as cardboard and packaging materials that paralyzes national waste-management chains with mountains of boxes. Some retailers are trying to respond by using fewer packaging materials and switching to shipping bags for soft goods, but the model is still built around the concept of instant gratification.
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