Fair trade is one of the few checks we have on a system that tends to be quite exploitative.

-Holly Greenhagen of the Fair Shirt Project

 

 

We recently sat down with one of our clients, Holly Greenhagen, founder of The Fair Shirt Project, to talk about her experience partnering with WORK+SHELTER.

Holly entered into the world of sustainable fashion at a young age, learning how to be savings-savvy from her grandma. As she grew up, she found herself mixed into the world of fast fashion. After working her first industry job and visiting factories in China, she saw firsthand why stuff was so cheap and how easily exploited the labor force is that makes our clothes.

It was a combination of the horrors of the fast fashion industry and the lack of fair trade fashion jobs in Chicago that pushed her to become an entrepreneur. She felt there were hardly any large fashion companies in Chicago, but there were a lot of independent designers and a supportive community for anyone who wanted to be entrepreneurial. 

Soon to follow, The Fair Shirt Project came to be…

 

THE PROCESS

W+S: What inspired your product idea?

Holly Greenhagen: Through volunteering with Chicago Fair Trade I got to know the staff at Ten Thousand Villages Evanston a little bit. Joseph, the manager there, had mentioned more than once that he saw a lack of fair-trade menswear in the market. I was kind of jonesing to work on a product development project for myself (I had worked on so much product development for other brands, but nothing for myself since my bridal days). I immediately thought of Work+Shelter. I knew if they could sew to the quality standards I had in mind, I could definitely work on test-fitting and getting feedback on fabrics at this end. As it turned out, WS ended up being able to do the patternmaking as well.

 

W+S: Please describe the fabric decision-making process. How did W+S help guide + accommodate you in your search for the perfect fabrics for your product?

Holly Greenhagen: W+S was just very willing to shift gears with me and keep looking for options. At the very start I had an idea about how the line was going to look, but once I showed swatches to potential customers I realized I was on the wrong track. W+S just rolled with it. I also wanted to start small, and W+S was able to source low-quantity fabrics for me. It was a challenge, but they came through.

 

W+S: Can you speak to what parts of the pattern-making process W+S assisted in and how?

Holly Greenhagen: W+S did all of the patternmaking. They made the initial pattern and a first sample, and all I had to do was fit the sample at this end and send back comments and my suggestions for revisions, which W+S executed perfectly. Then we repeated the process at size set. My experience as a patternmaker helped me figure out what revisions to suggest, but the master jis in India did the actual measuring and walking and truing.

 

Our Production Manager Ritu testing out fabrics with our Designer Taylor.

 

W+S: How did you decide on sizing and fit for your line?

Holly Greenhagen: I just wanted a shirt that would fit my middle-aged husband and his friends. And Ten Thousand Villages Evanston’s clientele! I did get a lot of useful fit feedback and fabric feedback from Joseph and Ten Thousand Villages Evanston during the process. Men’s fit is new to me, so I’m sure we still have some stuff to learn! One thing I’d like to add down the road is a slim fit.

 

A look at The Fair Shirt Project’s line of ethical button down shirts for men.

OVERALL EXPERIENCE

W+S: What do you find to be the most rewarding part of working with W+S?

Holly Greenhagen: The fact that everyone takes ownership of the process. The culture at W+S seems to be to just dig in and find a solution to a problem rather than passing the buck.

 

W+S: What was the greatest challenge you faced working with W+S?

Holly Greenhagen: Sourcing fabric. This is always hard for small startups, but I had zero experience with how it worked in India. I definitely know a lot more now than I did a few months ago! I’m guessing the W+S team knows a little more about menswear fabric sourcing than they did a few months ago too.

 

Bhawana, who is in charge of going to the markets and checking for fabrics, along with a variety of swatches of fabric samples that our team sent to Holly for her line.

 

W+S: The WORK+SHELTER management team is a joint team with both American and Indian co-leaders. What was it like to work with such a team?

Holly Greenhagen: It was just like working with one team, really. It’s pretty seamless.

 

W+S: What advice would you give to someone that wants to work with us but may be hesitant because our operations occur overseas?

Holly Greenhagen:  I would tell them about W+S’s high quality workmanship! That’s what sold me. Once I saw how well the shirts were sewn, I decided I would be happy to deal with any challenges the process threw my way because I could be confident the end product would look really good.

I’d also talk about how responsive the crew on both sides of the ocean is. No matter where your manufacturer is located, what you really want is a quick answer on things, and someone who is willing to find out the answer if they don’t know it.

 

 Sarita, Sandhya and Sita of WORK+SHELTER, modeling The Fair Shirt Project’s shirts.

 

A big THANK YOU goes out to Holly Greenhagen for allowing us to speak with her and share her story.  We are excited to say that our production team is currently working her newest line of long-sleeve button down shirts, but for now we encourage you to hop over to her site and see what’s currently available.

If you have an exciting apparel or accessory design in mind that you’re looking to develop or  discuss further, drop us a line at [email protected] or schedule a meeting with me if you’d like to chat through the process. 

 

Theresa VanderMeer

-Founder + CEO

Have you ever felt like fabric scraps are the bane of your existence? No? Ok, maybe it’s just me! At WORK+SHELTER fabric scraps are one of those pests, that no matter how hard you try (unless we’re working with a zero-waste* design) you simply cannot avoid them. Think of it this way, you have a giant, rectangular sheet of fabric that you measure out and cut down into the shape of a t-shirt, but then what? You’re left with some small, really funky, shaped pieces of material.

You have two options:

  1. Discard them in a nearby landfill, where they will likely be incinerated
  2. Make cool stuff out of them!

Many factories do choose to throw their fabric scraps away. It’s hard to perfectly predict the amount of fabric waste associated with making one t-shirt, since manufacturers work with different patterns. However, according to a case study done by Reverse Resources, when surveying over 40 factory managers in Europe + Asia, they found that waste from production falls between 10% to 30% from intake materials. If this was the case at WORK+SHELTER, we wouldn’t be able to sleep soundly at night knowing our scraps were going to waste. If the only bottom line you’re measuring is profit, it can make sense to just throw scraps away. However, at WORK+SHELTER, we consider people, planet, and profit as equal stakeholders. Thus, we choose to put our fabric scraps to work.

How does WORK+SHELTER repurpose fabric scraps?

 

Scrap Rugs

For longer pieces of fabric scraps that we collect, we give them to local weavers who are able to magically transform them into beautiful rugs. For any smaller pieces, we save them onsite for times when the power goes out. This is a pretty common occurrence in India and when the power does go out the women lose access to our sewing machines, since they are powered by electricity. During this downtime the ladies create small rugs from the saved fabric scraps. Last year we gave all of our employees a large scrap rug for the holidays. Cute, right?!

 

Pictured: a scrap rug made entirely from a mix of fabric scraps.

Training Fabric

Each time we hire a new employee at our center in Delhi, they enter a paid training program where they learn skills such as cutting, sewing, stitching and finishing. As with anyone learning a new skill, mistakes happen. Training presents the perfect opportunity to put those fabric scraps to good use! The women use them as practice materials to make any and all test products. Which brings us into our third use…

 

Clothing for Orphaned Children

During the training process, we start the women out with small projects, including sewing together children’s clothing. Because the dimensions are smaller than adult sized clothing, we find it more effective for them to master these small projects before moving onto larger apparel items. Once these t-shirts are finished they are sent to a nearby orphanage in Delhi to serve as cozy clothing options for the kiddos.

 

Face Masks

Lucky for us, the fabric utilization on face masks is so low, that they are the perfect product match when it comes to fabric scraps! In fact, in the past couple of months the W+S women have sewn and donated over 5,000 face masks to a variety of organizations globally and are still busy producing more. It all started when the pandemic hit and the women were using the scraps to make masks for themselves and their families. We decided to expand our impact by temporarily turning ALL scraps into masks. These masks are made up mainly from our organic cotton fabric scraps, so they are soft, breathable and high-quality but able to be sold for a lower price point. We are also offering discounts to non-profits, or a buy one-give one opportunity for our clients. If you’d like to learn more about mask-donation opportunities, drop us a line at [email protected].

 

Pictured: a family in Delhi wearing WORK+SHELTER made face masks from 100% organic cotton fabric scraps.

 

Donate the Scraps for Educational Use

In 2018, we learned that we are not the only ones that love turning fabric scraps into creative new products. We partnered with Professor Christine Facella at Parsons School of Design in New York City, USA and her students — their goal was to upcycle our scraps into a new product. We sent actual scraps from our factory in India to NYC for the class to work on. See for yourself what some of these amazing students were able to come up with here!

 

One thing we find important to note about fabric scraps is that they are inconsistent. One week we may have an abundance of organic cotton fabric scraps and the next week we could have a pile of recycled polyester scraps. This is what makes it tough to fulfill custom design pieces using scraps. 

If you would like your scraps put to use for your order (maybe a small zip pouch?), check out our recommendations below on best practices when designing with scraps:

  • Keep it small! Fabric scrap yields are limited by nature, so plan for a product with a low fabric utilization (think scrunchies or face masks).
  • Keep it simple! We can’t always promise that printing or embroidery will be available for fabric scrap products, because sometimes the pieces are too small to work with, so it is best to stick with a simple product design.

 

Pictured: WORK+SHELTER face mask, zip pouch + Lev Apparel scrunchies all made from our 100% organic cotton fabric scraps.

 

Beyond that, we’re happy to discuss designing out scraps for the design-lovers out there by sharing fabric widths and other relevant production details. And then for our promotional products buyers out there, our line has already been developed with scrap reduction in mind. Yay!

As always, we’re open to new ideas and happy to answer any questions you may have, including how to best utilize scraps from your order! Drop us a line at [email protected] if you want to discuss options. 

 

Love <3,

Theresa

 

Theresa VanderMeer

Founder + CEO of W+S

Zero waste* = [according to the Zero Waste International Alliance] the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health

Close to 80% of material used at WORK+SHELTER is cotton. Almost all of that is organic.

Why does that matter? Well, besides the fact that this crop has likely been converted into material that is probably next to your skin right now, producing cotton can have startling social, environmental, and economic impacts. For starters, check out these quick facts:

Right?! Indeed, the material we choose to use in our production and the material your products are made of have a direct impact on people, land and water. That’s why we’ve run all over India to find the best cotton around, namely:

  • Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified yarns
  • Recycled, undyed yarns
  • Rainfed cotton
  • Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) material

Why Organic?

Our trusty sustainable sidekick. 

Let me be clear – the organic versus conventional cotton issue is complicated, and in this case when we use the word conventional we also mean GMO (Genetically Modified Organism), because in the case of GOTS certified cotton, conventional + GMO comes as a package deal. There are very smart folks that say conventional GMO cotton is better for farmers due to higher yields, and for the planet because it’s actually less likely to need pesticides than organic non-GMO cotton. Conversely, there are also very smart people who believe that Monsanto is trying to take over the world and that conventional cotton is their path to dominion. What’s going on here?

  • Pests are not only adapting to, but building a tolerance against natural “organic” pesticides so they continue to come and bother the crops, making more work for the farmers who oftentimes have to remove the pests by hand – more work = less profit
  • GMOs help cut out additional processes in the harvesting production that are not so eco-friendly including excessive water waste
  • GMOs provide a much larger yield with less labor and resources than organic cotton

I know, it’s a lot. But that said, part of supporting ethical production through our buying choices is being able to avoid decision paralysis and understand the trade-offs. When working with limited data points, and the understanding that ALL production uses resources, and therefore has impact, we still have to do our best to make the best decisions we can for our stakeholders (environment, employees, supply chain, clients, P&L, etc.). Which brings us to our decision:

WORK+SHELTER sources Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified cotton. The certification itself covers more than just whether the cotton itself is “organic.” 

 

 

GOTS conducts an in-depth review of social and ecological criteria. The certification process is actually very intensive because they look at the fabric production from so many different angles. 

The process begins by reviewing the harvesting process of the raw materials, then moves onto analyzing the environmental + social impacts and finally ends with making sure the fabrics are properly labeled to ensure credibility to the consumer. One of the main reasons this certification has such high credibility is because it’s backed by independent certification of the entire textile supply chain.

 

 

GOTS is also praised for the emphasis they place on proper waste water management techniques in the fabric production process + the dyeing process. That emphasis helps to lower the risk of harmful toxins leaking into water sources as mentioned in our previous blog, How Water Waste in the Fashion Industry Today is Polluting the Future. We see this happen all the time in India because not all factories have the means to efficiently dispose of their waste and so it ends up getting dumped into a nearby river. All in all, GOTS focuses on making the supply chain as eco-efficient as possible by looking at the process from start to finish and everything in between.

In sum, we buy GOTS certified cotton because we believe that on the whole it provides stronger environmental and labor standards than conventional cotton.

 

Why Recycled Cotton?

We could not be more pumped about our new recycled cotton source.

The hard truth is that the United States alone sends about 21 billion pounds of textile waste to landfills every year. According to Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles, 95% of textiles that are landfilled each year could have been reused or recycled. Of that 95%, it is estimated that around 80% is cotton-based. If we do some quick math here, that adds up to somewhere around 16 billion textiles that could be diverted from landfills, getting a second, more sustainable chance.

 

 

In addition to avoiding old fibers languishing in landfills, recycled cotton has the benefit of being VERY low impact. Think about it. Much of the energy, water, and dye process for this material happened during its first life. Remember earlier when we mentioned that it takes 2,700 liters of water to produce ONE cotton t-shirt? Well, using recycled cotton saves much of that water usage. This is mainly because producing cotton from scratch is a highly water intensive process. Beyond that, it has a natural, almost denim-like light blue color to it so there is no need to put it through the color dyeing process. Win win 🙂

 

Why Rainfed Cotton?

Well first-off, what in the world does “rainfed” mean?

For agricultural purposes, “rainfed” means that the crop in question relies on rainfall as its water source. Why is this important? Well, water is one of the most valuable resources when it comes to the textile industry, especially in cotton production. Oftentimes, if the water supply is not coming naturally from rain water, then the water is getting diverted from lower income areas that once relied on it as their water source. This can cause serious water-access issues for low-income populations, especially in countries like India because food insecurity is already a systemic challenge. Water usage in crop production also uses a great deal of energy to transport the freshwater from the source to the cotton farm and manually water the crops, whereas with rainfed cotton there is no need. 

These are a couple of the main reasons why at WORK+SHELTER we have added a cotton source from Kutch, India that uses the rainfed technique as their water source. What’s also wonderful is that the water doesn’t need any treatment, as rain water does not have the dangerous man-made chemicals that are often seen in river-originated water sources.

 

 

Along with the environmental impacts, our rainfed cotton vendor is also a social enterprise that focuses on sustainable cotton production, while preserving agricultural + artisan livelihoods at the same time. This rainfed, organic cotton is hand-spun and hand woven in the traditional khadi style, meaning that the actual processing of the material is done without the use of electricity. This means no coal was burned to fuel production (72% of energy in India is from coal), and also that artisans without access to power can participate in the supply chain. So many wins!

 

Why Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) Cotton?

BCI = Better Cotton Initiative…sounds important. That’s because it is!

Our final and latest source of sustainable cotton is brand-spanking new to us. The main aim of BCI is to make cotton production all around better for the people producing it, and the environment in which it is grown. BCI employs 7 principles to this end, supporting + training farmers in growing, regularly assessing the farms, and diving into best supply chain methods and always measuring impact.

 

 

One thing we like to note about BCI certified cotton is that because it has to go through a hefty evaluation process the cotton tends to be sold in larger quantities while abiding by higher minimums. This opens doors for large scale manufacturers that are looking to produce at higher volumes with eco-friendly fabrics.

I’m sure you’re wondering how this differs from our previously acclaimed GOTS certified cotton. Well, while GOTS certification focuses heavily on the production process of the cotton and the water + chemical usage, BCI focuses more on the social and economic impacts of the farmers producing the cotton. Both very important components with similar views on doing good, they just go about achieving positive impact in different ways.

Cotton Options for Your Order

Finally, rather than just talking about how much we love our sustainable cotton fabrics, we want to share them with you! We have a variety of woven and knit materials in stock, which means they are available even for quick-turn, low minimum orders.

 

Pictured: WORK+SHELTER Carry-All Tote in 100% Organic Denim fabric.

 

Would you like swatches? Or maybe you want to inquire further about a custom color or rainfed options? Drop us a line at [email protected] or schedule a time to virtually chat it out with us.

 

Much health and happiness to you and yours,

 Theresa

 

Theresa VanderMeer

Founder + CEO of W+S

When someone offers you a glass of water, what’s your response? If you’re thirsty and it’s a hot day, satisfying your thirst, at least in the U.S., is a pleasure you don’t have to think much about.

Where we work in India, a glass of water is potentially dangerous.

Having been hospitalized in India with typhoid (transmitted through a fecal-oral route — YES, poop to mouth), I’ve experienced the implications of water pollution firsthand. How does this happen? How does water get so dirty that it can kill you? Simply put, water pollution occurs when unprocessed sewage or industrial waste ends up in the public water supply.

For us, in Delhi, where our production center is located, the issue is endemic. Delhi has been crowned the world’s 5th most polluted city. We’re a stone’s throw away from the Yamuna River, which according to a Google Maps review (I know, what a strange world we live in), has “very poor water condition.” That’s an understatement. When I first started spending time in India a little over a decade ago, people would still bathe in the river. Now, the smell of sewage and industrial water is so pervasive it’s hard to even pass by in a moving vehicle. The river is technically “dead”, a painful term often used when a river cannot sustain life in any way.

A man looks for recyclable items on the banks of the Yamuna, on the outskirts of New Delhi. Photograph: Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images

To add insult to injury, this situation is especially tough for the many folks in India who are already struggling to meet basic food needs. Baseline, to get clean water one has to either purchase it for a premium from local water vendors or they have to invest in a water filtration system that in and of itself can cost more than what low-income folks earn in a month, and even then, these systems are not effective if the water is TOO dirty.

In an effort to learn more about this systemic issue our team recently watched RiverBlue, a documentary highlighting how the fashion industry contributes to the pollution of waterways (and thus straight up kills people) all over the world. We wanted to share with you some of our learnings, and why choices in the fabric purchasing process are essential to curbing water pollution.

What’s the Deal with Water Pollution in the Fashion Industry?

Well, water is a key player in the supply chain. Water pollution can actually be the result of many different stages throughout the production process. Let’s take for example, a cotton t-shirt. A large part of the production process surrounds the harvesting of the cotton. However, if that cotton isn’t being sourced organically, there is a high chance it may be getting treated with harmful chemicals and pesticides that the rain ends up washing away. 

A textile manufacturing plant in Tianjin, China. Credit: Lu Guang/Greenpeace

Now we fast forward and that cotton has been spun into fabric that will later be sewn into your new favorite t-shirt, but first the yarn/material needs to be dyed. In order to achieve the requested color, workers have to mix a variety of different chemicals and dyes together to get that color just right. These dyes could contain toxins such as AZO dyes, which are so bad they have actually been banned in certain countries. Not only can this harm workers, but if these toxins are not disposed of properly they then go and wreak havoc in the environment. The garment dyeing process is no simple process and can sometimes include dyeing that yarn/fabric/t-shirt several times to get it just right.

Water pollution is the most notable impact of clothing production, with around 20 percent of global industrial water pollution traceable directly back to the textiles industry.

When you look at that finished garment, it is impossible to know what all went into creating it. What were the conditions like during production? How much water was used throughout the process? And most importantly…

How is Water Waste Discarded After Being Used in the Garment Production Process?

Where does it continue or end its lifespan? That water waste or “sludge” can be defined as all of the leftover chemicals and toxins extracted after producing a garment. Unfortunately, oftentimes the answer to that question is that it ends up getting dumped into nearby waterways where some people see it as, “out of sight, out of mind”. I cannot stress how common this is, with  75%-80% of waterways in India polluted. I know, heartbreaking. 

Taylor McCleneghan, a dear friend and advisor for WORK+SHELTER,  as well as co-founder of Taylor Tall has visited textile production factories all over India. She explained that during her time there, she has witnessed firsthand how some factories dispose of their water waste. One process she described seeing included several filtration or separating stages and then finally an evaporation stage where the sun was used to evaporate remaining water, leaving only the waste. The compacted waste then gets picked up by a waste management specialist and taken to a facility to be disposed of properly.

 

Taylor McCleneghan, co-founder of Taylor Tall.

But the issue is complicated. Well-resourced factories have the best chance of accommodating regulations by investing into water waste management systems. Small scale factories can have a harder time investing in these systems. In low-income areas, this becomes more than an environmental problem, it becomes a case of ethics. These factory workers need their jobs in order to make an income to support themselves and their families, however if the factories are not disposing of their water waste properly then all of the employees become at risk, along with those living in nearby communities.

How Does WORK+SHELTER Cut Down on Water Pollution?

One option is to pressure mills to build proper water waste management infrastructure over time. This requires serious relationships in order for them to see that the downside of NOT building this infrastructure will cost them over time. It also requires the willingness to spend more on fabric upfront, since the mills have to cover the costs of this infrastructure somewhere, and accessing capital in developing markets can be especially tough.

Another more direct option is to only purchase certified materials. For us, over 70% of the fabrics we purchase are GOTS certified. GOTS, also known as the Global Organic Textile Standard, aims to define requirements that ensure organic status of textiles, from harvesting the raw materials, through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing up to labeling in order to provide a credible assurance to the end consumer. Basically, to be GOTS certified means that the clothing or textiles are made through a sustainable process, using organically grown fibers. 

Organic cotton is grown without toxic chemicals, but unless the clothes are certified under GOTS, bluesign®, or Oeko-Tex certifications, toxic chemicals may be added in the textile production process.

When being considered for a GOTS certification, fabrics undergo a heavy investigation to ensure that the fabrics are the real deal. Remember those scary AZO dyes we mentioned earlier? A large part of the GOTS certification process involves checking fabric production processes to ensure there are no AZO dyes or other harmful dyes being used in the production process.

 

Pieces from our Client, Alex Pawlowska of Looking for Heroes, including the red Warrior Dress + the Power Tee both made from GOTS certified organic cotton.

 

While water pollution is a very serious issue in the broader fashion and promotional products industries, we are super excited about being able to provide access to eco-friendly materials for our clients. If you have any specific questions about our sustainable solutions and goals, or if you’re curious about our in-stock GOTS certified fabric offerings, drop us a line by emailing [email protected] or schedule a meeting here.

Much health and happiness to you and yours,

 Theresa

 

Theresa VanderMeer

Founder + CEO of W+S

 

“Plan for the economy tanking.”

I wrote these prescient words down in my notes in 2018. Starting and building WORK+SHELTER was its own gigantic challenge. But humming along with dozens of employees, I knew the hard part wasn’t over – I was sure that there would be forces outside of our control that could unravel all of the years and years of efforts to bring fair wages to women in need in India. But how this all came to be – a pandemic stretching across the entire world – would end up being more abrupt than I had anticipated.

As a growing social enterprise, we have experienced our fair share of ups and downs. Now, with over 40 full-time employees who cut-and-sew every single project made-to-order, we are constantly hustling to ensure we have the right amount of business at the right time. Sometimes we have production booked over two months out. Sometimes we’re racing to find work for the women to do the next day. We’re used to rolling with the punches, and know that the best we can do now is adapt and take advantage of this temporary respite to take rest, plan, and build infrastructure for our future.

Here at W+S, production has been paused in India, and will remain paused for at least another week. During this time our main priority is the financial security, health, and well-being of our employees in India. With that in mind, we are ensuring the women are paid a full wage even during quarantine, and keeping them busy with in-home trainings on leadership skills, technology, and English.

And then, our beloved client partners have been wonderful, inspiring examples of how to keep forging ahead despite the tumult. We wanted to share a few examples of how different types of businesses, indie designer Lev Apparel, promotional products company Peace by Piece, spice company Diaspora Co, and the brand spanking new menswear line, Fair Shirt Project, have been thinking creatively to not just keep their businesses afloat, but deepen their relationship with their supply chain, including WORK+SHELTER.

 

LEV APPAREL…

Donates 20% of Online Sales to WORK+SHELTER

 

Krystle Marks is the founder and CEO of Lev Apparel. Based in the midwest, her apparel company focuses on women’s empowerment by putting body celebration and fairly paid production at the center of its ethos. This work is so, so important. Many of us have been socialized to be ashamed of our bodies, and the fashion industry has been complicit in pushing out a disempowering “you’re not good enough” narrative, in part by producing a limited range of sizes that do not respect the truth of how diverse all of our bodies are. Lev Apparel designs clothing for a variety of body shapes, and cares deeply about building a more inclusive line as they grow. Their values run deep, and transcend just style and fit. By ensuring that the work that goes into making their clothing is done by women paid a fair wage and treated with respect, they support the creation of clothing that is supportive to both maker and wearer, and if both beautiful and soulful. 

Because WORK+SHELTER’s production is currently paused, the production of Lev Apparel’s newest collection has been placed on hold. In the meantime, Krystle and team are taking orders for their current pieces while offering free shipping and various bundles as a way to encourage more orders.

 

The women of WORK+SHELTER modeling Lev Apparel’s Theodora blouse.

 

They are also ANGELS and will be donating 20% of their online sales made between April 9th-12th towards helping the women of WORK+SHELTER. Please consider making a purchase, a vote of advocacy for women in India and all over the world.

 

DIASPORA CO…

Offers Pre-Order Option for WORK+SHELTER-Made Tote

 

Diaspora Co. is a wholesaler of sustainably grown spices. We have been collaborating with founder Sana Javeri Kadri for over a YEAR to craft the labor of love that is the beautiful market tote bag shown below (the yellow organic cotton dye is inspired by turmeric). This tote is thoughtfully designed to serve multiple purposes, including holding an abundance of organic spices! It has fabric walls that split the inside of the bag offering different compartments and a small internal zippered pocket that’s great for keeping your wallet safe. Pre-orders for this bag launched in early March and sky-rocketed so much that the Diaspora team decided to nearly double their initial order. Now, with the W+S production pause, the Diaspora team has continued to offer the option to pre-ordering the Diaspora tote bag.

 

The Diaspora Co. market tote, made from organic cotton by WORK+SHELTER, alongside a close-up of the design detail.

 

Pre-ordering is exceptionally helpful to small businesses during this time because it means they are receiving money now and can use that money immediately to continue to pay their suppliers (like us!) and employees. This in-turn allows these workers to support themselves and their families during this pandemic. Diaspora Co. is also using pre-orders to fund an emergency healthcare fund that directly supports the 100+ migrant workers, daily wage laborers and farm help that work on their partner farms.

 

PEACE BY PIECE INTERNATIONAL…

Encourages Clients to Pre-Order for Future Events

 

Lauri Pastrone is the founder of Peace by Piece International (PbP), a promotional products space that helps connect corporate clients to beautiful, ethical and customizable gifts that restore opportunity and dignity in disenfranchised artisan communities around the globe. We had been collaborating with Peace by Piece to put together a sample order of a variety of different products including foldable bags and quilted pencil pouches made out of fabric from recycled bottles. But when the COVID-19 crisis hit, the corporate event was cancelled. Instead of putting all sampling efforts on hold, PbP pivoted. They are now moving ahead with an order of one hundred of lanyards and planning to ship those lanyards out individually to all of the folks that were supposed to be attending the event, but are now quarantined at home.

 

Lauri Pastrone, founder of Peace by Piece International, enjoying her time in India with the WORK+SHELTER ladies.

 

In addition, Peace by Piece is also encouraging their clients to pre-order for prospective future events, including those that are planned for fall of this year. They are reaching out to previous clients and encouraging them to help keep their suppliers afloat with down payments for orders, even if the client isn’t exactly sure what artwork or even specific item they want for their event.

 

THE FAIR SHIRT PROJECT…

Places Additional Product Order to Help WORK+SHELTER During COVID-19 Crisis

 

Holly Greenhagen kept hearing about the lack of ethical apparel options for men. An active member of Chicago Fair Trade Coalition and Production Manager for Mata Traders during the day, Holly decided to deepen her advocacy by founding the Fair Shirt Project, a collection of fair trade mens’ button ups. We started to discuss Holly’s vision with her in late 2019, and were able to collaborate to get these new pieces launched in just three months.

 

One of the pieces from the Fair Shirt Project collection, made with love by the women of WORK+SHELTER.

 

Holly had not yet even received her first order when she heard about how the Coronavirus was impacting WORK+SHELTER. In a really considerate effort to help is through this tough time, she immediately placed a second order. We are so thankful to Holly and the Fair Shirt Project for her pre-order. During this time, the money from pre-orders directly supports the wages and well-being of our women in India, so that they can continue to be paid, even while in shelter-in-place.

I hope these examples of our amazing women-owned, ethically minded client partners have given you some good ideas on how to be proactive during these days of social distancing and quarantine. If you would like to help us ensure we can pay the women of WORK+SHELTER for April, please consider placing a pre-order, even if you’re still working out design details. Beyond that, I’m always available to have a conversation about future projects, events, or your vision for a new line.

Thank you for all of your love and support during this time of need.

 

Much health and happiness to you and yours,

 Theresa

 

Theresa VanderMeer

Founder + CEO of W+S

 

 

“To produce anything new, you’re using so many resources – using recycled materials is the most sustainable option.”

-Lily Forbes Shafroth of LILY FORBES Co.

 

Our W+S queen, Sonam Kumari wearing a traditional Indian sari

The pursuit of the world’s most eco-friendly material feels like an eternal journey. Over the years bamboo, organic cotton,and recycled polyester have all informally claimed to be the world’s most eco-friendly material. However, the collective consciousness has learned that while these materials are better than many alternatives, they aren’t perfect zero-impact materials.

Enter upcycled saris.

As you may know, the sari is a common garment worn in India, comprised of really long pieces of fabric that are folded elegantly to cover the legs and most of the torso.

 

For years I would see products made out of recycled saris and shake my head – why were these items being cut up and made into jewelry, housewares, and other garments when surely there was need in India among those who couldn’t afford new clothes?

 

 

It was only when we started collaborating with our beloved friend and designer Lily Forbes Shafroth of LILY FORBES Co that we learned more about why using upcycled saris is truly a sustainable solution. We caught up with Lily about her affection for using these wonderful traditional garments as the basis for her production and this is what she had to share on the subject…

 

Lily Forbes Shafroth of LILY FORBES Co.

 

W+S: WHY UPCYCLED SARIS?

Lily Forbes Shafroth: There are a ton of products made from recycled saris and I just believe they are the most beautiful pieces of silk. My aunt traveled to India in the 70s and has gone back a few times since; upon arriving back home she gifted me with a skirt that was made out of recycled saris.  

I’ve always been interested in recycled textiles, thinking about sustainability and the way to be the most environmentally responsible and socially responsible in production.  I would say the fact that recycled sari blankets and pillowcases have become very popular in the last 10 years was definitely something that was intriguing to me. Being able to work with something that is as pristine as silk that is recycled and also very affordable which is an amazing thing for me, starting out small and self-funded.

 

W+S: WHERE DO THE SARIS COME FROM?

Lily Forbes Shafroth: I met Mini, my recycled sari seller, through connections from the ladies at the shelter.  Mini is this tiny woman that is such a powerhouse. During my travels to India, I was able to spend a full 8 hours with Mini going through all of the saris. I was in her home and the whole first floor is covered in saris — hundreds and hundreds of bundles of saris everywhere!  

The recycled sari industry* is truly a whole fascinating industry in itself. I think most of them are from the South, so Mini will buy bundles and bundles from her guy that sources them from lower income populations during Diwali. Selling these saris to people like me is Mini’s main source of income which allows her to be the main breadwinner for her family; in India this is a rare position for a woman to hold. It was very sweet – she wanted to try the saris on and made me this big lunch that we shared. It is really important to me to have relationships with the people I work with.

 

“The line of goods and where something comes from is always fascinating. That’s something that I love about what I do that there is a lot of story involved with the textiles and all of the people I work with and I think that adds to the richness and the value of the piece.”

 

W+S: HOW DID YOU WORK WITH THIS FABRIC?

Lily Forbes Shafroth: When working with recycled materials it is important to make sure they are clean and suitable, not torn. I worked directly with Suman — she’s the main master cutter of the women at WORK+SHELTER. I got to spend a lot of time with her going through each individual sari, plotting out where we were going to cut things and design the items through the sari essentially.

If some of the saris are discolored in any way, I work with a local dyer to have the whole piece redyed. He has a color sheet and you basically have to dye what is compatible with the consistent color. Because it’s silk, you don’t want to over treat it. Silk is so delicate. You cannot bleach silk, there are definitely limitations. That goes into how I source saris in general, I don’t want to buy a ton that I have to do extra work on.

 

“There is a whole industry where these saris in general are being sold by people as their main source of income. There’s a whole chain of people and industry — that is what’s so captivating about India. The economy is so layered and there are so many hands that go into the production and creation of goods.”

 

Recycled Sari Silk hanging to dry after going through the re-dying process

W+S: HOW ARE THE SARIS TURNED INTO ROBES?

Lily Forbes Shafroth: I created a capsule collection of unique robes made from the recycled saris. It was amazing because there is so much intricacy in each sari with the embroidery and the patterns. They were all so vibrant, so it wasn’t so much of me creating a color theme, but more about me looking through all of these saris and choosing ones that I loved. It was a really cool experience for me to be able to take the designs of each individual sari and translate them onto each individual robe. I was able to play with the idea of having a different pattern on the collar or the tie, than the pattern of the actual robe — It was very playful.

A big THANK YOU goes out to Lily Forbes Shafroth for allowing us to speak with her and share her story!  We are pleased to say that LILY FORBES Co. just placed an order with us for their second round of upcycled sari silk robes!  Stay tuned for those new patterns and see what is currently in stock HERE.

 

THERESA’S TAKEAWAYS

Working with designers like Lily Forbes is a joy. You can tell by Lily’s tone when she talks about the process that she deeply cares about how each piece is created, and the entire supply chain that enables her designs to come to life. The decisions she has made as a designer, in this project and others, have real outcomes. For example, by purchasing recycled sari silk from Mini, Lily is supporting Mini to provide for herself and her family. And of course by collaborating with WORK+SHELTER on this project Lily is supporting a woman-owned, woman-led, woman-made organization that was built, as its core, to help women in need.

Aside from the social impacts, I can’t think of a more eco-friendly material than recycled sari silk.  Creating any type of fabric from scratch requires a great deal of water and chemicals, but in this case, Lily is cutting way down on water usage, chemical usage, and overall energy consumption.

If you’re thinking about designing with recycled saris, I’d like to leave you with some ideas:

  • Garments including blouses and other tops that would look nice either sheer or lined
  • Scrunchies (made from scraps!)
  • Lining for bags including dopp kits, zip pouches, or totes (see slide #21)
  • Packaging such as drawstring bags that can be a free giveaway for your clients

To discuss further, drop us a line at [email protected] or schedule a meeting with me if you’d like to chat through whether using upcycled saris might be a good solution for your design.

 

Theresa VanderMeer

-Founder + CEO

 

At WORK+SHELTER one of our 2020 goals is to reduce the use of virgin materials we use in production. 

Luckily, there’s a way to give single-use plastic items a second life. RPET stands for recycled polyethylene terephthalate. RPET is comprised of single use plastics that have been recycled, broken down, and then reformed into textiles that are then made into brand new products.

 

When creating products out of RPET, 50% less energy is being used than if you were creating brand new products out of virgin polyester.* Further, using RPET creates an incentive for the market to keep plastics out of the landfill, or worse, the incinerator. In India, where we source our RPET, burning of trash is a MAJOR health and environmental issue. WORK+SHELTER is located close to a landfill in Delhi that is constantly being burned. The trash is incinerated, in part, because plastic is such a durable material. Those sad, unlucky plastics that do end up in landfills can take over 700 years to decompose.* With a city of over 20 million inhabitants, that’s a lot of trash taking up a lot of space. So, a lot of it ends up engulfed in flames and then disseminated in the air. 

When we buy fabrics made out of recycled materials we provide a monetary incentive to recycle instead of burn those plastics. What’s more, individuals in parts of India can actually sell their waste to recyclers. Thus, the waste ends up in end products like bags that have real utility, instead of as smoke that pollutes the air. 

We inform our ethical fashion clients that RPET is a versatile material for both knits and wovens.

For knits, RPET can be combined with organic cotton (GOTS certified), resulting in material that works well for athleisure apparel.  Our clients at Samvega, a sustainable clothing brand focusing on eco friendly yoga-wear, decided on this mix for a number of reasons.  The polyester dries fast and is super durable, which is great for athletic wear. It’s then combined with cotton to make the garment more comfortable, as cotton is a soft and breathable material. 

 

For wovens, RPET is smooth and watery to the touch, but also VERY strong. Further, it folds down and is lightweight, making it cheaper to ship than a cotton equivalent. That’s why we used it for our new Weekender bag, custom printed below for our distributor friends Peace by Piece.

 

“BUT WHAT ABOUT THE MICROFIBERS?!” As you may have heard, RPET is composed of microfibers that can shed into water waste and inadvertently cause pollution. This has given RPET somewhat of a bad rap in the environmental community. 

Despite the microfiber issue, using RPET is a Despite the microfiber issue, using RPET is a huge upgrade from using virgin polyester, as it’s 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, or if their product does need to be washed, work to ensure that their end users are educated about how to reduce microfiber waste.

A few recommendations:

  • Recommend cool washing water instead of hot water, as hot water makes it easier for the microfibers to sneak out of products

  • Educate end users about tools like the Cora Ball and GUPPYFRIEND to decrease the amount of microfibers that end up in our waterways

  • Encourage air drying your RPET clothes, rather than using a tumble dry

If you’d like to consider using this material for your production, let us know and we can help talk through whether it makes sense for your design. We’re always reachable at [email protected]

Theresa VanderMeer

-Founder + CEO

One of my favorite questions to be asked is, “What do you do?” In my capacity as the CEO of WORK+SHELTER, I feel super lucky to work with dozens of amazing women in India. Someone inevitably asks me next, “Where did this idea even come from? How did you do it?”

I recently shared the answers to these questions on the Becoming Aligned podcast with Maureen Ryan, a Self Discovery Mentor and all around lovely person. We talked about some other juicy stuff too including:

  • How to use business as a vehicle for good
  • Tips on being a more conscious consumer
  • The special importance of self-care and preventing burnout for entrepreneurs 

…and more!  This conversation helps to paint a picture of how a tiny dream became a thriving business, and provides a better understanding of the personal journey that helped shape and inspire me.  Enjoy 🙂

 

 

Theresa VanderMeer

-Founder + CEO

 

 

 

We’re excited to announce that we’re in the process of becoming a B Corp. The B in B Corp stands for “Benefit.” This holistic certification proves that not only are we creating value for the women we work with in India, but also for our suppliers, our local community, and the environment.

Traditional business advice is to first get rich, by any cost necessary, and then throw some of your profits over the fence to clean up the mess you helped create (for example, fast fashion empire H&M is widely known as one of the worst environmental offenders, but its foundation takes credit for “protecting the planet.”) So of course a mission that works to make change in multiple arenas at the same time would be viewed as overly ambitious.

But we don’t care. At WORK+SHELTER, we want it all.

As a founder, I’ve loved how going through the B Corp assessment has challenged us to create scalable infrastructure that will help us build a better company long term. For example, we have known that the paid training we offer our female stakeholders in India is a lifeline that helps them emerge from poverty, but we weren’t consistently tracking the details of how much the women were making before.

The B Corp assessment encourages tracking metrics, because only by tracking them can we work to improve our impact. This means that a year from now we’ll be able to share exactly how much of an impact we were able to make.

As a consumer, going through the B Corp certification process has shifted my purchasing habits. When I see a B Corp logo on a product, I know that the makers behind it are legit. So even if I’m just popping into Target on my way home from yoga class, I know I have options for protein powder, vitamins, and snack bars. Further, many well-known companies such as Patagonia, Athleta, Everlane, and Bombas are B Corp certified too. They prove to the rest of us that it’s possible to have it all.

Stay conscious ya’ll!

-Theresa VanderMeer

Founder + CEO

 

 

 

Thank you to our good friend Laura Vogel at Conscious Creators Co. for taking the time to chat with our founder Theresa VanderMeer!  Below you may read her kind words about how WORK+SHELTER came to be:

 

 

“Sometimes the stars of location and inspiration align, as they did for me when I stumbled upon WORK+SHELTER. Always on the lookout for conscious content and organizations to follow, my scrolling thumb stopped on a vibrant, joyful photo of Indian women posing with rad, handmade bags. I went to the profile, then to the website, then to the contact page. I wanted to know more and had to get in touch. Not too long after, I heard back and learned that the founder lived just a few minutes from me. If that’s not a green light to keep going on an idea, I’m not sure what is.

When I met Theresa VanderMeer, Founder and ‘She-EO’ of this incredible business, she welcomed me by making one of the best cups of chai I’ve ever had, truly. For most interviews I try to get in and out, imposing as little as possible on a busy person’s day, but this was not one of those interviews. While Theresa is incredibly busy, she is also very tuned in, genuine and generous with her time, as we ended up talking for several hours that afternoon. She sets a kind of “what’s the rush?” tone that still reminds me to slow down and be more intentional about things and interactions. As she does at the shelter, Theresa brings you in and connects in a thoughtful way. She shared heartfelt stories about how she initially met some of the women who now work at WORK+SHELTER, along with moments of full-circle impact that demonstrate the power of this business model. She talked about two sisters, one older who could work and one younger who was not enrolled in school. She spoke to the family about employing the older sister, which would provide funds for the younger one’s education. Upon Theresa’s return some years later, she saw the young girl walking down the road in her school uniform, two feet taller and looking ready to take on the world. 

 

                

It is that kind of direct correlation and human connection that makes WORK+SHELTER such a unique and inspiring model of how businesses can pay it forward, creating future generations of empowered, skilled women and communities. In addition to the give-back principle, their product-based mission is to make it easy for organizations to purchase wholesale quantities of high quality, ethically made, customized sewn goods. In a world full of corporate freebies such as frisbees, pens, nylon swag bags and all kinds of other disposable, not-so-environmentally-friendly items, WORK+SHELTER provides an alternative that is primarily sourced from natural, recycled and organic materials or low-impact raw materials. They are also currently looking into more closed-loop systems for reducing and re-using the fabric scraps and other waste created by their production cycle. Theresa has future plans to expand WORK+SHELTER into a green community space full of plants, resources and activities. The future is bright for this company and its New Delhi family. Next time you need t-shirts, giveaway bags for an event, aprons for your kitchen staff, or any other branded bulk items, I encourage you to order through WORK+SHELTER to be part of a powerful movement and lend a hand to lift up these wonderful women.”