How to do your research on what you’re buying and what a vendors ethics are

I was over at my friends house the other day. She has a business making baby clothing and offering sewing and embroidery services, Happiness is Handmade. A long time ago we had discussed me designing a print that could be made into a custom fabric and she could create a little girls outfit with it and we’d sell it. She had sent me a link to this company called Spoonflower that can create custom fabrics using your designs. Apparently the reviews for this company had been good.

Well the other day, we were talking about it again and I thought, hey why not just try it while we’re here. We both had no idea what it would turn out like or what the quality was so I figured we’d test it out. I uploaded an image of one of my paintings, selected a yard of Organic Cotton Knit, paid for it and made it so it was shipped right to her door. It cost me about $37CAD after conversion. Not bad.

spoonflower dream love grow ottawa happiness is handmade

Well, afterwards I had a bit of a heart attack because I thought to myself, yes I chose an Organic Cotton Knit which means it’s biodegradable but I didn’t even do my research on this company. Here I am trying to be zero waste and know that the fashion industry is the second largest pollutant only to oil and I didn’t even take the time to contact them first! Who the hell am I?

It’s incredibly important to me to know where things are sourced from. Too many local businesses say their products are local but fail to explain that their products are being manufactured in China and fail to provide proof that the workers are being treated fairly. After becoming zero waste, I had always said to myself if I would create a clothing line or some design some sort of product from scratch that I would need to know these things. That I would probably be that person to personally find an organic cotton farmer, know who they are, build close relationships with the workers, build their working environment from the ground up and be by their side throughout the process.

Easier said than done obviously, but this is how much I care about what I buy and what I produce out into the world now. I seriously take the time to think about the impacts of everything I’m doing.

Anyway, I end up reading over their FAQ’s but the information I was looking for wasn’t there.

So I immediately wrote them this:

spoonflower
Within 24 hours, I had received an e-mail back. This alone, makes me feel good because any good company will reply to you and take the time to listen to what you’re asking and respond clearly. What I discovered was that not only do they care, but the organic knit I chose is actually manufactured in a mill in California and not in some third world country. Which means I could go visit when I’m there and it means that when they say local, it’s local.

For me it’s not really local. I’m in Canada, but so far the only Canadian place that manufactures their fabrics in Canada I’ve found is called Clotho. And I only found them after the fact.

As I’ve written before, the fashion industry (and most factory made products) uses a lot of water, creates a lot of waste, takes up a lot of fuel to transport and so far has been lacking in being able to feed and care for the workers at the end of everything, but I want to say this: we can be the change with our dollars. Where will you choose to spend your money? We need clothes, yes. We need awareness more and taking the time to find out more information directly from the source, is a big step.

As an artist and entrepreneur these are the things that I have to do research on in order to see how far my Zero Waste life can push and how I feel at the end of everything.

I ask myself questions like this:

1. Do I like knowing that I’ve just shipped an item from the States, knowing how much gas it’s taking and what the carbon footprint is? I may need to plant some trees now.

2. Do I want to even create products like this? Is it necessary? How important is it to me to put my art on fabric and make products to sell?

3. How can I use this to help others? Am I able to sell this and put the money towards my non-profit? Will this make me feel better about doing it? Is there a better way?

I have no idea. I’m a weirdo. This is my thought process and I can’t change it, but in any case, this is what this blog is about.

So I’ll have to let you know what the fabric is like when I receive it and tell you what my thoughts are afterwards. I’ll even show you the end result product.

That being said, here’s the reply e-mail I received back. Let me know your thoughts about this in the comments below!

spoonflower email logo

Hi Mailyne,

Thank you for your interest in Spoonflower!

We do strive to offer a sustainable printing process to our customers and I’m happy to provide you with some insights on this. As you may be aware, we are currently printing with pigment based colorants using digital printing technology. The digital print method is inherently beneficial from a sustainability perspective in that it enables our customers to order small quantities of fabric according to their design and color preference – essentially a print on demand scenario. The digital inkjet process is also a closed system that mixes colors on the fly from a master set in response to the design information being sent to the printer. There is very little color waste via this process. In contrast, screen printing methods typically require commitment to larger quantities and often times fabric is printed to stock with limited assurance that the goods will be consumed. Screen printing also requires mixing of quantities of color in advance of the printing process. Following the printing procedure there may be color left over and the screens must be cleaned with water and stored for later use.

Additionally the pigment based chemistry is cured (made permanent on the cloth) through heat fixation and unlike printing with some dye based chemistries, the fabric does not require any “wet post processing”. This means that there is no water consumed as part of our current printing process and we generate no water based effluent. The particular pigment colorants we use have also been tested for harmful chemicals (e.g. formaldehyde) and preform very well in this regard. We’re always happy to provide that documentation to our customers for their review upon request. Do let me know if you would like me to send you a copy of this document.

In regard to our fabrics, we currently offer a cotton sateen and a cotton interlock that are certified organic according to the GOTS standard (Global Organic Textile Standard). We’re always on the look out for sustainable options on the fabric front and actively seek out domestic suppliers that can support this effort.

In all aspects of our business we strive to operate in an ethical manner and where possible provide our customers with the kind of documentation you’re requesting. This particular kind of information is often referred to as social compliance documentation. Although we are not currently able to provide you with certificates that demonstrate the social compliance of the mills that manufacture our fabrics, we have selected to work with a small number of fabric vendors that source our fabric and with whom we have confidence. In the case of the organic knit, the fabric is manufactured in California by a mill that our vendor works closely with. Given the complex nature of textile supply chains, gathering compliance information from field to finish product is a work in process for us. In the mean time, I hope this additional insight is helpful to you.

I hope that helps, but if you have any more questions don’t hesitate to ask!

Thanks,
-Megan S.
Spoonflower

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3 thoughts on “How to do your research on what you’re buying and what a vendors ethics are

  1. Hi There,

    I am just reading your blog here in New Zealand as research for starting a Zero Waste lifestyle. I just wanted to share with you a couple of things. One is I just read your post on doing your research on were Fashion apparel comes from and I thought i’d let you know of a company that I found online that ethics and the people making it’s clothing is at it core purpose http://www.accompanyus.com/
    The other thing on a different note is I do live in NZ which has some benefits of being greener which I tend to not notice as much until i go overseas. But I also live in Christchurch which is called “the garden city” on NZ. We had a major earthquake in 2010 and 2011 and have been a city in recovery. But within that we have taken to occupying empty broken spaces in interesting ways. So I thought i’d give you some links to some of these http://www.gapfiller.org.nz/, http://livs.org.nz/, http://greeningtherubble.org.nz/wp/ and the last is something which is in the works http://edible.org.nz/

    Thanks,

    Courtney

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