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It’s being a while since I last posted here, in part I’ve being busy with several projects; including discovering the magic and monster that is Amazon.com,  and part writer’s block. That is right “writer’s block” I found out it also happens to non writers and I point this out because I don’t consider myself a writer but someone who merely shares an opinion by this great medium that is the Internet.  It’s also hard to find good content to blog about, but luckily for me a business colleague introduced me to “Cotton Farming Magazine” who is constantly looking for answers to the question: “What Customers Want?“. You see Cotton Farming Magazine asks this questions to industry insiders and they like to get different perspectives on this questions, and so my colleague thought I would make a good candidate to answer this question and so I did.

Since they were kind enough to publish my somewhat critical point of view, I’d like to not take away from their publication and actually encourage you to read the entire article in the Cotton Farming Magazine, here is a preview and a link:

Cotton Farming Magazine: "What Customers Want?" article

Cotton Farming Magazine: “What Customers Want?” article

For those that have not heard, there was a fire recently at an apparel factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh that killed over 112 people and injured over 200 others. To make matters worst, this is a factory making clothes for the likes of Walmart, Sears, Disney among others and there are reports that during the fire, a factory manager instructed workers to keep working and ignored reports of the fire. The following day, I received several phone calls and emails from a producer at Al Jazeera looking for my comments about the devastating fire. It’s a horrendous tragedy especially since just this past September, two other garment factory fires in Karachi and Lahore, Pakistan killed 315 people. How can it be possible that in this day and age we can have in less than 3 months over 427 people died in 3 factory fires?
Apparel Factory Fire in Bangladesh -

Apparel Factory Fire in Bangladesh –


One of the cons of Fashion Globalization in the supply chain, is the constant search of cheaper labor which drives corporations to find themselves producing in sub-par condition factories in impoverish countries. With wages rapidly raising in China, Vietnam and Bangladesh have been the next attractive destination for cheap labor, but really at what cost when there are people dying? What the producers at Al Jazeera wanted to know was “how important the safety of worker is to brands – in their business decision-making and their drive to be profitable”? which is an excellent question and one that certainly should be asked more often when big corporations continue to gain profits from human exploitation.

Just last year was the 100th year anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire back in 1911 in NYC; a real game changer for safety standards in US manufacturing. The fire led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers.”  However 100 years later these safety standards are easily circumvented by outsourcing to other countries?? Many positive things resulted from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in NYC, over 20 laws were drafted to protect worker’s conditions; I really hope after these fires in Pakistan and Bangladesh there is more emphasis on worker’s safety conditions in those countries.

Jeanologia "The Science of Finishing"

At the latest rounds of Fashion Fabric Fairs in NYC for Spring Summer 2013, I came across a rather interesting exhibit. Smack in the entrance of the latest installment of the NYC version of Kingpins, there was a great denim finishing machine on display. Courtesy of Jeanologia; this machine has the answer for a previous article I wrote about “Globalisation: When fashion kills” in which it was described the hazardous conditions related with sandblasting of denim. This machine not only does away with sandblasting but it also helps reduce water, energy and radically improves working conditions from those that still use sandblasting.

Jeanologia is a progressive company based in Valencia, Spain; who uses the tag line of “The Science of Finishing” “for the last 15 years, their mission has been to enhance industrial garment finishing through technology and know-how”. They also worked on a study of a favorite topic on this blog the real impact of the apparel industry on the environment. And they concluded on the need for better garment finishing. Their solution: create a garment finishing technologies that help reduce a company footprint:

-Less Water

-Less Energy … both electrical and caloric

-Reduce worker health hazards working conditions

Below is a video I found of the machine at work in the Project Show in Las Vegas on August 2011. A really amazing job we can accomplish when we utilize technology to improve processes, machinery and infrastructure:

Many in the U.S. have heard Syms’ tag-line “An Educated Consumer is our Best Customer.” Now that Syms is closing it’s doors, what makes a current educated consumer? Is it still the bargain hunter? Well, in many cases an educated consumer assesses value to price ratio on it’s purchases. But in this day and age of Occupy Wall Street, what does it mean to be an educated consumer of apparel? One the main points of this blog is to share a point of view and advocate for companies that are updating and improving their processes in order to offer innovative design while reducing their carbon footprint; now on a post #OccupyWallStreet era it also helps if the company is also working to improve local economies. With that said, I’m happy to have read certain developments since my last post from companies around the globe that have been working in similar model.

Globalization of Fashion is something that has been explored in this blog, inclusive of the pros and cons of such; even as those pros and cons continue to shift. Well, certainly working to reduce carbon footprint and improve local economies is to some extend against Fashion Globalization; at least from a sourcing perspective. Last post covered how My New Balance® for J.Crew 1400 sneakers are made in USA and available at a Liquor Store.  In this post, I’d like to share how across the pond, two major companies in the U.K have chosen to increase their local manufacturing and help improve their local economies.

Mulberry Factory

Mulberry Factory

The iconic brand Mulberry has plans to open it’s second factory in the UK with some help from their government: “Mulberry has secured £2.5 million from the Regional Growth Fund by the coalition Government to help set up the second factory at total cost estimated at £7.5 million and add a reportedly 250 jobs.” Click here for more information about their new upcoming factory in Bridgwater, Somerset

In addition, John Lewis has started to:  Give the consumers the choice to buy cheap products coming from half a world away or pay more for locally made products that can help grow local economies.  The department store will mark all locally made products with a “Made in UK” stamp. As it appears in John Lewis’s Press Release:  “The ‘Made in UK’ identifier will appear on over 4,000 products which are manufactured in the UK, from early 2012. It consolidates John Lewis’s support of British manufacturing which sees it work with over 130 companies which make its own-brand products. John Lewis also operates a factory in Lancashire, Herbert Parkinson, which weaves and produces its own-brand fabrics, duvets and pillows, and where its seven-day curtain service is based.” For complete transcript click here: John Lewis backs British manufacturing with launch of Made in UK product identifier

Now imagine if only Walmart would do something similar? lol

My new pair of New Balance sneakers were color designed by the J. Crew design team, made in the USA and are available at a Liquor Store? Yes, indeed. This past week as I left  a meeting in Tribeca, I found myself in front of a Liquor Store, well not any liquor store but J. Crew Tribeca Men’s Shop. The store unique name “Liquor Store J Crew Mens Shop” comes from the fact that the store took over a location that used to be a liquor store bar, and now it has been reincarnated into a great & eclectic shopping experience for gentlemen.

Once inside the store, I found a great range of colors of the New Balance® for J.Crew 1400 sneakers; to my pleasant surprise, these colors are not only limited editions being offered by J. Crew but “each pair is crafted in the USA from premium American-made suede at New Balance’s Skowhegan, Maine, factory.” What a great example of innovation in both retail and sourcing while helping improve the US economy by keeping jobs in America.

New Balance® for J.Crew 1400 sneakers

New Balance® for J.Crew 1400 sneakers

The irony of this shopping experience for me, was that just this past July I attended a seminar on the “Innovation of Sourcing” for the textile and apparel industries, during a fairly known fabric & sourcing trade show in NY. What this seminar called innovation meant going after the cheapest labor in the globe; is that really innovation? The panel was composed by 2 industry veterans, a young technology savvy entrepreneur and a not so good moderator. The speakers except for the technology savvy one, concentrated the best part of the conversation talking about the importance of knowing your factories and visiting the factories to make sure you know and understand your suppliers; very good points but at the end they strictly spoke about doing business in factories in China and moving into Vietnam and Bangladesh looking for cheaper and cheaper labor. I truly walked away extremely disappointed with the panelists, except with the young technology savvy entrepreneur, and that’s because the technology on his site is actually innovative but at the end it revolved around imports.

One only needs to read into the labor shortages and increase labor cost in the far east to realize that future real innovation is closer to home. In addition, the US is one of the main cotton producers in the world but most of the cotton goes overseas and travels from country to country, where the yarns, fabrics and apparel are being manufactured before the garments end up back in our retail shops. How many miles does a pound of cotton has to travel around the globe before it gets back to a local retail shop? During a separate research, I found that today there are so many great innovation in machinery for manufacturing that requires a lot less manual labor and instead few smart trained operators; with adequate smart investment a company could increase productivity tremendously and compound it with lower logistics cost associated with domestic operations to help manufacturers balance out higher operations costs. That would be real “innovation in Sourcing”.

In the mean time, our politicians are all wasting time fighting about how to either cut expenses or increase taxes, but how about increasing domestic manufacturing and job opportunities? At the end, such idealistic proposal could only succeed when proper information is forwarded to the consumer. Give the consumers the choice to buy cheap products coming from half a world away or pay more for locally made products that can help grow local economies. I certainly know what to choose. Kudos to New Balance for their commitment to manufacture domestically. Click here to learn about New Balance Made in USA and Made in UK stance.

Herbal Dyes or as in Wikipedia: “Natural dyes are dyes or colorants derived from plants, invertebrates,a or minerals. The majority of natural dyes are vegetable dyes from plant sources – roots, berries, bark, leaves, and wood — and other organic sources such as fungi and lichens.” Which have considerate advantage over conventional dyes, where various 8000 chemicals are known to be used in textiles industry for getting today’s vibrant colors.

Turmeric is a great example of a Natural Dye, used in Asia for many years and it is a fantastic herb to treat small cuts and wounds.  It is actually an antiseptic and anti inflammatory herb, which means that you can stick it right into your first aid kit. Which makes Turmeric an ideal dye for fabrics that touch the skin of people, especially those allergic to fabrics dyed conventionally and infuse with chemicals.

Turmeric
Turmeric

So what if they use lots of chemicals in conventional dyes and my skin is not allergic? Well, a good example of what’s wrong with these chemicals appeared in New York Times article, which shows a satellite image of blue dye and other chemicals, as they flow into the river in such amounts it changes the color of the river temporarily.

Qian Hai Nan Lu China Guangdong Guangzhou Zeng Cheng Shi

Qian Hai Nan Lu China Guangdong Guangzhou Zeng Cheng Shi

One of the globe leading organic and herbal dyes fabric mill is Aura Herbal. Which does a great job a providing truly eco-friendly textiles. They use organic cotton fiber and natural dyes; instead of other fabric mills which offer organic fibers that are then dye conventionally. Below is a brief of Aura’s processes along with a chart displaying the different Herbs they used and the array of colors which such Herbs produce.

“The process of herbal dyeing was developed through extensive research during the age-old dyeing methods practiced since the days of the Indus civilization. The process of herbal dyeing starts with the gray cloth passing through several stages of treatment before it becomes colorful and ready to wear. During this entire treatment only natural processes are used.

Herbs & Medicinal Properties

Herbs & Medicinal Properties

Fabric & Yarns used are certified organic cotton, natural cotton, silk, wool, linen, jute, hemp etc. and their natural blends.

Desizing
The washing of processed greige cloth starts with removing sizing, gums and oils used in the course of weaving by washing with natural mineral-rich water and sea salts.

Bleaching
Fabrics are exposed to direct sunlight, use of a natural grass base and animal manure starts the bleaching process.

Mordanting
To make the colors bright and fast natural mordents such as Myrballams, rubhabs leaves, oils, minerals, alum, iron Vat etc are used. We do not use heavy metal mordents like copper, chrome, zinc, tin etc.

Dyeing
Aura uses only medicinally rich herbs, plant material, minerals & oils like, turmeric, Myraballm, castor oil, sea salt etc for dyeing fabric or yarn. We have aspired to achieve and retained the medicinal qualities of the herbs by immersing the plant material directly in the dye bath for the same reason.

Finishing
In Herbal Dyeing, finishing is done by sprinkling pure water on the cloth and then stretching under pressure, using hand rolls, aloe Vera, and castor oil.

Recycling Plant
Solid and liquid waste is separated through the process of filtration and used for farming purposes as a manure & watering the fields.”

In following post we’ll further explore some of the above mentioned herbs and it’s properties.

Hennes & Mauritz or H&M as best known, used 15,000 tonnes of organic cotton in 2010, an increase of 77% compared to 2009. And with the introduction of their new line Conscious Collection that number is projected to grow. In our last entry we covered: What’s Organic Cotton? On this one, we’ll cover what are some of the benefits of Organic Textiles or Textiles made of Organic Cotton.

Conscious Collection

Conscious Collection

The below is a list compiled by Aura Herbal:

Organic clothing can help reduce exposure to allergens and other irritants and give a comfortable feeling.

• Manual farming and organic practices have a lower carbon footprint as the entire process consumes less fuel and energy and emits fewer greenhouse gases compared to chemical textiles.
• Not grown from genetically modified cottonseed.
• Grown with natural and not synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, no chemical defoliant used.
• Eco-friendly processing that does not compromise workers’ health and helps reduce water and electric use and toxic runoff.
• Strict testing ensures the absence of contaminants like nickel, lead, formaldehyde, amines, pesticides and heavy metals.
• People with allergies and chemical sensitivity especially benefit from organic cotton clothing, as conventional cotton may retain harmful toxic residues. Even if you don’t have sensitive skin, organic cotton will just feel better against your skin.
• Children are at greater risk for pesticide-related health problems than adults. Millions of children in the US receive up to 35% of their estimated lifetime dose of some carcinogenic pesticides by age five through food, contaminated drinking water, household use, and pesticide drift.
• Farm workers working in conventionally grown cotton fields around the world suffer from an abundance of toxic exposures and related health problems. Pesticides used on cotton cause acute poisonings and chronic illness to farm workers worldwide. Acute respiratory symptoms and other health effects in communities surrounding cotton farms are correlated with high use of defoliation chemicals.

Environmental Benefits
• Improved soil fertility
• Increasing cotton yields
• Massive saving of precious water. This is important as cotton is a water-hungry crop, which can cause problems in areas without high natural water availability. It has a positive effect on the content of organic matter and helps to avoid soil acidification
• It improves soil structure by increasing soil activity, thus reducing the risk of erosion
• It promotes the development of earthworms and above ground arthropods, thus improving the growth conditions of the crop.

Furthermore, organic crops profit from root symbioses and are better able to exploit the soil, and organic fields accommodate a greater variety of plants, animals and microorganisms.

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