Fashion is the second most polluting industry after the oil industry. It is a complicated business involving varied supply chains, raw material, textile manufacturers, clothing construction, shipping, retail, use and ultimately disposal of the garment. But, in today’s world, no business - no matter how complicated - can ignore the environmental realities of their operations. Below, we’ve put together our thoughts on sustainability and how brands can best achieve sustainable best practices:
Discussions around sustainability in fashion typically involve water consumption and pollution at the fabric level, ethical wage practices (i.e. sustainable living wages), and overproduction (i.e. deadstock waste). At N.A.bld, we help brands at all levels start to address these problems in ways that are achievable for their brand by leveraging on-demand production.
Fabric pollution is perhaps the biggest issue as it is furthest down in the supply chain. Many micro-brands do not have the resources or visibility into large fabric suppliers. On N.A.bld, our brands are fully responsible for their choices in materials. We make sure brands have access to sustainable material resources with preferred sustainable fabric suppliers, on-demand printing, and access to deadstock fabric deals through platforms like Queen of Raw. As an on-demand platform, brands can use N.A.bld to limit production run amounts automatically in their production process and therefore only use as much material as needed.
N.A.bld brands get access to a vetted network of no-minimum cut-and-sew manufacturers all based in the US. All manufacturers are personally visited and inspected by members of our Production Team and must comply with our Manufacturer Code of Ethics. Nearshoring production to the US gives N.A.bld and our brands more visibility into the practices of our production partners and allows us to establish a mutually beneficial relationship while maintaining and growing skilled manufacturing jobs in the USA.
Aside from bigger supply chain waste (water usage, dying methods, etc), we tackle fashion waste at the inventory level. This fashion waste arises from trying to sell clothes that customers don’t want — be this due to bad merchandising judgement or missing the buying mark in a trends driven industry. N.A.bld allows brands to test products and react quickly to customers by giving them a way to produce only what sells on-demand or produce as needed in limited quantities with just-in time manufacturing.
The garment industry produces around 100 billion garments annually according to a 2015 MIT Sustainable Apparel Materials report. Let’s say the sell-through rate (both full and discounted) is a very generous 90%, then potentially 10 billion items of clothing become ‘deadstock’ every year which contribute an estimated 15 billion pounds in textile/apparel waste (assuming the average weight of an article of clothing is 1.5 pounds).
An average brand producing their first collection run typically spends about $200,000 USD to produce 2,000 units. Even with a generous 90% sell through rate there are still 200 units of deadstock, and 300 pounds of pure textile waste created from one collection. Depending on a brand’s standard margin (let’s assume 60 percent), even just $10,000 of dead inventory can actually represent $50,000 worth of retail sales and $30,000 of gross margin dollars. Not only can using N.A.bld help recapture those retail sales by responding to trends in real time but it can also help brands reduce the amount of dead inventory cost and waste.
We shared some high level thoughts about how we think about sustainbility in apparel, fashion, and manufacturing but there are many ways brands can start introducing sustainably practices into their supply chain, products, and business as a way to start creating change.
Materials are on of the biggest areas of impact and largest costs for a brand. Operationally, different material types have different supply chains and restrictions - so it's important to understand the limitations of each and how they are environmentally friendly in comparison. Here are some materials to consider:
- Upcycled materials - repurposed from assembled deadstock inventory
- Organic materials - organic materials still take a lot of resources to plant and procure - make sure you understand water usage and harvesting.
- Recycled materials - RPET and different recycled content materials can be a nice intermediary - especially for polyesters
- Deadstock fabrics - un-assembled material - often leftover from a production run of a larger company
You can start reducing waste at concept stage! Consider different assembly options including using upcycled bases to build upon or zero waste patterns.
- Upcycling / scrap
- Zero waste design
The process by which you bring products to market is almost as important as the design itself. Spend time exploring your inventory strategy. Just-in-time and pre-order models are the easiest way to align supply with demand and operate lean.
Many brands don't consider the end of life for their product, but it can be a huge opportunity area to build brand loyalty through services like alterations or compensation for end of life returns.
- Alterations for life
- Returns for end of life
Small sustainable wins are still wins but only if they work for your brand. Explore your options and start testing what you can incorporate long-term.
N.A.bld has always taken sustainability in our model as a given and we believe that all of the brands we help scale should have sustainability built into their model as well.
Looking towards the future, we hope that by digitizing more components involved in the manufacturing process for brands at scale, we can start to address cutting waste, reducing carbon emissions on shipping by enabling manufacturing localized to the end consumer for more efficient shipping, and source more cost effective, eco-friendly fabrics for our brands which can all contribute to the sustainability of the fashion ecosystem.
Have ideas on how to push fashion forward towards sustainable supply chains? Leave a note in the comments below or reach out to us directly.