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Rethinking ‘Green’

(December/January 2018) posted on Thu Feb 07, 2019

Careful planning, ethical sourcing, and customer education are the keys to a truly sustainable company.

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By Skya Nelson

I know what you’re probably thinking: “It costs more.” And so it probably seems at first, until you consider that sustainable clothing pays for the entire product cycle. Cheap garments pay only for the “First World” steps of cut/sew/decoration, delivery, overhead, and marketing. Not paid for is the “Third World” pollution, environmental cleanup, or horrific working conditions. By continuing to buy $4 shirts from H&M, consumers are accepting a process that’s unstable and unrepeatable, and will result in manufacturing being shifted to the lowest bidder, over and over again.

As our world slowly becomes more sustainable, we’re accepting many of the associated cost increases. When you get new tires at Costco, you’re charged a $10 recycling fee. Most of us have switched our grocery bags from paper and then plastic to reusable sacks. In each case, our society chose to stop wasting and customers are paying a higher price.

Fed By Threads and other sustainable companies are aware of these fees and ancillary costs and our customers have told us we must be sustainable at a reasonable price in order to complete the transaction. Are people willing to pay more for a recycled shirt? Yes – we sell them every day.

What does this mean for you? It means understanding your entire supply chain, and finding a niche where you can specialize and shine. It means recognizing your strengths and avoiding costly mistakes and waste that impact your business. We’ve found that comprehensively and accurately tracking the resources and costs associated with every job (water use, dryer temperature, production cycle times, volume of materials sent for recycling) is the only way we can function. We track every moment of production.

And the secret ingredient that will make or break you is time. It’s the only one you can’t buy or manipulate. 

Recently, our company printed apparel for the second annual Goalkeepers Global e-conference held by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The shirts were beautiful: A one-color front with type as small as 6 points and a 24-color back that combined a variety of techniques. We printed them at three facilities and they came out perfect. Even with hyper-focused schedule management and shipping planned to the minutest detail, we could not have foreseen a hurricane that would delay our deliveries by nearly a week.

The only way to deliver the goods on time was for me to personally take them on a red eye from Arizona to New York City. The $1500 of additional expenses hadn’t been budgeted because we had no way of knowing the weather issues in advance. And all our client knew was that I showed up with the shirts on the day they were promised. In the end, we’re similar to most decorators: We’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done correctly. Our main brand differentiator is that we only use sustainable materials and ethical business practices from “dirt to shirt.” But thinking “green” was only the first step. By being nimble, attentive to lowering our costs, aware of evolving technology, and serious about delivering social benefits, we’ve found the formula that our customers want.


Skya Nelson is the chief operating officer and creative director for Fed By Threads

Read more from the December 2018/January 2019 issue, including the full report on the "Five Key Trends for the Next Five Years" series.


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