For Clothes For Life, ethical fashion means not only creating a product that is environmentally friendly but is also long lasting and manufactured under safe and well monitored conditions. Our products appeal to our consumer because of their classic and timeless look. Our clothes are easy to care for, they make it easy to look good for those who don’t have time to care.
During our design and production process we had the opportunity to work with multiple organizations, including the Fair Labor Association (FLA), Gildan and the Central American Polytechnic Institute (Instituto PolitÈcnico Centroamericano – IPC). The FLA is a non-profit organization that works with apparel brands and factories worldwide to strive towards ending sweatshop conditions. Gildan is a well known, Canadian based active wear company. IPC, a training facility sponsored by Gildan, offers specialized training in Apparel Technology as well as Textile Technology. Through collaboration with Gildan, we were able to use IPC as a manufacturing facility for our products, using Gildan’s materials.
The new trend in the fashion industry is to “go green.” While many companies claim to have gone green to boost sales, few have the evidence to back it up. Despite this, there are a few standout brands like Nike, American Apparel, and Gildan that have recently been raising the bar in terms of corporate social responsibility. These companies have been setting a great example for the rest of the fashion industry by taking care of their employees, trying to reduce their carbon footprint, and giving back to their communities.
American Apparel is a vertically integrated manufacturer, distributor, and retailer. They are one of the few companies that source in the United States and are very employee oriented. Employees are also offered subsidized public transportation, subsidized lunches, English language classes, and guaranteed job security. American Apparel also ensures each worker and their family has access to their on-site medical clinic.
Nike, who has had a lot of bad press in the past for using sweatshops, has turned their image around with help from the Fair Labor Association. Their main focus is on innovation and creating positive change, whether it is with their workers, the environment, or local communities. They have raised their standards with all of the manufacturers they work with. Many internal audits have been put in place to ensure all employees are being treated fairly.
Nike has also done a lot of research on sustainable products. Many Nike products have been re-thought and re-designed to lower material waste, to use less harsh toxins, and to create a overall more sustainable product. Nike has teamed up with many other companies in the hopes of implementing change. They have recently joined with Ceres and announced that they are creating a new business coalition that will call for stronger US climate and energy legislation. Nike has also founded the Leather Working Group, in which they partner up with tanneries to develop better environmental practices.
Another company we took a close look at was Gildan. They too started out with a bad reputation for using sweatshops. Again, with the help from the FLA, Gildan has remedied its bad ways and is now setting a great example for other companies. Their main focuses are environmental management and fair labor. They have implemented a strict code of conduct that manufacturers must abide by if they want to do business with Gildan. They also have an environmental policy that limits the amounts of chemicals, dyes, and materials used as well as energy and water. They were recently the first vertically-integrated basic active wear apparel manufacturer to receive accreditation from the FLA, which is very impressive. Gildan’s main fiber used is cotton, however the cotton that they use is not organic. According to Gildan, the increased water usage associated with growing organic cotton outweighs the benefits of decreased chemical use. For this reason, they believe that using conventionally grown cotton is best for the company. Through this decision, Gildan has shown us that “going green” does not necessarily mean going organic.
All of the aforementioned companies have shown us that a hard work and attention to detail can go a long way. Any company, large or small has the ability to continue to improve their dedication to sustainability and make a difference. Reaching out to serve local communities, decrease environmental impact, and caring for workers will hopefully influence other companies, and in turn help us move towards a more sustainable future.
Overview of Inspiration
The research that we conducted helped us to understand what companies are actively doing to address ethical fashion. Our research gave us more understanding as to what sustainability is, and how difficult it is to define. According to the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production “Sustainable Production is the creation of goods and services using processes and systems that are: non-polluting; conserving of energy and natural resources; economically efficient; safe and healthful for workers, communities, and consumers; and, socially and creatively rewarding for all working people.”
“Fast fashion”, one of the current major trends in the apparel market, has made clothing seem disposable and caused a large increase in waste. One of our main goals in creating Clothes For Life, was to develop “slow fashion”. “Slow fashion” is an apparel design process that encourages long time use of apparel items by creating clothing that can be worn for multiple seasons, without going out of style. “Fast fashion” encourages consumers to purchase more trend based items, which are only worn for a very short period of time, then disregarded and often disposed of. Factories involved with “fast fashion” brands are often pushed beyond their limits, and this tends to create unsafe working conditions and increase the risk of shadow factories being involved in production. When factories do not deliver on time they pay a penalty fee, which is often deducted from employee’s wages instead of the factory itself. To avoid these fees factory owners will open shadow factories. At these locations working conditions and employee labor hours are not regulated.
Clothes For Life will approach slow fashion by reducing the number of send-outs to four, seasonal lines. This ensures that there is no need to rush the product development process, production process, or shipping. With more time for sample stages, product quality is assured. Buyers are not pressured into overbuying, and can view all pieces in the line before making purchase orders therefore reducing waste by eliminating over-production. By creating looks that are classic, and do not follow all of the current trends, not only can pieces be worn over a longer period of time, but buyers can easily predict what quantity will sell.
Overview of Concept
Our main goal was to create a line that was not only sustainable, but classic and fashionable as well. This will hopefully allow Clothes for Life to reach a broad market and make an effect on our consumer. By creating a line of classic easy to wear garments from durable and easily washed fabrics, our pieces are built to withstand the test of time.
Clothes for life is centered around clothing that has a longer product life and is meant for day to day living. Our garments are comfortable and easy to care for; we have made it easy to look good for those who don’t have the time to worry about their clothes.
Clothes for Life’s first collection is for Spring 2010. Our target market is a 30-50 year old woman, who lives in the suburbs. She is a mother that leads a busy life and is always on the go. With our garments she can easily change her clothes for many different occasions by layering or changing just one piece of an ensemble. This is especially important because she may be in multiple environments each day. Our color palette is centered around neutrals and subtle colors that will continue to be fashionable season to season, and that are easy to mix and match. We have designed transitional pieces; they can be worn to run errands, go to the park, go to work and then head out to dinner. By adding layers or buttoning/unbuttoning pieces the look of the ensemble can be easily altered. All of our pieces can be mixed and matched, lending to the ability to create multiple different outfits with ease.
Our designs are classic, use different shapes and asymmetry to add interest, and are never overly trendy The button closures allow the pieces to be transitional, and also add nice detail.
Ethical dress to us means “slow fashion”, longer use, and having fewer garments that are able to be mixed and matched to create interesting looks, using fabric that requires less care.
Designs- Overview and Process
After deciding our target market and intended direction for the line, our design process began. Each team member brought 15 initial design ideas forward at the beginning of the design process. By mixing and matching our separates that we collectively decided on 20 looks. Through a narrowing down 7 final looks were selected. Unanimous decisions on overall look and appeal of garments were made, and from there technical flats and new illustrations were developed by the technical designer. As the patterning and construction process began, small adaptations to pieces were made, as necessary to reach a fully functional final product.
The aesthetic appeal of the pieces was extremely important. The team had to work together to make collective decisions as to how each piece should function for the final consumer while staying classic and not overly conservative. From fit and durability to fabrication and color scheme, the line was carefully designed to keep cohesive. Through the design process we were continually keeping in mind our sustainability goals of clothing that is easily washed, can be mixed and matched, can be worn as layers and can be worn for long periods of time.
Our three final looks consist of two tank tops, an asymmetrical vest and an asymmetrical hooded top, a pair of pants, a skirt, one dress and one jacket. The pieces were chosen because they best represent the versatility and sustainability of the line. The jacket, which is a very key piece is a classic a-line spring coat made of heavy sweatshirt fleece. It features elbow patches which strengthen its durability increasing product life and has large pockets which offer practicality and eliminate the need to carry a large purse. The silhouette is flattering to all body types, and allows for the wearer to fluctuate in size. Unlike many spring coats, which may be treated with harsh chemicals, Gildan’s Heavy Sweatshirt Fleece offers the wearer an ethically manufactured fabric that can be easily washed at home.
Having the opportunity to work with IPC as our factory was beneficial to Clothes For Life because it allowed us to work with a training community for apparel workers. As Apparel Design students we can appreciate the process the IPC trainees go through to produce garments. The garment creation process takes time to master and we were able to learn from each other the difficulties and rewards of product development.
Through our collaboration with the FLA, we were able to analyze ourselves as a brand, and receive factory assessment through a new auditing tool, the Labor and Environmental Compliance Questionnaire and Factory Compliance Readiness Tool. This allowed us to take a closer look at our own individual process and what factors influenced sustainability.
Self-Analysis with FLA tool
Clothes For Life completed the Labor and Environmental Compliance Questionnaire as a start-up company, using IPC in Honduras as our manufacturing facility. We filled out the survey honestly to gain a better understanding of the auditing process. Below are the results and the scoring explanations. Due to the fact that Clothes For Life is a small and new company we have lots of room for improvement. IPC is overseas, and not under our ownership; this creates several risk factors which include the inability to control the manufacturing process and enforce our code of conduct. To improve our results we could create a stronger code of conduct and be more involved in the auditing process of our factory.
THIS TOOL WAS USED TO AUDIT OUR COMPANY CLOTHING FOR LIFE-FUTURE FLA AUDITS WILL LOOK AT SUPPLIERS AND FACTORIES. This is a simulation of tools FLA are developing.
Labor and Environmental Standards/Compliance Information:
(Score4.0-4.9) Your company has adopted a code, but it is not really comprehensive: a few code elements to ensure fair working conditions and environment protection are still missing.
(Score5.0) Your company has adopted a comprehensive labor and environmental compliance code.
Level of Risk Control:
(Score2.71-3.9) Your company only has minimum procedures to allow it to maintain control over its supply chain. Direct contact with factories and/or agents need to be intensified.
Key Areas for Improvement
Risk Level of Business Model:
(score1-2.7) Your company’s sourcing model bears a significant risk that makes it rather difficult to manage working conditions in its supply chain. This risk is a function of the high number of supplier factories, wide range of products, and indirect contact with factories.
Communication of the Code:
(Score1-1.2) Your company does not communicate the code/ policy on workplace and environmental statndard internally or to suppliers.
(Score1.3-2.0) Your company does communicate the code internally but does not actually train staff on the code of conduct. Also you do not communicate or train the code/policy to your suppliers. Code
(Score2.1-2.7) Your company does communicate and train the internal staff, but does not communicate the code/policy to supppliers.
Social Compliance Audit:
(Score1) Your company‘s suppliers have not received any social compliance audits that the company is aware of. Also the company is not ready to get more involved in audit activities.
(Score1.1-1.5) Your company’s suppliers have not received any social compliance audits that the company is aware of. However the company is ready to get more involved in audit activities.
(Score1.6-2) Although some of the suppliers have received social compliance audits, your company is not aware of the results. However the company is ready to get more involved in audit activities
(Score2.1-2.5) Some of the suppliers have received social compliance audits. Although your company knows the results, it was not involved in conducting and following up on these audits. Meanwhile the company is not ready to get more involved in audit activities.
The important issues are that our clothes adhere to sustainable fashion. As time goes on and the economy constantly changes, it is vital that we keep sustainability a factor in all aspects of our lives. The fashion industry, as well as other associations, can address these issues by continuing to educate consumers. It’s important that sustainability, in the minds of consumers, becomes more than using organic materials.
The biggest challenge is finding a way to be sustainable but keeping with the fashion trends. Being stylish and eco-friendly at the same time is difficult and something that needs to be given large consideration. Sustainability needs to be looked at in every level of the design process, from conception to production. Although the design process is extensive, the results of creating a sustainable product chain are rewarding.
Molly Werner –Team Leader
Kimberly O’Dowd- CAD/Technical Flats, Illustration
Kemi Gadaleta –Technical Packages and Garment Specifications
Amy Whitlock- Patterning
Laura Thompson – Technical Design/CAD