From Sustainability

100 years of magical thinking

Yet another overseas factory burns, killing workers. Have we learned nothing in the last hundred years? Considering the Shirtwaist Factory Fire (1911), all we've done is push tragedy farther from us -where we can conveniently forget about it, competing as it does with a new week's news.

I don't know what incenses me more, here's a partial list:

I think I'll run with the last one because it hits closer to home.

I know how this plays out. Many of you rest easy because your offshore factory is small [you don't have the scale to hire a larger factory so you feel you've dodged a bullet]. Tragedy of this scale is unlikely to affect you because your factory has a lot fewer workers and worst case, they can jump out of the single story (ground floor) windows. What this really means is that the innumerable small factory fires that occur each year, killing however many workers annually far in excess of this most recent one, don't get the same air time. Five here, seven there, who is counting?

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Better than bamboo: Kenaf

kenaf_hibiscus_cannabinusHave you ever heard of kenaf? I've been eagerly awaiting its commercial development into textiles for years and it seems we're a bit closer to that goal.

If you don't know what kenaf is it can be briefly summarized as a tall, fast growing plant (hibiscus cannabinus; related to cotton and hibiscus) that requires less energy and chemicals both in growing and processing. It can be made into paper that is superior to wood pulp and it can be grown in less than ideal fields -like tobacco. Kenaf has also been used in plastics, both to strengthen and to make plastic more biodegradable. But that's not all, it could be a solution to global warming in that it absorbs more CO2 than any other plant. It is claimed that one acre of kenaf absorbs as much CO2 as 8 acres of pine forest or more CO2 absorption that 2 -3 acres of rain forest. In areas that don't freeze, kenaf can be grown year round (3 crops). Research from Purdue says that over 20 years, one acre of kenaf can produce ten to twenty times more usable fiber than an acre of pine.

The fabric developed from kenaf is similar to linen but it is still hard to find. [I did find drapes sold by Pottery Barn made of 100% kenaf but they're out of them now.] Research (pdf) shows that kenaf retted with bacteria rather than chemicals, produces the smoothest fabrics -another plus.

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Open tabs 5/4/11

Following the previous entry of open tabs (tagged News From You) and the ADHD side effect of having too many windows open, here is today's edition.

I should mention the open tabs thing is worse now that I've upgraded to FireFox 4. Now you can group tabs according to different subjects in the background (I love it!). Mine are production scheduling, business, cotton and vanity sizing. I have 33 37 55 open...

Manufacturing: Yet another mega consulting firm has realized that outsourcing doesn't work. Here's a quote:

[...]Accenture found that 61 percent are considering moving some of their manufacturing back to their home market. Ferreira and Heilala describe this as being a "secret shift" and a "quiet trend."

Many manufacturing companies that shifted production offshore "likely did so without a complete understanding of the 'total costs,' and thus, the total cost of offshoring was considerably higher than initially thought," write the two analysts. "Part of the issue is that not all costs of offshoring roll up directly to manufacturing; rather, they impact many areas of the enterprise."

Not that I've ever said differently, (I know folks e-pat me on the head and wink behind my back over my irascible inflexibility) I still think the best move anyone can make is to start their own sewing factory because you'll be much better positioned by the time everyone else figures they need domestic cut and sew and finding any open production slots in the US will be an even harder scramble.

Speaking of, many domestic cut and sew operations are expanding. This operation in Olive Hill KY is hiring 200 sewing machine operators.

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Review of the Yield Exhibition (Zero Waste)

zandra_rhodesToday we have a guest entry from Jasmin Wilkins who lives in Wellington New Zealand -which is fortuitous for us as you'll see. Jasmin is a long time enthusiast member of our forum who works as a project manager. Like many F-I regulars, she's no intellectual slouch (a background in physics and math) rounded with a broad appreciation of artistry. I really enjoyed Jasmin's review and hope you will too.

I’ve been very interested in the conversations around zero or minimum waste, and thought other readers might be interested in my impressions of the Making Fashion Without Making Waste Yield Exhibition I attended at the Dowse Museum in New Zealand. The exhibition consists of thirteen works, displayed in four groups. Each work has a description of the design ethos, an image of the pattern used, and (luckily for you!), linked online content. All the patterns for these garments can be viewed on site. The Dowse kindly provide WiFi and smartphone readable 2D scannable links with each work to enable access to the online content – you can get to the homepage to join in the journey. There is also a facebook page.

As a whole, one of the first things that struck me about the exhibition is the variety of thoughts behind the designs, and how many questions were posed by the way works were juxtaposed.

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Open tabs 3/8/11

seyed_alaviToo often I don't share what I've been reading or finding across the web but several sites compel today's effort. That and I have too many tabs open in my browser. Typical.

On the heels of yesterday's entry I found three textile glossaries courtesy of Textilesmithing, glossary one, glossary two and glossary three. There's a fourth but it's not loading for me. Textilesmithing is a newish blog featuring topics on surface design, weave, pattern and with a healthy smattering of stuff you should have known a long time ago. Such as, sharkskin suits are not made of sharkskin. Yes indeedy! I imagined they weren't made of shark skin but I didn't really know what they were made of and so now thanks to the internet, I can pretend I always did. Be careful though or you can waste a whole day there -speaking of the Lexus carbon fiber circular loom that amounts to nothing less than autie-porn. The photo above is Sayed Alavi’s Flying Carpet installation at the Sacramento Airport, again courtesy of this entry on Textilesmithing. If you follow Seth on twitter, you can pick up more tres cool stuff like this gizmodo story about a brief history of bulletproof fabric.

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Textile geek fest

techtextilThe 8th edition of Techtextil North America, the international trade fair for technical textiles and nonwovens will be held March 15 - 17, 2011 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. I have never been but I must confess I am sorely tempted. If you attended SPESA last year, you got a small sampling. As I mentioned then, this show is exemplary, very well managed from start to finish.

And no my friends, this isn't the place to source cuddly or cute stuff for your lines. It's very specialized. If you're putting out any kind of technically oriented product (read: high tech applications in medicine, safety etc) then you might consider going. The neat thing about the show is that in addition to the seminars (40 of them) the vendor space is a vertical opportunity with suppliers who focus on everything from research and development, raw materials, production processes, fiber and goods conversion, fiber treatments and applications and last of all, sustainability and recycling. Looking over the attendee brochure (pdf) would give you a better idea.

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Hurray for Corduroy Day!

I'm sure my announcement is anti-climatic what with the ribald festivities taking place in your workplace today but for the few who may not remember, today is Corduroy Day! November 11th is the only obvious choice, 11|11 being the date that most resembles corduroy. I can't imagine how wild next year's parties will be on 11|11|11 but better make party reservations now. [Please note you should use the pipe key {|} rather than the forward slash {/} when writing 11|11 since it looks even more like corduroy.] I'll bet that even if you did know today was corduroy day, you might not have known that the official symbol of the Corduroy Appreciation Club is the whale; whale being a homonym of wale.

flax_flowerOkay, so this was a weak opening to what I really wanted to tell you about, that being linen. There's a great broadcast quality video (sent to me by David, thanks!) about linen from start to finish. I had no idea the plant was so delicate and pretty (right). The video is about 15 minutes long and is a snap shot of the whole production cycle from dirt to shirt. Some of the equipment is quite fascinating. I promise it is much better than I describe it.

With cotton prices surging like crazy, maybe linen become a more popular sustainable option. Did you know there's an EU confederation of Flax and Hemp producers? They paid (?) for the making of the film. Their site could be a resource for you if you're trying to source the goods. The group also has a blog.

I've always loved linen, it's probably my favorite fiber. It's 2 or 3 times stronger than cotton, is cooler in summer and warmer in winter. It's also smoother and softens in every wash. I have so much of it now I don't let me buy anymore until I sew up some of what I already have. It really is a great choice for retro-styling that begs for crisper lines and finishing. Enjoy the film.

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Pattern puzzle: Recycled geometric denim

hyun_gun_jang_sm First thanks to Terri (Olivia Luca) who submitted this pattern puzzle.

Today's challenge comes courtesy of Ecouterre which sponsored a recycled denim design contest. Our selection for today's pattern was the contest second place winner. The winning entry was a bag, very well done too. Maybe some would disagree but you can play it either way. The dress was best as far as creativity is concerned but the bag -in apparel comparative terms- is more "wearable". And that's what Ecouterre is all about. I think it's a great site. It hits the intersection of sustainability and fashion very cleanly without being too judgmental (other than in terms of topic selection, this is not intended as a criticism and hope it doesn't come out that way) about neither fashion nor sustainability. But I digress.

This dress (larger view) was designed by Hyun Gun Jang. The sleeves, while perfect for this dress, are off the table because I've seen this style in an number of 40's and 50's era pattern drafting books. The skirt is another story. Having done something similar to this, I'm very curious to see what you'll come up with for the draft of this. Have fun!

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Premium denim, sustainability & Levi’s

I was pleased to read that Levi's has decided to ban sandblasting to fade their jeans. If you're late to the party, the processes used to make premium denim affects like fades, bleaching etc is very toxic to workers and the environment (for more background, see Denim laundry contractor pt. 2). Sandblasting is injurious to health due to exposure to silica. Now, this is where Levi's mandate gets interesting. Levi's already has stringent compliance standards to ensure worker safety but they -and H&M- have decided it's not enough. Get this:

...we recognize that there are factories – often linked to counterfeit operations – that do not apply these same safeguards. And because they don’t rigorously enforce proper health and safety standards for sandblasting, they put unsuspecting workers at risk.

This is a serious industry concern. And even though we at Levi Strauss & Co. are confident in our practices, we’ve decided that the best way we can help ensure no worker – in any garment factory – faces this risk is to move to end sandblasting.

This move is unprecedented, marking a new era of corporate citizenship. With this strategy, Levi's is not only removing the potential dangers their workers can face but they're protecting workers who are employed in counterfeiting their products. Truly amazing.

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How to be sustainable, protect your IP and still make loads of money

ostrichMy favorite books aren't about sewing but about building things sustainably. Like how to dig a well, build a water pump to plumb a home, pull stumps, how to make your own tools, sanitize drinking water with leach fields you build yourself -all without electricity or fossil fuel dependent machinery. There's a danger in being chained to the reliance of a complex power grid that could be withdrawn at any moment. I feel the same way about sewing. Wait too long and the low prices we've become accustomed to paying will evaporate. Asia can charge what they like, we won't have the choice of doing for ourselves once we've forgotten how or worse, no longer have domestic supplies to do it.

By way of illustration, Vesta sent me a link to a disturbing story about the mining of rare earth minerals, elements used in everything from hybrid cars to smartphones. We used to mine those in the US but in a "cost saving" gesture, we passed it off to China along with the intellectual property and tooling to do it. Last year, China implemented dramatic quotas to limit their rare earth mineral exports, now they're keeping the minerals for themselves. Meaning things like smartphones and hybrid cars will only be manufactured in China or locations they dictate and at the prices they charge or else. And it's not even that there's something nefarious behind it. With rising wages and living standards in China, they need materials to meet increasing domestic demand. Our problem is that we've forgotten how to mine the stuff cost effectively and we're sitting on 15% of the world's supply.

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