Careful planning, ethical sourcing, and customer education are the keys to a truly sustainable company.
By Skya Nelson
Some of the giant corporations in our industry have committed millions of dollars and infrastructure to developing systems that allow shirts to be printed and shipped quickly, arriving in the customer’s hands in a day or two. These mega-operations have invested heavily in creating increasingly fast delivery systems for products that shouldn’t be made instantly. Yes, T-shirts can be made in an hour for next to nothing, but they are cheap only because these manufacturers aren’t paying the ancillary costs. Farmers in India can’t negotiate their rate above what the local market will pay. Nor can the factory worker in Bangladesh demand a higher wage, because the apparel companies are in a perpetual race for the lowest price – and that only comes with the cheapest labor.
Workers are subject to local legislators, government regulations, and the cost that the market rationalizes, without any advocacy from the customer overseas. In fact, those brands would sooner take their business across the street and endure the pangs of startup production in order to lower their production cost by a few pennies. On the books, it may look like savings, but when you track waste, selvage, production downtime, training, and rejects, those pennies saved may actually mean higher costs.
And somehow, our culture has decided that if an American clothing manufacturer is poisoning people in India, China, Turkey, or some other foreign land where we don’t have to look at them, it’s OK. We don’t mind polluting in other countries as long as we don’t have to look at toxic pools of sludge, children with birth defects, or crumbling buildings, provided we get our garments for cheap. We have been systematically trained to desire cheaper goods. This fast-fashion mindset is nothing more than a race to the bottom to see who can get the cheapest shirt to the customer the fastest.
And sustainability is not about racing to the bottom.
Sustainability is the New Black
If you think sustainability is about hippie sandals, veganism, and recycled drinking straws, you’re buying into the “baby boomer” version of green. Sustainability is about paying attention, planning, understanding your resources, and being able to reasonably predict costs and have repeatable production with profit and without harm. Sustainability is the new “black technology” (a high compliment in the tech world reserved for mind-boggling, futuristic scientific feats), and my CFO loves being in the black.
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