Supply chains can be confusing and overwhelming, but they are very important when you start digging into the sustainability of a product. On each product page under the "transparency tab" you can find a transparency wheel. We broke down each steps of the wheel for you here.
fashion supply chain
Supply chains can be confusing and overwhelming, but they are very important when you start digging into the sustainability of a product. A supply chain is a network of interconnected links and companies, all working in a different stage of the chain to create a final product. There are a ton of different variations possible and they can have a lot of steps, making it difficult for a consumer (or even a producer) to track. We try to show the basics of the supply chain to you in the transparency wheel that can be found on every product page. Here we explain the basic steps of the production process. On this page, we would like to give an overview of a standard (fashion) supply chain.
1. the raw material or seed
The creation of a product always starts with the raw material. In fashion, this can for example be cotton or wool, but also birch trees or petroleum. Even though this sounds logical, it is often difficult to track where the material comes from. Factories can buy 100 kg of cotton, without knowing where the cotton is grown. However, to ensure the material is organic, or the sheep where the wool comes from lives on a responsible farm, it is very important to gain insight on this first step of the production process.
2. the yarn
Once the raw material is acquired, it is spun into a yarn. For some natural materials, such as cotton or wool, this is a relatively straightforward process. Cotton is ginned, a process in which the seeds are removed from the fibers, and then spun into yarn. These two steps often happen at two different locations. For semi-synthetic materials like viscose, you will need to convert wood pulp into fibers which will then be converted into the yarn. In the normal viscose process, a lot of chemicals are needed to convert the cellulose from the plants into the final fiber. TENCEL is also a semi-synthetic fiber, but for this material a non-toxic organic solvent is used as a replacement for the toxins in the normal process, which is why we do sell TENCEL fibers, but not regular viscose. In this step, it is important to look at (among other things) the chemicals used in the process, if there is wastewater and where that ends up, and the working conditions.
3. the fabric
Once the yarn is acquired, is it woven into a fabric. For cotton, this is done in mills. In this process, the yarn is washed and dyed, and then weaved or knitted into a fabric to be prepared for the final composition of the garment. Here it is again important to look at the chemicals. For most of the regular production of fabric, the washing and dyeing process has a large environmental impact. It is estimated that 17-20% of industrial water production comes from the dyeing process of garments. Something you might not think about when an item is labeled ‘organic’, is that it can still be dyed with harsh chemicals. There are around 8000 chemicals used to bleach clothes before they are dyed. A lot of these chemicals and dyes are then dumped into freshwater sources surrounding the factory, polluting the drinking water for the local population. Besides the impact on the environment, it is often also unhealthy for us to wear. It can for example trigger skin irritation and rashes. Needless to say, we prefer natural dyes that can be removed from wastewater and closed-loop processes, in which the wastewater does not or barely leaves the factory.
4. the final composition of the garment
In the final step, the woven and dyed fabric is cut and sewn into the final garment. This is the most labor-intensive step. As this is also the closest step to the brand who produces the clothes, this step is subject to the most cost cuts. Most (fast fashion) companies want to produce their clothes as cheap as possible, so a common way to cut costs is to pay less for the garments they order from factories. This, however, leads to lower salaries and higher work pressure for the factory workers, which then leads to dangerous and worker-unfriendly situations whereby the factory worker needs to work longer hours to make enough money. That is also why we see ethical production as a prerequisite: a worker should be able to earn a living wage without having to work unbearable hours in an unhealthy environment. Also, in general, disadvantaged and uneducated women and children represent the largest part of the workforce of these factories and are trapped in abusive employment situations, where they are vulnerable to discrimination and bad treatment. A brand should thus prioritize the working environment of their factories when they want to label themselves as a sustainable company.
In the whole supply chain, there is also the challenge of transportation. Another large part of the environmental impact of the fashion supply chain comes from the transport in between the different stages of the production. It could be that the cotton is grown in India, is spun in Turkey, is cut and sewn in Bangladesh, and is then transported to a store in The Netherlands. Considering the time pressure of fast-fashion demand, all transport will be by air, resulting in high CO2 emissions.
As mentioned before, supply chains are very complex and hard to follow. That is why we think transparency is one of the most important values. It takes a lot of time and energy for companies to fully understand their own supply chain but, in order to improve yourself as a sustainable company, it is an essential & the first task for improvement.