Outback Collection: Making it Sustainable
Making the product as sustainable as possible while making sustainability as easy as possible!
I started working on the Outback Collection in January. The whole process is boot-strapped and came with limitations. The ideal way to have done it would have been to go into manufacturing and control the inputs. With capital constraints, this was not possible. However, I made it my goal to make every process across the supply chain as sustainable as possible. The premise was to help raise funds for the relief efforts for the Australian bushfires through sustainable consumer products. As the needs of the world changed, I decided to split the profits between WIRES and the COVID19 Solidarity Response Fund.
The clothing and apparel industry is a cut-throat sector, and sustainably sourcing adds layers of complexities. It involves a high degree of transparency with your vendors and making sure the materials used work together to reach the desired effect. It was a challenge to get it done within two months with our best efforts to keep the products affordable. Currently, sustainability comes at a cost. However, that cost is much lower for larger companies that source items in bulk. Moreover, more demand in these sectors will lead to lower prices.
Here was our process for the Outback Collection:
Sustainable fabrics vary in their environmental impact. A lot of materials may be marketed as sustainable but are far from it. Some of these fabrics are greenwashed. For instance, bamboo fabric is marketed as sustainable, whereas it can cause more damage to the environment than traditional fabrics. Another problem was crass-marketing. Companies (even some of the vendors contacted) use buzzwords to sell their product. I find this example funny, but one vendor tried to sell me on 'vegan cotton'. There is NO such thing as 'vegan cotton'. All cotton is vegan. These were regular cotton T-Shirts marketed as sustainable.
I started viewing sustainability in a different light. It became the availability of a resource and the externalities produced during its manufacturing process. I considered waste as a resource. There is waste in every sector. The technology now allows us to reuse this waste for different purposes at a lower cost. So for our fabrics, I wanted to use upcycled cotton and recycled polyester. After various meetings with vendors, I decided to source from RecoverBrands. This was due to their transparency of where they source their materials. It was essential to trace the origins of the raw materials as there is no way of telling the difference between an upcycled/recycled T-Shirt and a regular cotton and polyester blended one.
Key Takeaways: I'll be the first to admit the problem with recycled polyester. It produces microfibers when washed. The solution to this is to use a Cora Ball. However, doing so is not convenient for the consumer. We are continuously exploring other fabrics to use as alternatives for future product lines.
Another thing I wanted to emphasise on is the process. If it cannot be done sustainably, then you are better off using virgin materials. So how do you know if the process is sustainable? Analyse it with data.
Through GreenStory, we were able to get this information and use it to understand what fabrics would work best for us now and in the future. We were able to analyse our supply chain and successfully calculate its environmental impact. Moreover, I wanted to showcase this data to consumers. By purchasing from the Outback Collection, they would know the impact they are making. Doing this ensures transparency and allows a company the opportunity to move towards more sustainable practices.
This was a major issue. There are limited options in sustainably printing designs on clothes. The inks needed to be eco-friendly inks, and no chemicals were to be used in the process. Moreover, printing in itself can produce waste. I explored screen printing with water-based inks by visiting various local vendors. I even saw the process first hand, and it does create a lot of waste unless it is appropriately managed. This revelation led us to use Direct-to-Garment (DTG) printing with OEKO-TEX certified inks to minimise our environmental impact.
Tags can be expensive and get thrown away. So the Outback Collection uses a single label made out of seed paper to convey our branding and the impact made by our products. The seed paper can be planted to grow wildflowers. Even if it is thrown away, it is biodegradable.
Consumers discard most packaging, and not all plastic used in packaging is recyclable or recycled. So how do you deal with this? By making it easy for our customers to be more sustainable! We used 100% compostable mailers that can biodegrade even if thrown in the landfill. Moreover, all our shipping labels are compostable and work hand in hand with our mailers. Using labels made from recycled materials would have defeated the purpose of our mailers. For larger orders, we use recycled cardboard boxes and kraft paper tape with a water-based adhesive.
Using the data from GreenStory for emissions produced during production and calculating the emissions from shipping a single product (we took the longest shipping route by air and multiplied it by two), we decided to offset 30kg of carbon through Offset Earth.
Our focus was to have a localised supply chain and keep our inventory to a minimum. We did this to avoid deadstock which is a frequent problem in the clothing and apparel sector. So any order placed with RECREO that is not in stock can be produced and fulfilled within 2-3 weeks.
Whenever you're launching a product, there are mistakes which result in wasted resources. In our case, it was a minor issue with the printing, which slightly altered the surrounding area of the design work. Instead of throwing it away or breaking down the cloth to be repurposed, we decided to donate these items to families in need. Our donations will take place once there is an ease of the current lockdown in Ontario, Canada.
We launched at the midst of a global pandemic, but RECREO remains steadfast in its mission to provide better alternatives for everyday products. If you haven't already, check out our Outback Collection to see the impact you can make!