The Real Sustainable Supply Chain
By: Joyce Hu, Creative Director, Wildlife Works
What does an ethical production chain really look like for the end of the supply chain, where your products are actually made?
We can all point to fair trade practices such as living wages, legal working hours, child-free labor, and safe working environments. But nobody talks about the unsexy details; all the small business and design transactions up the chain that must take place in order to protect those workers’ rights.
Most consumers – even designers and buyers – have no idea how every decision at each step of the fashion production chain exponentially impacts the workers’ every day ability to survive and thrive.
For a small factory like us, cash flow is very tight. Every dollar of profit made is reinvested back into the community we serve. But most of our revenue goes towards keeping our workers employed, which is the foundation of our mission. Producing with us sustains jobs that replace harmful livelihoods such as poaching and selling illegal charcoal.
One of the first and most important business transactions with a Fair Trade factory is receiving the 50% deposit of the P.O. once the customer places the order. Our customers who include Threads for Thought, Greater Good and Raven & Lily, know that these terms are crucial in sustaining our factory. Most mainstream factories must accept post-ship terms where 100% payment is made only after the goods are delivered. These terms don’t support the average factory’s cash flow needs because of all the up front costs of doing production.
Not only are we required to purchase the fabric upfront, we have hefty overhead costs to keep 3 factories running in the middle of the remote bush. Of course our employees have to be paid to make the goods. The 50% invoice deposit is needed to cover all of these costs before and during production. For bigger orders, we have to gear up with contractors who must be paid weekly for their work.
Without the deposit, many small factory owners have to borrow money with high interest, which makes catching up extremely difficult. Even worse, if a factory or cooperative does not have the financial resources to pay their employees during production, many workers are forced to take personal loans with interest so high that they could be in debt forever. This happens often with small women’s group set-ups all over the developing world. In most cases, post-ship payment terms continues to feed the cycle of poverty.
Another important practice to a sustainable production chain is educating designers to design around sustainable resources, such as designing for sustainable fabrics and to maximize the factory’s accessible resources and skills.
Our clients are committed to getting creative with design and sourcing in order to find that perfect intersection between form and fair trade function. Many pre-design meetings take place before a collection is even considered. Designers also consult with us throughout the design process. This close design relationship helps to deliver within expectations while pushing up our skills and quality.
Lastly, lead times are made realistic for ethical production that protects workers. Price points are transparent and reflect true costs. The mainstream production system with its multiple brokers hides all of the delays and costs incurred due to various production challenges including power outages, last minute design changes, or material shipping delays. Jobs and labor can be shuffled around to meet deadlines, and nobody at the top of the chain knows the consequences of their requests. In a system where there is a lack of direct responsibility and knowledge, it’s always the end of the production chain that suffers, as we have seen with such tragedies like Rana Plaza.
Organic and ethical production does not fit into the mainstream production system of fast fashion where everything must be delivered cheaper and faster and squeezes the bottom of the supply chain. We encourage our clients to design from the factory up. Many sustainable brands, such as People Tree, recognize this as a cornerstone of sustainable production.
These practices are just the tip of the sustainable production iceberg, but they represent a new way of producing that looks after humans beings and protects wildlife and our environment first and foremost.
As consumers, we can take small, easy steps towards being more conscious fashion shoppers.
Where No Evil offers practical, least harmful fashion choices to make your closet greener without sacrificing style.
Watch True Cost (available to watch on Netflix) to see a 360 view of how the fashion industry can negatively impact people around the world and everyone along the production chain, including you the consumer.
Here are some easy guidelines to make you a more conscious fashion shopper:
- Always choose 100% natural fibers (like wool, cotton, silk) because they biodegrade.
- Make a conscious effort to learn about the supply chain of your favorite brands.
- Buy used and vintage.
- Buy quality over quantity. Keep your favorite, high quality clothes for longer, buy less and slow the rate of filling landfills.
- If you must buy synthetic, 1. look for clothing made from recycled synthetic fibers 2. stick to unblended garments so that it can be recycled back into that synthetic fiber. The technology to recycle blended fabrics (i.e. polyester/cotton blends) has not yet been developed. 3. For recycling: H&M and North Face stores have recycling bins.
Some of our favorite resources for sustainable fashion and reuse fashion:
Threads for Thought
Wildlife Works has a permanent hidden link to samples for sale here: http://www.shopwildlifeworks.com/collections/flash-sale
Have fun being conscious consumers!