rPET Dopp Kit for KINSHIP. Dopp Kit image © KINSHIP 

The Problem

Plastics get such a bad rap. They release microfibers into our waterways and when thrown away take up tons (literally, tons) of space.

We have seen that for ourselves. The WORK+SHELTER production center is located close to a landfill in New Delhi, one that is constantly burning. There are two reasons for that:

  1. The trash is purposefully incinerated, in part, because the city lacks infrastructure to manage the waste.
  2. It spontaneously combusts.

When the trash burns, smoke, and smog are created, polluting the air for all of the city’s inhabitants. 

With such negative externalities, why even use plastics at all? One reason is that they have immense utility. They are lightweight, affordable, and strong.

Quilted rPET Zip Pouch

Our Solution 

What can we, as folks in the promo/swag/merch/sewn goods world, do about this massive environmental issue?

Our answer: buy fabric made out of recycled plastics. By doing that we get the utility of poly fabrics and also keep waste out of the landfill.

The technical term is recycled polyethylene terephthalate, RPET for shorthand.

When we buy bags or shirts made out of RPET fabric, we provide a monetary incentive to recycle those plastics, instead of burn them. What’s more, individuals in parts of India can actually sell their waste to recyclers. In economic terms, we create “demand” for this type of fabric, resulting in building a supply chain of collectors, recyclers, and weavers who then make their living from doing something that actively improves the environment.

              Digitally printed woven RPET

Production Options

RPET is available in both knitted (think tees) and woven (think totes) fabrics.

For knits, RPET can be combined with organic cotton (GOTS certified), resulting in material that works well for athleisure apparel.  One of our clients, a yoga clothing brand decided on this mix because the RPET dries fast and is super durable, while the cotton makes the garment more comfortable, soft, and breathable. 

In woven form, RPET is strong, partially water resistant, and lightweight. Less weight results in an easier-to-carry and cheaper-to-ship than a cotton equivalent, making it a great option for make-up bags or foldable totes.

Knit rPET yoga pants for SAMVEGA. Image © SAMVEGA

Design Trade-Offs

As you may have heard, RPET is composed of microfibers that can shed into the water supply. This has given RPET somewhat of a bad rap in the environmental community. 

Despite the microfiber issue, using RPET is a huge upgrade from using virgin polyester, as its creation is taking post-consumer materials out of landfills, incinerators, and the oceans.

Designers should especially consider using RPET in items that can be wiped down and not machine-washed. Examples of products that fit these criteria:

  • Tote bags
  • Packing cubes
  • Packaging for other items
  • Wall hangings (pictured below)

If you’d like to consider giving plastics a second life and use RPET for your production, let us know and we can send you complimentary samples of various compositions and weights. We’re always reachable at [email protected].rPET Great Lakes Map Quilt

At WORK+SHELTER, our ethos is deeply rooted in ethical practices, sustainability, and empowerment, especially for women in need. This commitment extends to every facet of our operations, from fair-trade labor to sourcing materials. Today, we delve into the world of recycled cotton fabric – a choice that resonates with our values and offers numerous benefits for our planet, our customers, and our incredible women-lead team.

Recycled denim rovings

Sustainable Manufacturing: The WORK+SHELTER Way

Resource Conservation: Traditional cotton farming is resource-intensive, but by incorporating recycled cotton, we significantly reduce water usage and environmental strain. This aligns with our mission to minimize our impact on the earth, echoing our efforts to use over 95% of fabrics with an environmental qualifier.

Lower Carbon Footprint: Our commitment to eco-friendly equality involves reducing energy consumption. The process of recycling cotton aligns with this, ensuring a lower carbon footprint compared to new cotton production.

Chemical Usage Reduction: We choose recycled cotton (and organic for that matter) to avoid the heavy pesticides and fertilizers used in conventional cotton farming, safeguarding our environment and promoting healthier practices.

recycled cotton yarn

Benefits for Our Customers

Eco-Conscious Choices: Choosing products made from recycled cotton allows you, our customers, to support sustainable and ethical manufacturing. This choice is a testament to your commitment to a better planet.

Quality and Uniqueness: Recycled cotton doesn’t mean compromised quality. Our products maintain high standards of durability and offer unique aesthetics, embodying the unique spirit of WORK+SHELTER.

Cost-Effectiveness: We strive to make sustainable choices accessible. In manufacturing, reducing waste and being efficient is naturally lower cost, and our recycled cotton products are an example of that.

 

Benefits for Our Team

Healthier Work Environments: Avoiding the harmful chemicals in traditional cotton production means a safer, healthier workplace for our team. This aligns with our commitment to providing a clean, safe environment with regular health check-ups.

Ethical Production Practices: By using recycled cotton, we further our commitment to fair-trade labor practices. This choice is a step towards more ethical production, challenging the norms of the garment industry in India.

Waste Reduction: Our production team is based in New Delhi, which has some of the worst air quality in the world. For over a decade we have understood that it’s of little use to create jobs for women in need while participating in degrading the environment they live in. By reusing cotton, we contribute to less material ending up in landfills, which means less waste transport or incineration.

Conclusion: Ask for Recycled Cotton

At WORK+SHELTER, choosing recycled cotton is more than a manufacturing decision; it’s a reflection of our values. This choice intertwines our commitment to the environment, our dedication to empowering women, and our promise to deliver unique, quality products to our customers.

To support our mission of helping women-in-need by ordering recycled cotton totes, zip pouches, or other items, please connect with us at [email protected].

Photo Credit: Lotta Jansdotter

Behind every great product is a thorough product-development process, and WORK+SHELTER offers a range of development services to help get your custom design ready for production.

Our in-house team of can guide you through every step. Or we can work collaboratively with your design team to fill in any gaps between your developed materials and our production team’s needs.

 

DEVELOPMENT SERVICES

WORK+SHELTER’s full menu of services includes the following:

  1. Sourcing
  2. Measurement charts
  3. Tech packs/spec sheets
  4. Patternmaking
  5. Grading
  6. Sample making


Technical designer + patternmaker, Xochil Herrera Scheer of The Chicago Patternmaker, working with clients on a technical specification sheet.

 

Our team is happy to give guidance on fabrications, trims, construction details, grade rules, and more as needed. We always review samples in house before sending them to you, to make sure they meet or exceed standards.

An important note: the pre-production process can take time, anywhere from 2-6 months, depending on the level of detail in the product, how many rounds of revision are necessary, and whether a custom textile needs to be created. 

Have a shorter timeline but a slightly flexible vision? Rapid development & prototyping can be achieved using in-stock materials and our retail-ready patterns for less complex products. Clients coming in with some materials in hand (production-ready patterns, for example) will also experience a shorter lead time.

Still not sure how much help you need? Read more about that here.

 

SOURCING

Our in-house merchandiser is responsible for going to the local markets to scout out what fabrics and trims are available


Typically the first step in product development is finding the right materials for your project. The fabrics and trims you choose help determine the price and quality of your product. What you choose to use can also make an impact on the environment, and a statement about your values. All of our stock fabrics have at least one eco qualifier, and we’ll always work to find you the most earth-friendly options for your product(s).

Sourcing depends not only on the product itself, but also on the size of the order. Small-batch production can pose challenges when it comes to sourcing, but we will work with our current stock and vendor connectionsand consider other customers that might have similar needsto find you a good fit for your product. Once we confirm fabric and trims, we can more accurately predict the cost of your project, and then move into sampling.

An important note about sourcing in India: working with fabric that is not manufactured in India is discouraged by the Indian government, which puts a large tariff on imported textiles. Luckily, India is full of beautiful, sustainable, high-quality fabrics.

Want more info on how we source our fabrics? Check out our post on sourcing, here.

 

BULK PRODUCTION

By now you may be wondering, ‘Yes, but when will I get my completed production lot?” Once product development is completemeaning production-ready patterns and all fabrics and trims are in housebulk cutting and sewing can start. Production times depend on order size and complexity, but 6-12 weeks is typical.

We are always happy to talk through timelines with you at the outset, since every project is unique.

 

WORK+SHELTER meeting with our screen printer, Pratap Singh.

PARTNERSHIP

We think of our clients as our partners, and act accordinglyit takes effective teamwork to bring a custom product to life!

We pride ourselves on our timely communication, both with our close-knit team in India and with our client partners. Time zones are not a hindrance—we speak with our facility managers India most days, and are able to provide a quick response to any questions or problems that may arise.

If you have an apparel or accessory design you’re looking to develop, drop us a line at [email protected]. You can also find more information on our website here.

 

Welcome to the third installment of our development services blog series! If you haven’t checked out the first two posts, we encourage you to do so: How W+S Brings Your Custom Product Designs to Life and When W+S Development Services are Right For You.

This post will give you an overview of how and where we source our fabrics. We always seek to align our customers’ fabric needs with fair trade, ethical, and sustainable values. Lucky for us, India has a rich history of producing some of the world’s best fibers, ranging from hand-woven silks to rain-grown, drought-resistant cotton.

The WORK+SHELTER team meeting with one of the natural-dye artisan groups we work with.

At WORK+SHELTER, we have five main avenues when it comes to fabric sourcing.

  1. In-Stock Sustainable: readily available in-house – a range of basic colors in organic cotton (woven + knit)
  2. Small-Scale Sustainable: made to order upon client purchase – typically our in-house fabrics are dyed, or small batch artisan silks
  3. Industrial-Scale Sustainable: made to order upon client purchase –
  4. Conventional 
    • Industrial: made to order upon client purchase
    • Market Ready: readily available

Minimum order quantities (MOQs) vary based on fabric choice. Woven fabric MOQs are measured in length (meters), while knit fabric MOQs are measured in weight (kilograms). WORK+SHELTER has flexible sewing minimums, but the piece minimums for your order are often dependent on reaching fabric order minimums. 

A note: because knit MOQs are measured in weight, heavier knits will have lower piece minimums and lighter knits will have higher piece minimums. For example:

  • 500 kgs jersey double knit = 500 doubleknit ponte blazers 
  • 500 kg jersey standard knit = 1,500 lightweight jersey t-shirts

 

IN-STOCK SUSTAINABLE

W+S holds inventory of many basic fabrics, including:

  • Organic cotton 5 oz and 12 oz canvas, in natural
  • Organic cotton knit jersey in black, white, grey, and other select colors
  • Organic cotton 8 oz duck, in white, used for digital prints and dyeable at 100 meter minimums

We can usually provide lower MOQs on your order if you use our stock fabrics. We have done the legwork for you to ensure that these fabrics are sustainable and ethically produced. 

Generally our in-house fabrics are best suited for promotional items and basic apparel, such as totes, t-shirts, and accessories. Exact minimums will be determined by your product. Typically, a 50-piece minimum would be our smallest order.

 

WORK+SHELTER  team visiting a sustainable cellulose-fiber studio in Noida.

 

SMALL-SCALE SUSTAINABLE

We’ve fostered many connections over time with small-scale producers of beautiful handwoven silks, handwoven recycled fibers, and a variety of other handmade fabrics

 

These artisan groups are able to supply custom handwoven fabrics in small quantities. It’s important to note that this process takes time; fabric production can take 4-6 weeks or more. But because of the small scale and handmade nature of this fabric, minimums can be as low as 100 meters.

Our sourcing team is sometimes able to buy in-stock “leftovers” from large West Elm orders at a handwoven silk producer in Delhi. This allows us to provide top-of-the-line quality on a smaller scale, and makes these fabrics accessible to our client partners when they otherwise wouldn’t have been. These materials are available in limited stock and may sell out quickly.

Both options above have a higher price point than machine-woven fabric. But you get what you pay for: fabrics that are unique and special, and support an amazing artisanal heritage. 

An important note: artisanal fabrics available at small scale are generally woven. This is because they are hand-loomed. Knits, in contrast, are almost always produced on a machine, making them difficult to purchase on a smaller scale.

 

INDUSTRIAL-SCALE SUSTAINABLE

For larger-scale production, we can provide fabric options in both knits and wovens that are GOTS, Fair Trade, BCI, or OEKO-TEX certified. Big mills are often able to make investments in water purification, solar panels, or other infrastructure improvements that may be out of reach for smaller producers, so they can be a great solution for scaled production.

To access certified fabrics, it’s generally necessary to place larger orders. When it comes to knits production volumes starts around 500 – 1,000 kgs (though this can usually be split into more than one colorway).

 

One of our vendors, KG Denim, made this video to provide insight into their sustainable production process.

CONVENTIONAL

Industrial Scale

Over 95% of the fabrics we source at WORK+SHELTER  have an environmental qualifier, meaning they are either recycled, upcycled, or organic. That said, we are able to purchase conventional fabrics if we’re not able to find the right fabric with the right MOQ and timeline for your order. Please note, conventional sourcing must be a short term solution, with the goal of transitioning into sustainable sourcing practices over time.

Market-Ready

For some orders, we can send our in-house merchandising team to the local markets to source conventional materials for small-scale production. Because there is a lack of information available on the supply chain, fabrics are usually available only in small quantities, and fabrics are only in stock while supplies last, this option is best as a backup plan. 

 

 

If you have something a design that you’re looking to develop or discuss further, drop us a line at [email protected]. You can also find more information on our website here.

WORK+SHELTER offers a variety of options when it comes to customizing your products. Whether you need to add your logo to our lineup of promotional products or you want an original print produced for your spring line, we’re here to make it happen. We work directly with the mills, dyers, and printers, managing and quality checking the entire supply chain so the production process for your sewn good is streamlined.

If you need help developing your product or idea, make sure to check out the previous posts in our development services blog series: How W+S Brings Your Custom Product Ideas to Life, When W+S Development Services Are Right for You, and Where W+S Sources Our Fabrics.

Reviewing weave and pattern options with a fabric vendor and CAD designer.

Pre-production, we can work with our suppliers to create custom fabrics for your project.

Depending on your order size and timeline, customizations can include:

  • Color: custom yarn-dying, to any Pantone color
  • Weave: dobbies, twills, jacquards, satins, etc
  • Woven or knitted patterns, such as stripes or checks
  • Fabric weight

 

We can also customize finished fabrics, with print, embroidery, or piece-dying.

Screen printing

Part of the beauty of screen printing is that it’s a manual process, reliant on the skill and knowledge of the screen printer.

Screen print benefits:

  • Low minimums (50 units), but also very cost-effective when printing in large volumes
  • Screen printing works better than digital printing on brightly colored base fabrics (as seen below)
  • Placement printing for small logos and designs

A screen printed tote for our client partners Diaspora Co., modeled by Sonam of WORK+SHELTER.

 

Screen print challenges:

  • Higher cost of entry for artwork. Each color requires a separate screen, and at $40/screen, the cost can add up
  • The number of colors per artwork is limited–we do not recommend printing more than 12 colors
  • Not suitable for printing individual pieces or small volumes
  • Artwork changes made after the sampling process result in additional costs, because new screens need to be made

One of our screen-printers printing a one-color design on cotton canvas.

Digital printing

For projects requiring more detailed artwork and numerous colors, we suggest going digital. In digital printing, there are no economies of scale; digitally printing the first meter + the hundredth meter cost basically the same.

Digital print benefits:

  • No screens involved = less setup cost (1x set-up fee of $40)
  • There are virtually no color limitations
  • The complexity of the print does not affect the cost of manufacturing

Digital print challenges:

  • It’s not possible to digitally print on colored fabrics, because the yarns are already saturated with dyes
  • Minimums are higher than in screen printing; 100 meters is typically the minimum quantity per print

 


Notice the watercolor effect in this print— this is only achievable through digital printing.

 


Digital printing on natural fabric (top photos) versus white fabric (bottom photos). Colors will be darker + more saturated when printed on white fabric than on natural fabric.

Want to learn more about the digital printing process? Check out this video by HunbulTex.

Rotary printing

Rotary screen printing prints the full width of the fabric, and can be used for allover prints. Rotary print minimums are at least 1,000 meters of woven fabric or 500 kgs of knit fabric.

Rotary print benefits:

  • High, consistent print quality over large quantities of fabric
  • Extremely cost-effective at high volumes

You can see the different layers of color and pattern that each rotary screen adds in this camouflage fabric. (2)

 

For more info on the difference between printing styles, check out this article.

Embroidery

  • Machine embroidery for logos, motifs, or additional artwork
  • Hand embroidery for very small batch simple specialty designs


An embroidery machine creating a floral motif (left). An embroidered logo on jersey athletic shorts (right).

 

Bulk Dyeing

We can offer bulk dyeing in custom Pantone colors. Minimums are typically 100 meters per color.

Tie Dyeing

We offer tie dyeing. Minimums depend on product and are upon request.

 

If there’s a specific customization that you have in mind and aren’t seeing above, drop us a line at [email protected] if you’d like to chat through the process. You can also find more information on our website here.

Credits:

Rotary Printer, https://www.imaterial.co.za/News/entryid/622/rotary-screen-printing-and-digital-printing-explained

At WORK+SHELTER, we focus on supporting women in need and poverty alleviation by providing Indian women with fair-trade work. At our center in New Delhi women are entered into our paid training program where we teach them the skills to create high-quality products for the export market.

We do not have any prerequisites to joining our training program. Because many of the women that work with us never finished school, our job training in sewing and production management provides them with the means to find dignified work they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. 

Each woman has her own story of hardship. Some have had to make tough decisions on whether to eat or send their children to school, have suffered through forced arranged marriages, or have even endured coerced abortions (oftentimes when their family learns they are pregnant with a girl, since daughters are largely considered undesirable because of the outlawed but still prevalent practice of dowry). To put it frankly, their choices are limited. Thus, access to paid training at WORK+SHELTER and a consistent income can be transformative for them.

 

WORK+SHELTER training program


The training program consists of an eight week course, with difficulty level increasing every week.
The first week is mostly an orientation, focused on getting comfortable with the facility + the sewing machines and learning safety guidelines. The women then learn how to operate and maintain the machines, starting with the single needle + straight stitching. We make sure the women are comfortable with each step before moving on. In the second week they move on to sewing on fabric with variations of the straight stitch, and in the third week three they learn to sew five different types of seams. In the fourth week they learn to construct the W+S standard tote bag, and in the fifth week they move on to the W+S standard zippered pouch, and in following weeks refine their efforts. Upon completion, they are awarded a certificate detailing their new skills. 

When the women complete their training and begin to produce goods, we increase their pay. Our employees are paid fairly, regularly, and given an annual opportunity to earn raises + promotions. Many companies in the garment industry pay a piece wage, and employ people only when they have work. At WORK+SHELTER the women are paid whether or not the products they have made have sold, the commissioning client has paid, or whether or not there is work for them to do. This consistency allows them to plan and save, oftentimes for the first time in their lives.

 

 

WORK+SHELTER provides a clear and transparent career path, with four different role “tiers.” Each employee within these employment tiers is paid the same amount, with an additional daily performance-based bonus opportunity. Further, twice daily team meetings ensure the women have access to a forum where they can share their feedback or concerns.

Unfortunately, this standard is rare throughout most of India. The women at WORK+SHELTER often earn 5x more what they were earning before after completing training with us. Sweatshops are all too common, and 85-90% of sweatshop employees are women. WORK+SHELTER was built from the ground up to support women-in-need.

 


We work daily to combine the power of community, positivity, and inspiration to create a truly supportive + inviting workplace.
The women we employ work 8 hours per day, and are paid 1.5x for any overtime hours. They work in a comfortable environment, and take chai breaks twice daily. 

But our reach isn’t limited to the workplace; we are often instrumental in supporting our employees in various ways. For example, WORK+SHELTER provides regular wellness check ups and dental screenings for all of our employees. We may also ensure that an employee’s children are enrolled in school and are receiving proper health care, or support our employees towards pursuing their own entrepreneurial venture. We encourage our employees and trainees to pursue health, prosperity, and their dreams.