Production

Produce clean, local and with respect

introduction

Did you know?
Cut-offs make up a large share of the fashion industry’s waste stream - the numbers go up to 20 %!

Production -- or the production process -- is all about turning designs into (sellable) physical products. Production might not be the most sexy part of the chain, but it is nevertheless a deciding factor in becoming a successful brand and it offers multiple opportunities to start focusing on sustainability.

 

SO, WHAT CAN I DO?

In a traditional process, the design phase is followed by the creation of a small sample collection (prototypes). Those samples that get a stamp of approval and are deemed interesting, will enter production. This means switching to commercial entities varying in size, color and pattern. It is important to incorporate zero waste thinking into the production of prototypes, for instance by creating the sample collection digitally (at least in part) or by working with zero waste pattern designs.

When selecting a manufacturer, you can take into account the circumstances of production. Are there any efforts to keep the consumption of energy and water in check? Does the manufacturer comply with environmental legislation? What is his position on the use of chemicals?

For a designer, the quality of his collection is key, so it is crucial to start designing with the right fabrics in mind, while not losing sight of aspects like the seams, buttons, labels, fit and color fastness. The core of a sustainable product lies in its quality and the length of its life cycle, so the importance of quality checks during the production phase can hardly be overestimated.

Producing locally obviously facilitates both quality checks and communication. In addition, it reduces the risks that come with a global supply chain. Especially in the case of smaller collections, the advantages of producing locally outweigh the costs of global transport and (more) difficult communication.

In addition, it’s always an option to look beyond the standard methods of production. Digital technologies, for instance, have a lot going for them in terms of local production. Digital designing, printing or even 3D weaving allow for small editions or even production only on demand.

strategies for Production

Mind your environment

The environmental consequences of production are widely known -- think for instance of the excessive use of water, energy and chemicals. A sustainable model then obviously strives to reduce these negative effects. The use of water, energy and toxins has to be limited to an absolute minimum. Furthermore, the energy that is used has to be, as much as possible, renewable or perhaps even induced during the process.

Food for thought:
Each pair of organic cotton jeans saves the environment from half a liter of chemicals.

PRODUCTION ON DIFFERENT LEVELS
PRODUCTION/CULTIVATION OF RESOURCES 

The raw materials used in the process of creating clothes each have their own impact. Depending on the type of cultivation or production method that is used, crops are grown with the help of water, energy and/or chemical pesticides. Read more about the environmental impact of resources here.

PRODUCTION AND FINISHING OF YARN AND FABRIC 

The process of turning resources into fabric involves finishing. Finishing imparts certain functional properties to yarn. Giving it its typical shine and strength, for instance, requires a lot of cooking, bleaching and washing. This phase is therefore considered the most damaging in the entire production process. Dyeing is also a finishing technique, and some dyes are extremely poisonous. Other dyes do better, but then again they are attached to the textile with the help of pollutants like heavy metals.

Printing, washing jeans, treating clothes against wrinkling or fungi, applying a flame retardant … these processes all call for a lot of chemicals and water.

We should mention here that legislation on the use of chemicals and environmental legislation in general are much stricter in European countries than for instance in developing countries. The consequences of this imbalance are, of course, easy to predict.

European fabric finishing companies are obliged to cleanse the wastewater that they discharge (compliant with the surface water regulations). In addition, Europe has the REACH regulation. REACH compels the industry to register chemicals and to assess their (safe) use. This system grants licences to companies as well as imposing restrictions in use.

PRODUCTION OF CLOTHING

The workshops or manufacturers can also devote attention to an environmentally friendly process, for instance in terms of energy use and logistics. Local production can reduce the ecological footprint, but the circumstances in the factories or workshops themselves are equally important. Relevant questions are, for instance: Is the place air conditioned? or How is transport arranged to and from the workshop?

 

THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND

It’s incredibly hard to describe the perfect, environmentally friendly production process, yet there are a few general issues that can be taken into account in the choice of producer or manufacturer.

Pay attention to:

  • the origin of the resources
  • responsible use of energy (Is renewable energy used?)
  • minimal use of water (How is wastewater treated?)
  • the use of environmentally friendly dyes or dyeing processes
  • the use of other environmentally friendly finishing techniques

tips&tricks

  • Centexbel - The Belgian Textile Research Centre
    Centexbel was founded with the purpose of sustainably strengthening the position of Belgian textile companies in the global market. Centexbel offe…
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  • Bluesign Technologies
    The Swiss company Bluesign Technologies helps textile manufacturers reduce their environmental footprint and guarantee the safety of their staff. …
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  • Superette, GOTS certified silkscreen workshop
    The Dutch label Superette specializes in printing clothes for men, women and children. As the first GOTS certified silkscreen workshop in the Bene…
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  • Maker’s Row - American production platform offering tips & tricks
    The American platform Maker’s Row not only makes it easy to find manufacturers within the USA; it also offers tips and tricks on issues related to…
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  • REACH - European legislation on chemicals
    REACH is a European Union legislation adopted to protect both people’s health and the environment against possible threats posed by chemicals. In …
    Read more

  • Unique, authentic and high-quality products that helps the people
    In 2000, Luc Verelst set up the private foundation Solid International to pass his business knowledge and experience on to disadvantaged groups. S…
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Discover the other tips & tricks

Try new technologies

New technologies are developing rapidly, and who knows some of them will replace or complement our traditional production processes, thereby helping to reduce our ecological footprint.

After all, new technologies might need less energy, water or chemicals, or allow us to skip certain harmful steps altogether (like transportation for instance). They may facilitate local production, for example, or enable smaller editions. Perhaps it’s even possible to work on demand, which is the golden route to avoiding surplus.

Some techniques that are already quite common:

  • Digital printing/finishing 
    While conventional printing techniques involve large quantities of chemicals and dyes, digital printing can do without those. What’s more, traditional industrial rotation techniques require test print sheets to get everything right, and these imperfect pre-printings can get up to several meters (20 meters is no exception). So what’s to gain from digital printing? A few crystal-clear facts:
    • Energy use: - 60%
    • Water use: - 80%
    • Ink use: - 90%
    • Color use: - 90%
       
  • Laser cutting 
    It’s exactly what it sounds like, namely using a laser rather than a blade to cut into a surface. The benefits include a cleaner, more accurate cut, as well as a higher quality of finish.

Want to know more about experimental technologies? Kate Goldsworthy’s paper is definitely worth a read. 

tips&tricks

  • EcoChic Design Award - tips on zero waste design
    The EcoChic Design Award shares a load of tips on zero waste design online: A useful PDF with hands-on tips and several examples. On…
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  • Holly McQuillan - zero waste pattern cutting
    Holly McQuillan’s website is a valuable source of information on zero waste pattern cutting. She shares her experiences as a researcher, teacher a…
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  • Design and/or production on demand
    Don’t forget the sustainable option to design and produce on demand. By producing only after you have sold an item, you avoid creating an over…
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  • TextielLab - Knowledge center Tilburg
    The ‘TextielLab’, which is part of the ‘TextielMuseum’ in Tilburg, is a knowledge center that is half specialized workshop for unique fabrics and …
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  • Fabrican© - Spray-on textile
    Fabrican© is a sprayable, non-woven spray-on fabric. Fabrican© can be used to make new clothing from recycled textiles without having to fuss over…
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  • Cradle to Cradle Product Design - free online course
    The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute offers an online course that explains how to design for a circular economy. The course is a…
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  • Wear2™ - eco-stitch - easy dismantling
    Wear2™ is a new eco stitching technology (seam technology) developed by a group of British retailers, manufacturers and textile recyclers. The…
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  • Julian Roberts - Subtraction cutting
    Designer Julian Roberts gives lectures and workshops on a technique that he himself has designed, called ‘subtraction cutting’. The method con…
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  • Hasmik Matevosyan - a shift to a ‘contributing’ fashion industry
    After years of research, the Dutch designer and thinker Hasmik Matevosyan has developed a new business model that encourages the dialogue between …
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Produce locally, match supply and demand

Which is the most sustainable option? An Asian factory whose employees commute to work by bike and whose machinery is powered by the sun? Or a European factory that needs air conditioning to control the temperature and that makes no use of renewable energy sources?

Such questions show that black-and-white thinking gets us nowhere in the whole sustainability debate. A European manufacturer is not by definition better than one in Asia, for instance. Local production only means European production for Europeans. It’s about creating as many short chains as possible. For an Indian designer, then, a manufacturer in or close to India will be the best option.

Bringing production and consumption closer together has several advantages:

  • logistically (shorter distances)
  • communication-wise (efficiency and fewer misunderstandings)
  • in terms of closing the loop (e.g. reusing clothes will be easier if they can find their way back to production in the same country)

Moreover, keep in mind that local production has a direct and tangible result: the consumer pays for the impact of his or her consumption behavior.

 

THE BENEFITS OF LOCAL VERSUS OFFSHORE PRODUCTION 

Clothing is often produced in faraway destinations like India or China. This does not necessarily make for better products, but the cost of labor is just much lower in these countries. Moreover, their (environmental) legislation is often weak or even next to nonexistent.

The other side of the coin (which is often ignored) is that the logistics of the entire system depend on the supply of fossil fuels. Local production would save a lot of oil due to shorter transportation distances.

In addition, local production would make us better suited to cope with possible interruptions in the global distribution chain (be it due to war, economic sanctions, political troubles or other difficulties).
Next to environmental considerations, there are also economic factors at stake: local production generates jobs. Moreover, this means that it would be much harder to turn a blind eye on possible social and economic wrongs in the production process.

 

PRICE TAG

The obvious downside is that products that are made here often come with a hefty price tag. Minimum wages here are 50 times higher than in, say, Bangladesh.

At the moment it’s impossible for local (mass) production to economically compete with the global production system, which can always deliver cheaper (despite greater distances).

For smaller collections, however, the benefits of local production can outweigh the risks and costs of worldwide transportation and the accompanying difficulties in communication.

 

GET INSPIRED BY THESE INITIATIVES 
  • Fibershed is a beautiful example of a community-supported production project. Founder Rebecca Burgess started this initiative in 2010, when she took up the challenge to wear only clothing produced within 240 kilometers from where she was based.
  • Makers Row helps designers to connect with local manufacturers.

tips&tricks

  • Think of alternative production channels
    Think beyond the traditional production channels and look for instance into sheltered workshops and social-artistic projects, like Antwerp based A…
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  • Lotte Martens - Belgian textile brand
    In 2007, Lotte Martens established her own Leuven based textile brand. Colorfulness, playfulness and sustainability combine to form her signature …
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  • Maker’s Row - American production platform offering tips & tricks
    The American platform Maker’s Row not only makes it easy to find manufacturers within the USA; it also offers tips and tricks on issues related to…
    Read more

  • Creamoda & Belgian Designer Partners
    In collaboration with Flanders Fashion Institute and MAD Brussels, Creamoda composed the publication Belgian Designer Partners, listing all Belgia…
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  • Unique, authentic and high-quality products that helps the people
    In 2000, Luc Verelst set up the private foundation Solid International to pass his business knowledge and experience on to disadvantaged groups. S…
    Read more

Discover the other tips & tricks

Avoid waste and surplus

Zero waste production, of which zero waste design is part and parcel, is a holistic approach aimed at avoiding textile waste throughout the production process.

All through production, waste comes in two shapes:

  • waste of resources, water, energy and an excessive use of chemicals
  • waste of efficiency: 20% loss margin is not exactly peanuts.

To bypass these negative effects of the production phase, you can obviously put the cut-offs to good use, but top of the list is of course avoiding waste in the first place.

 
SO MANY ZEROES
ZERO WASTE PATTERN CUTTING 

After a pattern has been cut, all the fabric that is left over is mercilessly dumped into the wastebin. On average 10 to 20% of the fabric is thrown out in this manner. This scenario can be avoided by working with a zero waste design that translates into a zero waste pattern. Holly McQuillan is an important source of inspiration in this regard. In addition, this platform also offers more information on zero waste design.

ZERO WASTE PROTOTYPING

Designers, pattern designers and manufacturers can use 3D virtual prototyping to show their collection, rather than working with the usual physical samples. This has its advantages in terms of speed (on-the-spot decisions and instant changes), efficiency (100% instead of 20% go-to-market) as well as waste.

ZERO WASTE KNITTING AND WEAVING 

Knitting and weaving are techniques that produce less waste because there is no pattern cutting involved. The most well-known examples of these zero waste techniques are undoubtedly the Adidas Primeknit sneakers and Nike’s Flyknit. Rather than being made from pieces of fabric that are put together, these shoes are woven in one piece. Less waste? Check! This technique is sometimes even used to make entire pieces of clothing.

The process of knitting or weaving is often preceded by a digital design. This means the pattern is computer-designed and then digitally transferred to the loom or sewing machine.

 

(ALMOST) AS GOOD AS ZERO ...

A producer/manufacturer can make sure to organise the system or process in such a way that his waste is efficiently collected. This not only results in a clean workspace, but it also creates opportunities for upcycling surplus materials.

A small manufacturer could for instance accomplish a whole lot thanks to these simple design interventions:

  • use waste buckets to collect waste
  • transfer waste immediate from the sewing machines to the buckets
  • sort your waste (don’t just throw it all together!)

Want more? Read all about upcycling and the use of leftovers here.

tips&tricks

  • Holly McQuillan - zero waste pattern cutting
    Holly McQuillan’s website is a valuable source of information on zero waste pattern cutting. She shares her experiences as a researcher, teacher a…
    Read more

  • Think Zero Waste
    Keep thinking of reducing waste to the absolute minimum throughout your entire process. Be it during the design, pattern drawing or production: yo…
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Discover the other tips & tricks

Go for long life and durability

Clothes are often not worn or worn only once before ending up on the waste pile. This means that all the resources, water, energy and chemicals that were used during their production are lost very shortly after. What a waste. In the meantime we know that avoiding waste is one of the pillars of circular fashion, which is why focusing on long life is the key.

Food for thought:
The average life expectancy of a piece of clothing is about 3 years. For fast fashion this is shorter. Some clothes are discarded after one wear or even completely untouched. (Source: Awearness Fashion)

Clothes are discarded when they no longer suffice. This can mean that they are broken or no longer have the right fit, but also that the consumer is just no longer interested -- he is simply tired of them. The first reason has to do with the quality of the clothes, the second with our emotional attachment to them.

 
BOUND BY QUALITY 

(Source: Into Mind)

Quality can mean a lot of things. Do the clothes last? Preferably longer than one season. Should we worry about seams ripping or buttons tumbling to the floor at the slightest movement? A piece of clothing should keep the shape it had when bought -- it shouldn’t shrink or stretch. It should retain its fit and not limit the wearer’s freedom to move.

Steer clear of fabrics that give off lint or that fade after a few spins in the washer. Clothes should also have the right feel to them. In addition, items should look quality. Stay away from T-shirts that scream ‘I will fall apart if you just look at me’.

The website of Into Mind contains a useful online guide to help you estimate the quality of a piece of clothing. We summarized some tips, but the cheat sheet of Into Mind's cheat sheet is a good guide as well.

First and foremost, it is important to look at the characteristics of the fabric: what are its strengths and weaknesses -- and will it fit the designer’s purpose? Next, the seams, the fit and other details like buttons, zippers, pockets and labels should be checked.

 

BOUND BY EMOTION

Clothing should be designed to look good and to be comfortable for as long as possible. Though this actual, measurable quality of a garment is crucial, there is often also a less tangible element at play when deciding whether or not to throw clothes out. We are often led by our emotions and by our attachment to things. As a designer you can work with this: think of the experience you want to create for your customer. The strategies ‘Design to reduce the need for rapid consumption’ and ‘Design to last’ address useful aspects such as long-lasting essentials, made-to-measure and the addition of an experience.

tips&tricks

  • Bond with your customers
    It might seem strange to incorporate consumer engagement into the whole sustainability story, yet this may be another strategy to keep clothing fr…
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  • Go for quality
    Using high-quality materials and making sure your clothes last is a crucial part of what it means to work sustainably. Put quality center stage an…
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  • Go for a high-quality production process and build a good relationship with your manufacturer
    Avoid badly made batches. Once production has kicked off, it’s important to constantly monitor the quality - don’t neglect to compare the resu…
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  • Into Mind - tips on minimalism and the maintenance of your wardrobe
    Give the composition of your wardrobe some thought. There are several tips & tricks to help you manage your wardrobe. The website ‘Into Mind’ …
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  • Invest in high-quality clothes - how to recognize clothing that is well made
    Go for quality clothing that lasts long. A few tips on how to develop an eye for quality can be found below. (Sources: Trashfashion.nl, Caftans&Ma…
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  • Give advice on how to mend the clothing that you sell
    We all know the feeling of discovering these little plastic bags with spare buttons inside our new jackets. As a designer, why not take the extra …
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  • As a designer, give tips on how to maintain your product
    Make sure that your customers know how to maintain and treat your product after the purchase. This is a way to extend the lifespan of your item to…
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