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Fashion 4.0, No. 10: Sourcing Ethical & Sustainable Factories Just Got Easier

by The Variant Team on

Thr3efold founder Jessica Kelly didn’t always know so much about how clothes were actually made. She originally worked on the “front-end” of fashion in public relations and marketing. “I came into what I’m doing now in the business-to-business community through a ‘back door,’” said Kelly.  A couple of years ago, on a mission trip to Zimbabwe, she came face-to-face with the social injustice that people in developing nations can face. “It just didn’t sit right with me. There was so much to be done, and people weren’t getting much help from their government,” she recalled. That trip led her to visit to India, where she began to research factories that had higher social standards. “India has some of the leading labor standards in the fashion industry, and I visited several factories that rescued women out of sex trafficking rings taught them life skills like financial planning. What they all had in common was awful websites. It was very clear to me that it was way too hard for people to find these good factories, and if you did work with factories overseas, the confidence level in the labor standards was way too elusive. That was my light-bulb moment,” she said. Last summer, she launched a crowd-funding campaign to develop the technology for Thr3Efold (IG: @thr3efold), an ethical manufacturing platform and online community that connects apparel and soft accessories brands with factories around the world that bear leading ethical labor certifications. The site officially launched in beta mode this past September.   Here’s how it works: brands pay an annual fee to become members, which gives them access to a database of factories. Brands can filter their search based on production categories, quantity or country. Each factory has a profile page, and members can message a factory directly through the platform, as well as upload tech packs or designs to multiple factories in order to make cost inquiries and compare pricing. Once a project goes into production, Thr3efold’s user-friendly interface acts as a project management tool that’s easily viewable from a dashboard. "Now that we are getting brands on the platform, we see what works what doesn’t,” said Kelly.  “If you are scrolling through factories, there’s an extra button to message them and/or start a project right away, so you don’t lose track of a factory and you can continue scrolling.” That factory also gets automatically sent to the user dashboard to ensure it’s not “lost.” On the factory side, Thr3efold charges a scaling commission based on the amount of orders a factory receives through the platform. “We want more factories on the platform, so we don’t charge them until they know they are getting work,” said Kelly. Part of Kelly’s work includes making sure each factory’s ethical labor certificates are valid and up-to-date. She’s continually sourcing new factories by working with the certifying bodies themselves, and she hopes to take more scouting trips as well, because “nothing replaces being there in person.”   Initial members include smaller and start-up brands that don’t yet have a supply chain set up. One of her goals is to onboard factories that can scale along with a brand as it goes from needing smaller quantities to larger ones.  Thr3eFold also hosts an online community called Deadstock District, where brands can communicate about leftover fabrics that they wish to sell or trade. Right now, a marketplace version exists on Facebook, but Kelly hopes to integrate it into the Thr3efold platform next.  “One of our goals is to facilitate more B2B fabric sourcing.  There’s a huge need for more accessible deadstock fabrics and right now they tends to only be available in smaller quantities. We have factories overseas that have larger quantities, but the key is getting them to list their fabric liability (their unused fabric) on the platform. I’d like it to be a marketplace like eBay where they can set prices and work out logistics themselves,” said Kelly. Her biggest revelation since launching Thr3efold is just how complex clothing production really is.  “I went into this idea because my background was not production, and I was naïve enough about how it works that I jumped all in,” she said. “The more I learn about it, the more surprised I am that we get anything made. I recently saw a source map project that tracked the supply chain of Vans shoes. It takes 30 countries to make one pair Vans.” Kelly says the reason it’s so hard for brands to find factories is that the whole process is decentralized, with no one place brands can go to look for things. “Forget having standards on top of that. It’s definitely ripe for the picking to be organized and improved. At the end of the day, we are a factor to make fashion production more ethical and sustainable.” Here's to Jessica Kelly and others like her who are working hard to move fashion forward to a new and better place. We hope that you found her story as helpful and inspiring as we did.  With Gratitude, The Variant Team Have a tip? Email us at info@variant.group. Interested in collaborating with Variant? Fill out an application here. 

Fashion 4.0, No. 9: What Makes a Brand Sustainable? Breaking Down the Basics

by The Variant Team on

The word "sustainability" is used so much in fashion that while it's become a familiar word, a lot of people are still confused about what is actually means. The fact is, it means a lot of things. The Oxford Dictionary defines sustainability, as it pertains to our planet, as "avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance," as in, "the pursuit of global environmental sustainability." That covers a broad swath when it comes to apparel manufacturing and the entire clothing supply chain, which starts with sourcing raw materials and ends with clothing being shipped to your door. Here, we break down a few of the basics. WHAT IS SUSTAINABLY SOURCED MATERIAL?  All finished clothing starts with raw materials, whether that's a natural crop such as cotton or bamboo, or an animal product such as wool or leather, or a man-made material such as nylon. There are ways that all these types of materials can be sourced more sustainably. Cotton, for example, is a crop that takes vast amounts of water to cultivate, as well as earth-polluting pesticides to keep the crops from being eaten by bugs. While we don't see cotton farming going away any time soon, there are different ways to go about it. Organic cotton is farmed without the use of pesticides. Sustainably farmed cotton means that the workers who grow the cotton are paid fair wages and their working conditions meet standards set by human rights regulatory groups. Cotton still takes a lot of water to farm, though. Plants such as bamboo or beech trees (the basis for fibers that make up fabrics such as Modal and Tencel)  require less water to grow and are also quick to renew themselves when cut down (unlike cotton, which needs to be planted and picked each season). Therefore, these materials are also deemed more sustainable.  When brands refer to sustainably sourced leather it typically means that the animals were already being used for food, therefore not being bred specifically for their hides, or in some cases it means "deadstock" or unused leather that was never made into clothing, or vintage or second-hand leather that's been "upcycled" into new pieces. The dyes used to tan and color the leather can also be more sustainable if they're derived from plants or natural minerals, rather than man-made chemicals. Finally, man-made materials such as nylon and plastic are made with chemicals, but innovative companies such as Unifi and Aquafil are finding ways to remake old or "post-consumer" materials such as old carpets or plastic water bottles into new-again fibers that can be used to make clothes. Econyl is the trademarked name for one brand of regenerated nylon that designers like Stella McCartney are using in their clothes. It's "circular," meaning that it came from old materials, was made into something new, and can be broken down and remade again and again.  There are also several science-driven technologies that are making materials out of things like algae, cacti, mushroom fungus, yeast and other natural substances that can be grown in a lab using very little water or electricity. We've written about algae foam, mushroom leather, cactus leather and other exciting things that we hope will become widely-used alternatives to non-sustainable materials.  WHAT DO ZERO WASTE AND ZERO IMPACT MEAN?  The term "zero waste" in fashion means that no excess materials were thrown away while creating a garment. Typical garment-making or manufacturing has a 10-30% waste rate. For example, with traditional cut-and-sew clothes, each pattern piece is cut from a bolt of fabric. While the pieces may be placed close together, there is still excess fabric that ends up on the cutting room floor. Newer techniques like 3D knitting, which means that pieces can be knit in three-dimensional shapes rather than a flat piece of fabric, eliminate this type of waste, and have a waste rate of just 1.65%.  "Zero impact" fashion means that there's no negative impact on the environment when it comes to making things. That would mean: no carbon emissions from freight trucks or planes delivering raw materials or finished goods; no chemicals released into the soil or water supply; no excess materials going into landfills, and so on. It's nearly impossible to be 100% zero impact, but many companies, including Variant, try their best to come as close as possible, and were founded on the idea of making things in a new way versus the old way.  WHAT IS LOCAL MANUFACTURING?   Local means close to home, so think about the factory that made your t-shirt being closer to your home than say, China, where a great deal of things, not just clothes, are made. There are many upsides to this: higher-quality items because it's much easier to keep tabs on something when it's being made closely; fewer carbon emissions because your clothes don't have to travel as far to reach you; quicker fulfillment and delivery. In the "old days" many things were made close to home, or even in the home, but larger economic forces eventually made it cheaper and more efficient to make things overseas. Now, the tide is turning back to local manufacturing, and we're fortunate to be a part of this movement making the change. We hope one day that our products will reach customers globally and be made locally, close to our customers, wherever they may live. Thank you again for following us and joining us on the journey.    With Gratitude, The Variant Team Have a tip? Email us at info@variant.group. Interested in collaborating with Variant? Fill out an application here.   

Fashion 4.0, No. 8: Organic Cotton and Recycled Cotton Denim on the Rise

by The Variant Team on

We love fiber innovations in part because they utilize natural materials or find ways to take post-consumer waste out of landfills and repurpose it into something that can be used again. That said, we also support natural fibers being grown more responsibly. With the rise in awareness of the climate emergency that our planet is facing, Textile Exchange, the only organization to collect and report on global organic cotton production data, sees the crop as a key component to the myriad of solutions that are urgently needed. This week, we're highlighting the organization's 2019 Organic Cotton Market Report, which noted that global organic cotton production grew by 56 percent in 2017/2018. The latest figures show that global production of organic cotton fiber reached 180,971 metric tons (MT) in 2017/2018 – the highest volume seen since 2009/2010 when the financial crisis led to a dramatic decline – and the growth is set to continue. The number of facilities certified to voluntary organic standards is also on the rise, with facilities certified to the Global Organic Textile Standard and Textile Exchange’s Organic Content Standard growing by 15 and 16 percent, respectively. Cotton is grown organically in 19 countries around the world and the Organic Cotton Market Report reveals that 98 percent of the production stems from just 7 of these: India (47 percent), China (21 percent), Kyrgyzstan (12 percent), Tukey (6 percent), Tajikistan (5 percent), the United States (3 percent), and Tanzania (3 percent). Organic cotton now makes up 0.7 percent of total cotton production globally. In 2017/2018, the fiber was planted on a total of 356,131 hectares (ha), with an additional 44,394 ha in transition to organic. Production was carried out by a total of 182,876 farmers, the majority of whom were smallholders growing organic cotton in rotation with other crops.  Farmer access to cotton seed that has not been genetically modified (GM) remains a huge obstacle for organic farmers, particularly in countries such as China and India where GM cotton dominates the cotton landscape. The report highlights some of the great progress being made in this area and includes an urgent call to action for added investment in non-GM seed programs, as well as for companies to develop their own organic cotton safeguarding programs. “Organic production of cotton is the tip of the spear that has been driving change within the sector. It establishes a direction of travel for all of us, starting with regenerative soil practices.” – La Rhea Pepper, managing director of Textile Exchange  In other good cotton news, Cone Denim, one of the U.S.'s oldest denim mills, has introduced a new collection made from recycled cotton.  The line, Cone Denim Recycled Cotton, promotes a closed-loop manufacturing system that reduces energy consumption and material waste, uses pre-consumer and post-consumer waste in the production of “socially responsible denims.” Cone Denim is working with like-minded partners in Mexico to collect and incorporate pre-consumer scraps from the production cutting table back into Cone’s supply chain and utilized in the manufacturing of its authentic denim. The company is able to bring scraps from original Cone Denim fabrics together with other sustainable components using what it calls “mindful manufacturing processes to create environmentally conscious…fabrics.” “The use of pre-consumer recycled cotton from Cone’s own internal operations and our cut-and-sew partners helps to conserve water by offsetting water used to grow cotton. Additionally, Cone’s use of pre- and post-consumer recycled cotton has redirected approximately 500,000 pounds of cotton waste from landfills over the last year.” – Steve Maggard, president of Cone Denim  Cone Denim is owned by Elevate Textiles, which announced earlier this year 2025 sustainability commitments focused on responsibly sourced fibers, reduced water consumption and reduced greenhouse gases. It aims to use at least 80 percent sustainably sourced cotton and 50 percent recycled polyester content, reduce the company’s water intensity by 25 percent per unit of production and set a specific greenhouse gas target of achieving a 2.5 percent per year reduction trajectory as part of its participation with the Science Based Target Program. Here's to all the companies and people, big and small, who are working to create change within the apparel manufacturing supply chain. May 2020 be a year of even greater innovation and more good things.  With Gratitude, The Variant Team Have a tip? Email us at info@variant.group. Interested in collaborating with Variant? Fill out an application here. 

Fashion 4.0, No. 7: The Future is Garbage & Old Materials Are New Again

by The Variant Team on

Global fashion search engine Lyst’s Year in Fashion 2019 report was released this week, and Sustainability was the lead story in the annual survey, annointed the top “Movement” of the year. According to Lyst data culled from 104 million shoppers who searched the web for fashion using its platform, searches including sustainability-related keywords increased 75% over last year, with an average of 27,000 searches for sustainable fashion every month. Searches for specific sustainable materials rose; 102% for Econyl, 52% for organic cotton, 130% for Repreve and 42% for Tencel. At Variant, we’re obsessed with sustainable materials, because they’re the building blocks of the new fashion movement we’re helping to push forward with technology and inspired design. After Movements, the other categories that Lyst tracked include Moods, Moments, Power Dressers, Breakout Brands, Logo of the Year, Viral Products, Revival Products and other trend-worthy topics. We were equally gratified to see that the leading trend in the report’s closing section, “Next Year in Fashion,” was Space Age Style. As the report put it, "With four missions to Mars, testing of SpaceX’s reusable rocket and a new generation of human-crewed spacecraft all readying for lift-off in 2020, it’s about to get intergalactic. As seen on the S/S ’20 catwalks, we predict holographic fabrics, space-suit outerwear and otherworldly styling.” We couldn’t agree more, and we can’t wait to share what we’ve been working on for the past year – let’s just say that there are some out-of-this-world creations we look forward to sharing with our community of fellow fashion-lovers and changemakers.  Back in March, we chatted with another newsworthy innovator, Stephanie Benedetto, the former corporate attorney who is reshaping the supply chain by making deadstock textiles more readily available to designers – and saving the world’s water supply in the process. Her company, Queen of Raw, sources vintage and deadstock textiles from around the world and makes them available to large enterprise manufacturers and small designers alike. “There’s a massive problem in the industry with waste. If we do not make a change, by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will face shortages of fresh water because of textile production,” Benedetto said. Queen of Raw has already saved over 1 billion gallons of water and saved companies over $10 million with supply chain efficiency. "I take a broad view of sustainability. It’s really around sourcing and finding what’s already out there. If it exists, we are working to onboard it and make it available as quickly as possible,” she said.  Queen of Raw’s technology enables “intelligent searching” – customers can filter by materials, location and price – as well as blockchain technology to track the source of each materials down to the farmer who grew the cotton, and update its availability in real time. Over time, the platform is able to identify when waste and overages occur, and with AI learning, it can eventually predict usage and reduce waste. “We’re providing a business-based solution around technology. I’m selling to an industry that has always done things in an old school way, where you would pay huge amounts and know little about the origins of the materials. We are more transparent, and provide end-to-end connectivity,” she said.  The all-digital platform is easy to use, allowing customers to drag and drop selections into their cart in a matter of seconds. Queen of Raw offers a free, open-source service on queenofraw.com for small and medium manufacturers looking for 250 yards or less (there is even a section for three yards and under) and a paid service for enterprise manufacturers. Queen of Raw creative director Corbin Chase and founder Stephanie Benedetto Benedetto hopes more designers will embrace deadstock fabrics. The platform also offers a mood board feature that helps designers get creative.  “I hope it becomes the gold standard as people are starting to care more from the top down and the bottom up. Use your purchasing power to make a difference,” she said. Here’s to everyone out there who’s committed to doing great business while preserving our planet and making the world a more beautiful place. With Gratitude, The Variant Team Have a tip? Email us at info@variant.group. Interested in collaborating with Variant? Fill out an application here. 

Fashion 4.0, No. 6: Materials That Matter: Ocean Plastic Insulation & Cactus Leather

by The Variant Team on

The most exciting ideas are often born out of partnerships. Parley for the Oceans, the organization dedicated to preserving the oceans and eliminating plastic from the planet, has linked with brands such as Adidas, AmEx, S’Well and Corona to achieve its mission. Its latest partnership with PrimaLoft, an industry leader in advanced materials technology, will transform marine plastic debris into high-performance insulation products. PrimaLoft will be the first insulation provider in the textile industry to partner with Parley to develop products from plastics intercepted from remote islands, beaches and coastal communities. Globally, eight million tons of plastic waste ends up in our waterways and oceans every year, affecting marine animals, coastal communities and ecosystems. Parley and PrimaLoft both recognize the severity of the health and economic impacts plastic has on our oceans. “Using upcycled marine plastic waste to create insulation that meets the high-performance standards customers expect from PrimaLoft presents a unique challenge,” said Mike Joyce, PrimaLoft President and CEO. “Sourcing high-quality raw materials is essential to the development of our insulations, and marine plastics are often lacking that level of quality.” Like most materials recycling, it’s a complex process, but Parley’s goal is also to make environmental protection fiscally lucrative for pacesetting major companies, which in turn has the power to move the needle for the industry as a whole. PrimaLoft is also incorporating and implementing Parley’s AIR strategy, (which stands for Avoid, Intercept and Redesign) ultimately leading to a reduction of the company’s plastic footprint. The partnership will also extend to support other Parley initiatives and projects that involve preventing ocean pollution all over the world. “The fashion industry has inherent advantages such as creativity, its most iconic trait. With the support of technologies and innovations, fashion has the talent, the networks, the financing and all the resources needed for transformation. The time has come to start doing things in a different way.” --  Adrián López Velarde, creator of Desserto Cactus Leather  In more exciting material innovation news, there’s now another alternative to leather. Dubbed Cactus Leather and trademarked as Desserto, the material made a splash at the International Leather Fair Lineapelle in Milan, Italy last month. Its developers, Mexican entrepreneurs Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez, wanted to create a cruelty-free, sustainable leather alternative without any toxic chemicals, phthalates and PVC. They came up with the idea of using cactus, or nopal, as a raw material because it doesn’t need any water to grow and is abundant throughout Mexico. It took two years of research and development. As Fashion United reports, Cactus Leather is organic, partially biodegradable and has the technical specifications required by the fashion, leather goods, furniture and automotive industries. Thanks to its durability, breathability and elasticity Desserto can replace animal leather and other synthetic materials that are not environmentally friendly. “It’s the right time to offer this alternative, because not only are consumer industries interested in new materials like these, but also more and more end-consumers are demanding environmentally friendly materials,” said López Velarde. We couldn't agree more. Thank you for joining us at Variant Malibu as we embark on this exciting journey to create fashion and change. We can't wait to share more ideas and news with you soon.  With Gratitude, The Variant Team Have a tip? Email us at info@variant.group. Interested in collaborating with Variant? Fill out an application here.        

Fashion 4.0, No. 5: Supply Chain Circularity & Shocking Pink Printers

by The Variant Team on

"Circular" is a word on everyone's lips these days, and with good reason. Why add new things into the fashion supply chain when there's already so much going to waste or sitting in a landfill? Our last blog recapped the XPrize "Future of Waste" challenge, which will seek ways to harvest usable materials from landfills. We're always on the lookout for innovators in the raw materials space, so the Sourcing Journal report on Swedish technology recycling blended fabrics into new fibers caught our eye this month. We know it's not sustainable to only use new fibers in our supply chain, but it's also not easy to find recycled yarns, because the process to break down finished textiles and remake them into yarn again is both difficult and expensive. While textile companies like Unifi have found ways to salvage manmade materials such as plastic bottles and nylon carpets from landfills, it's been much harder to do the same with used clothing, in large part because much of it is made from blended fabrics. The Swedish wood pulp manufacturer Södra has found a way to separate cotton and polyester, then take the pure cotton fibers and combine them with its wood-derived textile pulp to make new textiles. Its goal is to also find uses for the separated polyester.  “Only a negligible proportion of the global production of clothing and textiles is recycled today,” Lars Idermark, president and CEO of Södra, said. “Virtually everything is sent to landfill or incineration. But…innovation and a willingness to help mitigate climate change can now influence the game at a global level.” While its first go at the project used 20 tons of white end-of-life sheets, towels, tablecloths and bathrobes from hospitals and hotels, Södra also hopes to find a way to remove color from used fabrics and to accommodate viscose and Lycocell, both commonly used for clothing, and so that more textiles can be recycled. In effect, it's a call-out to sustainability-minded apparel companies to partner with them in delivering textiles to the program.   In other exciting news, direct-to-garment (DTG) printing is about to get a whole lot brighter with the unveiling of Epson's fluorescent-dye digital printer, the SureColor F9470H, available in January 2020. It's Long Beach, Calif.-based Epson America's first dye-sublimation textile printing solution with fluorescent ink – pink and yellow, to be exact. Epson said the new 64-inch printers are suitable for roll-to-roll textiles, home décor, promotional product and soft signage markets and offer production-level print speeds. The printer has an MSRP of $31,995 and is currently available for pre-order.  "We predict the digital textile market will continue to expand for years to come,” Tim Check, senior product manager for professional imaging at Epson America, said. If that's true, then color us happy.  At Variant, we believe that technology can help us find a way forward in creating mindful fashion, with less waste and more customization. We can't wait to share what we're up to, and we hope that you'll join us on the Fashion 4.0 journey.    With Gratitude, The Variant Team Have a tip? Email us at info@variant.group. Interested in collaborating with Variant? Fill out an application here.

Fashion 4.0, No. 4: Visioneering the Future of Waste in a Circular Economy

by The Variant Team on

There are 1,614,202,699  (and counting) tons of waste being dumped globally this year. What can we do to lessen it?  At last weekend's XPrize's Visioneering Conference at Paramount Studios, our founder and CEO Garrett Gerson and Jeff Holden, cofounder and CEO of San Francis-based startup Atomic Machines, and unveiled the challenge to address The Future of Waste in a Circular Economy  What is an open loop waste system? We extract raw materials from the earth,  make products with them, sell them, throw them into the garbage, and repeat. The waste that accumulates in landfills emits major greenhouse gasses (70% of all the methane in the U.S. comes from landfills). Places in the world without landfills are dumping garbage directly onto the land or into oceans.  How do we close the loop? With one breakthrough technology that will decompose the contents of a heterogeneous landfill down into useable feed stock materials that can go directly into a production process. Imagine making plastics without have to do factional distillation, which consumes 25% of the world's energy. Imagine being able to take things out of our landfills and inject them back into manufacturing processes. It sounds like a moonshot, but people figured out how to make space travel happen, so....  Above: Atomic Machines CEO and cofounder Jeff Holden (left) and Variant founder and CEO Garrett Gerson present the Landfill Harvesting challenge at XPrize's Visioneering Conference.    Landfill Harvesting Challenge: Reverting the world's garbage back into the raw materials it came from to be reused to make new products.  Purse: $50 million Milestone 1: $25 million to be awarded to several team In 2 years, will process post-consumer garbage with the highest yield of usable feed stock with all renewable energy. Want to encourage large companies and entrepreneurs  Milestone 2: $25 million to be awarded to the winning team  The first team to achieve at least 75% yield, elimination of all toxic outputs, and greenhouse emissions. The goal is to bring the winning concept to full commercialization.  What made this past weekend such a major moment for us at Variant was the opportunity to lead the conversation about the future of waste in fashion, among a small but mighty group of XPrize board members, innovators and entrepreneurs. It's a fashion moonshot, so to speak, to propose a zero-waste, circular alternative to current apparel and accessories manufacturing processes. But it's what we're doing at Variant: using 3D knitting and digital printing to create customizable fashion, with recycled or recyclable materials, manufactured locally.  The bags we created for Visioneering were made with fibers derived from recycled nylon carpets. Each one was 3D knit and customized with each board member's name, at our headquarters and partner factories less than 30 miles from Paramount Studios. The material waste from the production of 150 of these bags barely filled a small Ziploc bag. Ditto for the custom pillows adorning the couches at the event. Our story, told on a giant LED cube, has elements that everyone can apply to their own businesses and lives: Let's make things with lasting appeal and beauty, and let's be more thoughtful and conscious about how we make them. Instead of ending up in landfills, we hope our products will be enjoyed forever, but if they aren't, let's break down the materials and make them into new things. Let's stop mining new materials from our environment and rethink how to use existing waste. The old saying goes, "One person's trash is another person's treasure." The world's trash might just be the most valuable asset we're overlooking.  With Gratitude, The Variant Team Have a tip? Email us at info@variant.group. Interested in collaborating with Variant? Fill out an application here.    

Fashion 4.0, No. 3: How Innovation Can Help Fix Fast Fashion's Fallout

by The Variant Team on

By now, we’ve all heard about or experienced some form of backlash from “fast fashion,” whether it’s devastating news stories about underpaid garment workers losing or risking their lives toiling in unsafe overseas factories, losing jobs at home as apparel industry work has gone off-shore, or the collective realization that we have too much stuff that ends up in landfills and pollutes the planet. Veteran fashion journalist Dana Thomas’ new book, “Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes,” out this month from Penguin, spells out exactly what’s ailing the apparel industry today, why it happened, and how new companies are using innovation to solve the problem. In her well-researched and compelling read, Thomas begins by making an example of Zara, the world’s largest fashion brand, which produced more than 450 million clothing items in 2018. Last year, she writes, U.S. shoppers bought an average of 68 garments a year. If you totaled up that figure for everyone in the world, that would be 80 BILLION apparel items annually. How did we go from the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago, when the invention of mechanical loom heralded progress, to this? As Thomas explains, up until the Seventies, the U.S. produced at least 70 percent of the apparel that Americans purchased. In the Eighties, when inexpensive, trendy clothes became popular, companies began off-shore manufacturing in less-developed countries to keep prices lower. In 1991, only 56.2 percent of all clothes purchased in the U.S. were made domestically. By 2012, it was 2.5 percent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. textile and garment industry lost 1.2 million jobs while worldwide, the number of apparel and textile jobs nearly doubled. Fashion employs 1 out of 6 people globally, but fewer than 2 percent of them earn a living wage. Why? The average consumer, many of us included, liked paying less for clothes that they’d wear fewer times, and often didn’t think about how or where they were made. Thankfully, things are changing. New fashion entrepreneurs began to question why they were making more things and how they could do it differently. Part of the messaging brings the staggering statistics to light for consumers. Thomas notes that conventionally grown cotton is one of the world’s most polluting crops. Almost 2.2 pounds of hazardous chemicals are required to grow two-and-a-half acres. The resulting textiles are often dyed with more toxic chemicals that also get into the world’s waters, and once an item end up in a landfill, those same dyes again poison the earth. Synthetic fibers are no better: they can release microfibers when washed, up to 40 percent of which enter rivers, lakes and oceans. The World Bank estimates that garment production is responsible for nearly 20 percent of all industrial water pollution annually. Fashion production also releases 10 percent of all carbon emissions in our air. Where does it all go? Of the 100 billion items produced each year, 20 percent go unsold. In the last 20 years, the volume of clothes that American throw away has doubled from 7 million to 14 million tons. That's equal to 80 pounds per person per year of clothes that get thrown away.  Thomas' book has clearly been a long time in the making, and it sheds more light for more people on the changes needed in our industry. The latter half of the book highlights the ways in which new companies are striving to clean up fashion's act. When we founded Variant last year, our aim was to create beautiful, lasting fashion with far less impact on the planet. We made customization our platform on the premise that consumers wouldn’t want to throw away a unique and high-quality piece made just for them. In making items on-demand only and local to our customers, we also hope to eliminate materials waste and inventory, and shorten the supply chain.   What we make our items from is also an opportunity to support fellow innovators. With science and technology paving the way for sustainably-produced fibers and those created from upcycled, post-consumer “waste” like plastic bottles and nylon carpets, we can help to change the status quo, one garment at a time. Each day, we discover new changemakers and entrepreneurs who inspire us to be better. Recently, one of our younger team members came across a company called Modern Meadow, which is using science and technology for “Biofabrication,” or building textile fibers with biology, beginning at the molecular level with a collagen protein cell’s DNA. Those cells are grown and multiplied through fermentation, each one producing collagen proteins that can eventually become the building blocks for textiles when combined with other animal-free, natural or man-made materials. Pictured above and in our featured image is Zoa™, Modern Meadow’s first-gen material inspired by leather. While it’s not yet available commercially, we’re excited by the possibilities of creating fashion with textiles that are healthier for the planet. It’s worth noting that many innovations of the past still hold plenty of value today. Stoll, the German company that created the first automated knitting machine 100 years ago exactly, is still a leader today. The Stoll 3D knitting machines we use at Variant now knit forms to shape, eliminating materials waste and enabling customized fits. If that’s not the opposite of fast fashion, we don’t know what is. With Gratitude,  The Variant Team   Have a tip? Email us at info@variant.group. Interested in collaborating with Variant? Fill out an application here.

Fashion 4.0, No. 2: Raw Materials, Sci-Fi to Reality

by The Variant Team on

Raw materials are the foundation of almost everything people consume – not the least of which is fashion – so it’s no wonder that materials innovation is a hot topic. Led by science and driven by an imperative to stem pollution and use of the planet’s natural resources, we’re seeing inventions that just a few years ago seemed “far-fetched," like something out of a sci-fi movie.   There’s lab-grown spider silk and leather-like textiles made from mushroom cells created by California biotech startup Bolt Threads; outerwear fabric grown from fermented protein particles at 12-year-old Japan-based Spiber Inc., and yeast-based biolplastic developed by scientists with the Finnish design studio Aivan. In addition to being animal-friendly, these materials don’t require large amounts of land to produce. We founded Variant with “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” top of mind, so we endeavor to use materials from many sources, from sustainable and cruelty-free plant and animal fibers to bio-tech alternatives and those made from things that people normally throw away (aka "up cycling"). On our recent visit to fiber manufacturer and innovator Unifi in North Carolina, we found some amazing yarns made from recycled nylon carpets. We also admire what Bloom Algae Foam cofounder and SoCal native Rob Falken is doing to collect toxic green-blue algae biomass from waste streams in the U.S. and Asia and convert it into a polymer to produce all kinds of foam-based products, from sneaker soles to surfboard traction pads. As part of the fashion-tech startup community, we wholeheartedly support these visionaries bringing products to market because it's the only way that they can flourish, and continue to grow and innovate. Working together helps bring us all closer to our goal near-zero environmental impact. As our founder and CEO Garrett Gerson likes to say, “Everything is ‘far-fetched’ until it becomes mainstream.” There might only be one successful company out of every 100 that launch, but we support them all because you never know which one could be the breakout. Our friend and mentor Peter Diamandis, founder and chairman of XPRIZE Foundation and Abundance 360, once told us, “The day before something is truly a breakthrough, it's a crazy idea.” It’s the same ethos behind the limited-edition Moon Parka developed for The North Face by Japanese sports apparel manufacturer Goldwin and Spiber. Its name refers to “shooting for the moon," or attempting an extraordinarily difficult task that can also have an extraordinary impact. Pursuing dreams isn’t always easy. As we grow the Variant platform -- empowering individuals and brands to express themselves through tech-enabled, customized fashion --  our mission remains clear: to make desirable and lasting pieces with mindful manufacturing practices. With Gratitude, The Variant Team Have a tip? Email us at info@variant.group. Interested in collaborating with Variant? Fill out an application here.