Before we begin, let’s talk food. Conjure up one of your favorite recipes in your head. (Apologies in advance for any salivating that might occur.) Before you can eat your favorite dish, we all know there are steps that must be taken to make said dish. Those steps usually include doing an inventory of your pantry, going to your grocery store or perhaps to your garden, assembling your ingredients onto your counter, preparing your ingredients and mixing and blending as needed and lastly following any additional instructions to achieve the ultimate culinary perfection.
Now take that same methodology for how we create recipes and apply that to your t-shirts, pants, towels, you name it. The equivalent of a recipe in the textile industry is called a cost sheet. A cost sheet is a breakdown of the bill of materials (BOM) that is used to create your t-shirt. It also includes the cost of labor, shipping and trims such as care and content labels, hangtags etc., See below. What it usually does not include is the actual process required to create those raw materials i.e. we don’t have a breakdown of instructions on how to grow cotton and convert it into a textile fiber. Instead, we rely on global partners around the world to own the process for each raw material and supply the end product which we then consolidate into the cost sheet, which in my opinion is what contributes to our inability to make the connection of food to the clothes we wear. We don’t have visibility and understanding into the processes, which isolates us from truly understanding and appreciating our garments.
Back to cost sheet’s aka your t-shirt’s recipe. The bulk of a cost sheet is usually in the fabric. There are two different kinds of fabric. Natural fibers and synthetic fibers. Natural fibers are fibers that are produced by plants, animals, and geological processes. Examples include but are not limited to cotton, hemp, silk, wool, flax, cashmere, alpaca, etc., Synthetic fibers are fibers made by humans with chemical synthesis. Examples include but are not limited to polyester, rayon, nylon, spandex, acrylic, etc., You may have noticed that I did not include bamboo in either category. I’ll save that one for a future blog post.
If you’re a company producing garments, this is single handley one of the most important exercises you can do to have a sustainable impact. Know the ingredients of your recipe and create a strategy based off of your raw materials. If you are a customer purchasing a garment, read the care and content label of the products you buy. Disclaimer, not all raw materials are included on the care and content label – usually on the fabric. Second disclaimer, the country listed on the care and content label only indicates the last manufacturing country the t-shirt was assembled – not the origin of the cotton, polyester, buttons etc., If you see those MADE IN USA labels, I challenge you to ask the manufacturer if the fabric and trims were made in the USA as well.
I’m a firm believer that by knowing the raw materials that go into our products can we measure and create a sustainable impact. Equating our garments to a food recipe allows us to take the bias that inherently come with the buzz word sustainability and gather these components, rank them and make business decisions off of the percentage of that fiber used as it relates to a company’s operation instead of shooting in the dark at implementing a hemp fiber strategy or an organic cotton strategy if that is not the basis of a company’s raw materials.
In conclusion, before you get swept up in the latest sustainability craze, do an inventory of what actually goes into your product that you are making or purchasing and understand the recipe before eating the dish.