Sustainability- The Production Dilemma
We decided to structure this blog as a place of knowledge and exiting magical contents for the year to come!
If you want to follow our Rubrica weekly these will be the general categories each month:
- First week of the month: Sustainability (there will be a discussion on instagram and a reward for those interacting)
- Second week of the month: New Items
- Third week of the month: Quiz (fun quizzes to get to know your magical soul a little better)
- Fourth week of the month: Fun and interesting facts about the magical world
WEEK 1 JANUARY 2021- SUSTAINABILITY
On this first week of January we want to start with an important topic regarding sustainability, as we believe there are many misconceptions and greenwashing brands even in our own lovely cottage core community.
Buyers should be informed about the costs of sustainability, what causes these prices and why certain choices make a brand more or less... Sustainable (and ethical).
Today we talk a little about production.
The concept of sustainability touches many many areas of the making of a garment (from fabric creation, to electricity usage, to packaging and much more), but production is one of those topics that is not only tackling the issue of sustainability understood as the protection of the environment alone but it is more about sustainability in the larger sense of the word. Being sustainable means making a choice that can be followed in the long run without making an irreversible impact on the word we live in and on society as we know it.
Production choices do make a large impact on our world. They impact not only the environment but also international economy, living standards, poverty, world spread health issues and child labor.
When I fist started this brand I tried to make a small capsule with a Chinese producer who accepted small quantities or, in the production terminology, small MOQs (minimum order quantities). It is rare to find outsourced companies that accept to make, like in my case, only 30 pieces of one style. Usually they require a MOQ of 500 or 1000 pieces per style. This is because their whole system is based on large quantities and their company would not survive if production is lower than that. But this is also due to the fact that the suppliers selling them fabric only sell a certain MOQ of fabric and, below that, there would be no production.
What I paid for those 30 pieces per style (4 styles in total) is unbelievable. And consider, while I tell you this, that 30 pieces are very expensive. If I ordered 500 each piece would have costed me a small fraction of what I actually paid.
I paid around 30 euros (including fabric, buttons, labels, custom tax and shipping), for one dress. 30 euro only. If I made 500 I would have paid 10 euros each.
When I asked them if I could make the models in sustainable fabrics (organic cotton, rayon, Tencel, Linen, recycled fabric or more) they told me it would be impossible because that fabric was too expensive and I would have had to order at least a production of 1000 or more pieces per style.
But other than the cost, itself, of outsourced production, what is the standard of working conditions in these counties such as India, China, Vietnam and so on? When I was getting my masters at the London School of Economics in Human Rights I took a class on Labor regulation laws and we did many case studies regarding poor working conditions in China and Bangladesh. Buildings collapse and kill hundreds of employees, or go on fire. Child labor is extremely spread. Working hours are closer to slavery than modern employment, health and safety is not taken into consideration and the pay... well the pay is proportional to the life style you see in Indian and Chinese countryside.
What does this cause? This causes poverty in developing countries and unemployment in Europe. It only enriches the big labels and some investors. The suppliers are constantly asked to lower their prices and they are unwilling to work for small brands because already impoverished and put in debt by big companies not paying or paying always later, asking for discounts and ordering more than these suppliers can actually produce.
This knowledge leads us to another kind of question. How can we still produce and yet be sustainable?
If we exclude outsourcing then we are forced to reconsider working with local or European or American companies for production and trust me, they are usually very expensive because they are required to uphold certain standards and pay high taxes. Because of this they only accept high MOQs and make it almost impossible for new brands, or start ups, to exist. Also they often ask you to purchase your own fabric which can make things difficult because of the high cost of fabric to support a certain MOQ of production.
Another option, often very very avoided by brands due to the high costs that come with it is to create a private production. This means employing people to do production only for the brand and pay rent for a lab, hire more people when the production increases and so on.
This is risky because employing people not only means paying them the standards of your own country but also risking that, if you don't sell anything, you'll still have to pay them a salary.
What did we decided to do?
Well, after our first experiment with Chinese outsourced production we decided that it would have been best to higher a little our prices but hire seamstresses to make the final garment and also purchase all the machines for in-home production. It was a risk, also a risk that lowered our margin by almost 30-40%, but it allowed us to know the working conditions and wellbeing of the people working for us, as well as giving back to the economy of our own country.
This choice, in addition to other motivations of sustainability which we will address later on, made us choose to produce in slow-fashion (upon order). We couldn't produce in large quantities with only a few employees so it would have been more SUSTAINABLE to produce upon order.
This also meant that we were able to choose our own fabric, no longer being limited by the MOQ of production, and opt for more expensive but yet sustainable and eco-friendly fabric choices. Production, today, is approximately the 60%-70% of our overall cost (and 60% or more of the price cost).
We agree sustainable labels are more expensive than other brands that cost around 30-40$ max. But you know now what makes this cost higher. If you think fashion should be accessible to all, we agree. For this reason we created the second hand swap and the partial payment method. But continuing to fuel the demand of cheap fast fashion will only make that industry cheaper and sustainable fashion, sadly, more expensive. It will impoverish countries, lower jobs in our own countries and create incredible damages to our planet which is already in drastic conditions.
Do you know where the clothes of your favorite brands are produced? Is labor outsourced? Do you have documentation (videos, images) of the working conditions?
If not, demand to know more. Especially if brands say to be ethical, sustainable and pro-environment. Don't blindly believe. This contributes to green washing and trust me, we cannot support this for much longer before our planet will die.
Did you know fashion causes 10% of all humanity's carbon emissions and 20% of all humanity's water pollution?
Think of that next time you buy from a brand that doesn't say where they are from, produce or how.