Thursday, August 8, 2013

What is This Thing? Answering the Question: What is Sustainability Work?

I want to know what it is exactly that I’m doing. And I’d like to be able to explain it to you, my clients, and my contractors in a concise and educated way. And so I've been asking myself, “What does sustainability mean, anyway?” More specifically, how does the principal of sustainability affect my business practices and company’s core values?* In researching questions like this, I found that is a good place to start looking for answers. And they actually include textile and apparel industry news in their reporting! Outstanding**

I was in luck! Green Biz recently published an article entitled, What is Sustainability, Anyway? They quote The Financial Times as defining sustainability this way:

Business sustainability is often defined as managing the triple bottom line — a process by which companies manage their financial, social and environmental risks, obligations and opportunities. These three impacts are sometimes referred to as profits, people and planet.

In my opinion, that is a very good start! And I already have some experience with the triple bottom line from my time as produce manager at a local and organic food cooperative. Part of me believes that one of the strengths of the term sustainability is that it is vague and open to interpretation. Some guys had the same idea in mind when they wrote the U.S. Constitution.

Okay, so what does that mean for me and Something New, LLC? What am I going to do about it? How am I going to use that concept to shape my policies? Well, conveniently enough, it has already been broken down into three handy-dandy areas:

First: Financial!

I started with the easy one. I’d really like to make enough money so that I can live on it and keep doing what I love. I’ll price my gowns fairly so that I am paid for the work I put in but they are still affordable to a relatively wide range of brides.***

Second: Social!

For a while, I thought I was going to go to grad school. I had this brilliant idea for a proposal: open cooperatively owned apparel manufacturing in Wisconsin and Minnesota. It would be fantastic and it could work! For a number of reasons including this bridal business, that idea and grad school are both on hold at the moment. However, I haven’t lost sight of strengthening my community.

I am committed to the larger community by sourcing domestic manufacturing. It’s true that since the 1990’s, about 80% of the manufacturing jobs have left the United States (no, I’m sorry, I don’t have a source for that off the top of my head. But I've read it enough times to be pretty darn sure that it’s true). But with initiatives like Manufacture New York, companies are expressing a renewed sense of commitment to domestic production.

I’ll also be constantly working towards a transparent supply chain. That means I’ll be making available on my website as many steps as possible that it takes to get my designs from fiber to amazingly gorgeous wedding dress. Honest By was one of the pioneers of this concept and they're definitely the best at it; I’ll be following their model to the best of my ability (there is only one of me, after all). This is pretty darn important, actually. Remember all the flub-bub in the 1990’s about Nike using child labor to make its products? That didn't happen because someone at Nike said, “You know what? I think 8 year old's should be sewing our stuff! It’ll be brilliant!” It’s because their contractors (that’s an industry term for manufacturer) had sub-contractors and it all got very complicated. And, sadly, it’s not over yet. This is another reason why I’m committed to domestic manufacturing. Everything is easier if there is less information to get lost in translation.  

This next thing seems kind of small in comparison to issues like Foxconn, but I think it’s important to the people in my little town in Western Wisconsin. With the sale of each dress, I’ll be donating proceeds to local non-profit organizations like the Stepping Stones food pantry and shelter that help individuals and families in need (percentage yet to be determined, but don’t worry. That’ll be on the website, too.). Because, hey, we all need to eat, right?

Third: The Environment!!

Who doesn't love nature? Okay, maybe I don’t always, especially when it deals with ticks and mosquitoes, but who doesn't love that picturesque image of nature we can all conjure up in our mind’s eye?

Did you know that over 80% of all the clothing in the world is either cotton or polyester? Both of which come with their share of problems (this is getting a little long, so I’ll go into those another time). This is why I’ll continue to use materials like hemp / silk, peace silk (where they don’t boil the little silk worms alive), and other fabrics make by artisans in small villages. Hemp is awesome because it’s super robust, drought tolerant, and naturally resistant to most insects. It also takes a lot less water to grow than cotton. Many of these materials will most likely be coming from overseas. So I’ll have my work cut out for me making sure that my suppliers are doing their due diligence.

So, yeah. Easy to define, right? But that’s what running a sustainable business means to me so far. This is a living concept with will be evolving over time as my business grows and changes. And I always love to hear thoughts and ideas from my customers, other bides, and anyone out there who is passionate about changing the world for the better. Stay tuned for more!


*Stop yawning! Honestly, this is the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night!

**Why it is that an industry that generates revenue in excess of $2,000 trillion annually (This is the best number I could find. Suffice to say that it’s a huge industry) and has a presence is almost every nation world-wide is not an option in any occupational drop down menu on an internet form is completely beyond me. But that’s another blog post.

***I understand that this is completely subjective and is determined by a wide variety of factors. One of the things I will be working on is making sure that all of those factors like materials, production costs, and target margin are in balance. 

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