It has been a thought-provoking week for the fashion industry as citizens and media prize open the heaving house of fashion's darker doors and shine lights on some of the challenges (and downright horrors) of the industry at large. It's Fashion Revolution Week; prime time, we thought, to share a few of our thoughts and values around sourcing.
Three years on from the horrific Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, not enough positive change has come to the wider world of fashion sourcing. The True Cost Executive Producer Lucy Siegle wrote a great Op-Ed for BoF called 'Sustainable or Superficial'. We totally concur with her point that it's frustrating seeing the biggest players only really addressing the easy-win and easily-marketable aspects of this whopping problem. H&M's World Recycle Week initiative is in the firing line, as they implore consumers to bring in their 'out of style' H&M clothes for recycling in exchange for vouchers and a bit more wardrobe space for more fast fashion. Sure, the initiative's not overtly harmful but this self-perpetuating greenwash does offend our intellect. Seigle suggests the initiative is little more than a distraction from the real issue of harmful sourcing practices that contributed to the death of 1,134 people on that horrible day the Rana Plaza complex collapsed.
While our annual production volumes are probably outweighed by the rubbish bags out the back of just a couple of H&M stores this week, we do take our sourcing and production responsibilities seriously and we'd like to be open about how we work.
We reject fast fashion's unhealthy obsession with expiry. We don't see clothing - most definitely not a raincoat - as a consumable. Our approach to launching products is carefully done item-by-item rather than being collection-based. Like many of the world's greatest brands, we design garments to last at least a decade, and of course timeless style trumps trend.
Emily, Steve and team
We currently make all of our garments in Auckland, New Zealand, at a factory run by a husband and wife team, Emily and Steve. They specialise in technical wear (critical for our garments), and team member Rohini brings her years of suit manufacturing experience to all of our small runs.
Our Auckland production team, (from left) Emily, Steve and Rohini
with our founder Nevada.
Being made in New Zealand is a challenge, particularly with the technical demands of our product. Okewa founders Nick and Nevada shortlisted only 2-3 factories across New Zealand that were able to make Okewa raincoats under one roof. New Zealand manufacturing is strong, however the decreased global spread of apparel production expertise presents challenges.
We source our outer fabrics from a Bluesign-approved Japanese mill. Bluesign is a Swiss-based industry group which has developed a system of sustainable textile production. They control standards of mills to ensure environmentally sensitive practices are followed. We are also constantly seeking fabrics of natural fibres (and non-virgin / recycled polyesters) wherever possible.
One of rainwear's supply chain problem areas is DWR (Durable Water Repellent) which is a chemical solution applied to rainwear fabrics as an integral part of their waterproofing. In short, long-chain (C8) flurocarbon-based treatments were once the industry standard and these resulted in toxic by-products which persist in the environment to negative effects. Okewa fabrics are applied with a shorter-chain C6 treatment which results in less toxic by-products that break down faster in the environment while still meeting our waterproofing requirements. Patagonia cover this issue in depth.
We're going to continue to explore our sourcing matters openly. Here's to a fashion revolution lasting longer than a week, and one that delivers lasting change.