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 8 week 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. Women at WORK+SHELTER are paid significantly more than the industry average, including 5x or more what they could be earning elsewhere in Delhi. Sweatshops are all too common, and 85-90% of sweatshop employees are women. As such, in 2013 women still only earned 62 percent of a men’s salary for equal work. WORK+SHELTER is working to change that!

 


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 double 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.


Since we launched our
Masks Without Borders campaign in late November of 2020, we have been able to hire two additional women as trainees (shown above). The organic cotton face masks are ideal for trainees to start off with as they are relatively simple to make, and mainly made from fabric scraps. The more capital we are able to raise, the more masks we are able to make + the more women we are able to hire. If you’d like to learn more about the campaign and/or donate, click here.

WORK+SHELTER offers a variety of options when it comes to customizing your products and designs. Whether you are looking 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.

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

 

Theresa VanderMeer and Karina Rosenstein reviewing print samples at one of the natural dye artisan groups that we work with at WORK+SHELTER.

 

Let’s start with the basics– the  difference between patterns and prints. 

It is very important to differentiate between the two because patterns and prints are not the same – printed patterns are actually very different from woven patterns.

A pattern is any repeated design or motif, such as a stripes, floral, geometric, medallion, etc. It can be woven/knit into the fabric or printed on top.

A print can be a pattern, however it is not woven into the fabric but applied to the top with dye by various methods such as digital printing or screen printing.  

The easiest way to tell the difference between the two is by flipping it over. Generally, a woven pattern will show on both sides, while a printed pattern will be clearly more saturated on the top of the fabric or may not go through to the other side at all.

 

A few patterned fabrics printed by one of our suppliers.

 

Now that you have that down, we can dive into the different customizations we offer for our promotional and designer client partners. We work directly with the mills and producers/artisans, so there’s no need for a trader or middleman, making the process straightforward + seamless.

On the back end of fabric production, you are able to customize:

  • Yarn dyed fabrics in any Pantone color

  • Woven or knit textures

  • Woven or knit fabric thickness

  • Knit patterns

    • Stripes
  • Woven patterns and types of weaves

    (1)

    • Plain weave
    • Ikat
    • Chambray
    • Herringbone
    • Dobby
    • Jacquard
    • Etc.

Once fabrics have been produced you are able to customize in the following ways:

  • Resist dyeing

    • Bleach
    • Indigo

Examples of indigo resist dyed fabric from the natural dye artisan group shown above.

  • Printing

    • Digital
      • Digital print benefits:
        • No printing screens involved = no upfront cost
        • You are able to print one single item and/or a sample print
        • There are virtually no color limitations
        • The number of colors and the appearance of the print does not affect the cost of manufacturing
        • Fewer economies of scale than when screen printing – for example, digitally printing the first meter + the hundredth meter cost basically the same


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

      • Digital print challenges
        • It’s not possible to digitally print on colored fabrics, because the threads of the fabric are already saturated with dyes, and therefore the colors generally don’t come out in the intended shade


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.

    • Screen (analogue method of printing on fabric)
      • Screen print benefits:
        • Cost-effective when printing in bulk – for example, with an increase in the number of goods produced, the price of a single unit noticeably decreases
        • Screen printing works better than digital printing on brightly colored base fabrics (as seen below)

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 the preparation of a separate screen, and at $40 per screen the cost can add up. The Diaspora Co. tote above has over 10 colors, resulting in $400 of screen costs  
        • The number of colors possible per artwork is limited – we do not recommend printing over 12 colors
        • Due to the cost of preparation of the screens, it is not suitable for printing individual pieces or small volumes
        • Artwork changes after the sampling process result in additional costs because new screens need to be made
      • Hand screen (Medium or Large Scale)

        • Placement printing for small logos and designs
        • Printed on pre-cut pattern pieces or sewn products
        • Gold foil
        • Silicone on activewear, i.e. “grip strips”

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

      • Auto Screen + Rotary (Medium or Large Scale)

        • Full fabric for all-over prints 
        • Rotary printing minimums are at least 1000 meters of woven fabric or 500 kgs of knit fabric

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

    • Block
      • Traditional shapes
      • Customized block patterns
    • 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).

 

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

Credits:

  1. Woven Patterns, https://www.textileschool.com/135/classification-of-fabric-weave-patterns/
  2. Rotary Printer, https://www.imaterial.co.za/News/entryid/622/rotary-screen-printing-and-digital-printing-explained

Credit: Geoffrey Abraham

 

Despite the push for widespread vaccine access in late 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic rages on across the globe. Related, an unexpected “side-effect” has emerged: single-use plastic waste in the form of masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, etc. has been piling up at alarmingly rapid rates. One of the easiest ways to combat this wasteful trend is by encouraging the use of reusable cloth masks. However, there are many people in the world that either do not have access to reusable masks or cannot afford them. Therefore their options become the “cheap” alternative of single-use plastic masks or not wearing one at all.

THE PROBLEM

In July of this year, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development estimated that 75% of pandemic related plastic waste will end up in landfills and our oceans. And beyond that, many items aren’t being disposed of properly and end up littering our streets and sidewalks. “The UN Environment Program (UNEP) has warned that, if the large increase in medical waste (much of it made from environmentally harmful single-use plastics) is not managed soundly, uncontrolled dumping could result.”  (UN News, July 2020)

Discarded face masks on the side of the road with trash in Queens, New York.
Source: Lindsey Nicholson / Education Images / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

“On a beach about 100 metres long, we found about 70,” said Gary Stokes of OceansAsia. One week later, another 30 masks had washed up. “And that’s on an uninhabited island in the middle of nowhere.”(The Guardian, June 2020) “Once in the ocean, masks collect algae, attracting small fish that in turn attract larger fish, he said. A dolphin or whale could mistake a mask for food, and the mask could get caught in the animal’s digestive tract, which could result in death.” (New York Times, July 2020)

Gary Stokes of OceansAsia holding masks found on a beach near Hong Kong in May. He says masks have been washing up in increasing quantities.
Source: Anthony Wallace/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Beyond the more visible issues of mask pollution, when the plastic in these masks is exposed to sunlight it can start to break down in a process known as photodegradation. Instead of decomposing and disappearing, it turns into smaller and smaller pieces, a.k.a. microplastics. These microplastics then remain in our waterways + oceans for years to come and are ingested by marine life, eventually leading to human consumption down the line. “This is especially dangerous as degraded plastics can absorb and hold on to high concentrations of toxic metals, such as mercury, lead, and cadmium, as well as other chemical pollutants. Once microplastics are floating in the sea, they are currently impossible to collect.”(Slate, October 2020)

Microplastics compared to a U.S. penny.
Source: National Geographic

The plastic waste issue hits especially close to home for us at WORK+SHELTER. In Delhi, the home of our production center and our team in India, a vast majority of waste is incinerated, including many plastics. This contributes to Delhi having some of the worst air pollution in the world, and is one of the reasons we avoid single-use plastics within our production center, and instead use cellophane-based packaging. 

Smog fills the air around Delhi’s India Gate on October 28th, 2020.
Source: Sunil Kataria/TOI, Delhi, BCCL

THE SOLUTION

One of the main reasons plastic masks are ending up on the streets and in landfills in the first place is because many people either do not have access to reusable masks or cannot afford them. That’s where we come in. Together with the The Soondra Foundation and Chicago Fair Trade, WORK+SHELTER is committed to donating over 10,000 reusable cloth masks to those in need. 

Recipients of donated W+S masks in Delhi, India.

Each mask will be made from organic cotton fabric scraps at our ethical production center in Delhi, allowing us to train and employ more impoverished and at-risk women. By using fabric scraps to make the masks we are not only keeping plastic out of landfills and our oceans but are also reducing textile waste, one of the largest sources of pollution behind plastics. After the masks are produced, The Soondra Foundation and Chicago Fair Trade will be distributing the masks throughout Chicago + India.

One of our W+S queens, Hema Tanwar, modeling the organic cotton face masks.

To achieve this goal we are asking for your help to raise $20,000. This will allow us to pay the women making the masks a fair wage, as well as supply any additional materials needed and cover distribution costs. Please consider donating if you can, and if you can’t we would really appreciate you sharing the campaign with friends, family, and/or on social media. We are offering some fun rewards when you donate, including your very own WORK+SHELTER made organic cotton face mask. Read our latest blog post, Masks Without Borders, to learn more about the campaign and visit our Fundly page to donate today!

Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7297173/

https://slate.com/technology/2020/10/disposable-masks-ocean-pollution-archaeology.html

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/07/1069151

https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/25/climate/covid-masks-discarded.html

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jun/08/more-masks-than-jellyfish-coronavirus-waste-ends-up-in-ocean

https://www.waste2wear.com/covid-19-increased-plastic-waste/

https://weather.com/en-IN/india/pollution/news/2020-10-28-delhi-air-quality-remains-very-poor-deteriorate-over-next-two-days

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/covid-19-has-worsened-the-ocean-plastic-pollution-problem/

Every day we are reminded that COVID-19 cases are still on the rise, so WORK+SHELTER, Chicago Fair Trade, and The Soondra Foundation have joined forces to bring masks to those struggling to access them. To aid in this effort, we have created the fundraising campaign, Masks Without Borders.

Ever since the beginning of the pandemic, masks have been a crucial component in staying safe + healthy, but the unfortunate truth is that not everyone can afford them. We are seeing this not only in Chicago, but also in other parts of the world.

The masks that are “affordable” are generally not reusable, and are made of a few layers of different types of plastic, called polypropylene. These masks are almost impossible to recycle and end up adding to an already vast amount of single-use plastic waste on our planet.

Getty Images

We have come together to find a solution to these problems– we will be distributing 10,000 reusable cloth masks throughout both Chicago + India. The masks are made out of eco-friendly materials, including organic cotton and fabric scraps left over from other items in production.

This way, not only are we helping to keep the population safe from the pandemic, but also helping to improve the health of our planet by keeping plastic waste & fabric scraps out of landfills.

There is some urgency with getting this campaign off the ground as we race to contain and combat COVID-19. We’d like to start making and distributing these masks as soon as possible, and we need your support in this effort.

W+S  Chief Happiness Officer Kavita distributing our reusable cloth masks in Delhi.

We’re raising $50,000 in order to produce and distribute these masks. As a group, we are uniquely placed to make this happen. WORK+SHELTER employs women in need and teaches them how to sew. Women regularly come to our factory looking for work, and recently we’ve had to turn a number away. Producing these masks will create more work and in turn, allow us to employ these women.

The Soondra Foundation works with people in India with compromised health, including children, who especially need masks to go back to work and school safely. The Soondra Foundation will be distributing these masks to some of the neediest folks across India.

Katherine Bissel-Cordova of Chicago Fair Trade and friend Carly Visk model the organic cotton face masks.

Chicago Fair Trade has relationships with non-profits across Chicago including the Night Ministry, the Center on Halstead, the YMCA, and many others. CFT will be distributing these masks to the most vulnerable populations right here in Chicago.

As a thank you for donating, we have some wonderful rewards for you (including an organic cotton face mask), which can be found on our Fundly page. If you want to get a mask in person head to the Chicago Fair Trade pop-up now through December 23rd.

 

Oftentimes, when people want to support us, they ask us where they can buy our products. So, to make it easy + fun for you this holiday season, we put together an ethical small business gift guide where we’ve highlighted a mix of our client partners and their products. By supporting their missions, you’re supporting ours as well.

 

SHOP KINSHIP

“We believe in a better place 🌎 starting with your face.”

  • Created by scientists and industry experts, Kinship makes clean, cruelty-free beauty + wellness products.
  • Their On the Glow Bag is made at WORK+SHELTER from our 100% recycled bottle fabric, helping to cut down waste in the skincare industry.
  • Perfect for your friend who’s in-need of a self-care day after a stressful 2020.
  • You can take 20% off sitewide from November 25th – November 30th with code YAY20

 

SHOP LEV APPAREL

 

“Designed to celebrate. Worn to empower.”

  • With size inclusivity as their foundation, Lev Apparel garments are designed to celebrate multiple body shapes and encourage women to feel beautiful in their own skin. 
  • Founder Krystle Marks believes strongly in “empowered women empowering women” and sought out WORK+SHELTER for our ethical production, fair- trade practices, and women-centric goals.
  • The Theodora Long Sleeve is perfect for your friend that’s always late because they can’t decide what to wear— you truly can’t go wrong with an ethically made classic white button down.
  • They will be rolling out a variety of deals all week, while also sharing socially impactful, local and small businesses near + dear to them as a way to celebrate Fair Trade Friday.

 

SHOP SOHZA SISTER

“When a woman is at the center of change anything is possible”

  • Similar to WORK+SHELTER’s goal of helping women in-need, Sohza Sister was founded by three sisters who came together with a goal to help women locally + globally.
  • Their products include a mix of jewelry, casual apparel, accessories, and more- all stamped with encouraging messages of women’s empowerment. 
  • The perfect one-stop shop— you can purchase a “Bag of Love” tote for $10 and fill it with a fun mix of products at a discounted rate.

SHOP DIASPORA CO.

“Building a better spice trade.”

  • Diaspora Co. is a direct trade, single origin spice company dedicated to building a better spice trade.
  • Founder, Sana Javeri Kadri, came to us wanting a tote bag made by a manufacturer whose values reflected her own.
  • Now known as the Diaspora Market Tote, this bag is made ethically, from 100% organic cotton by the women of W+S.
  • Perfect for the chef of the family- purchase a Diaspora Market Tote to double as a fancy gift bag and fill it with authentic Indian spices this holiday season.
  • Order now and receive FREE SHIPPING on all orders above $100.

SHOP LILY FORBES

“Sustainable independent fashion house sans seasons,naturally dyed, handwoven, and unisex.”

  • Combining fair trade production with sustainable fabrics, LILY FORBES creates high-end robes made from upcycled sari silk and organic cotton denim.
  • Founder Lily Shafroth Forbes spent a great deal of time in India working directly with our production team to learn about WORK+SHELTER’s ethical supply chain.
  • The Raw Indigo Denim Robe is perfect for your friend who’s constantly on Zoom calls— these robes provide a lovely balance between luxury + cozy, taking your work-from-home look to the next level effortlessly.
  • Purchase your robe today and receive FREE SHIPPING on all
    domestic orders.

SHOP THE FAIR SHIRT PROJECT

“A shirt that’s made fair, for men.”

  • The Fair Shirt Project was created to offer men looking for ethical clothing more options.
  • All Fair Shirt Project products are designed in Evanston, IL, and produced in India at Work+Shelter.
  • The Blue Plaid Short Sleeve Button Up is perfect for the man in your life who believes in living (+ wearing!) their values, but doesn’t want to sacrifice style.
  • Featured at the Chicago Fair Trade Coalition‘s Holiday Pop-Up Shop (online + in-person), where they will be selling men’s button down shirts (including all new long sleeve styles) and masks.

 

If you’re interested in partnering with WORK+SHELTER to make your products come to life, drop us a line at [email protected] or schedule a meeting with us if you’d like to chat through the process.

From the WORK+SHELTER team all across the globe to you + your family, we wish you a happy, safe, and healthy Holiday Season. And please remember to shop small!

Welcome to the third installment of our Designer 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 Designer Services are Right For You.

This post is going to give you a comprehensive overview of how & where we source our fabrics. We select the best of the best fabric vendors from across India, seeking to align fair trade, ethical, and sustainable values with the wide variety of fabric needs of our customers. 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 that can be a great fit for small and large production runs alike.

There are some specialty fabrics that are best sourced internationally. If you already have a source outside of India you like, we are able to help import your fabrics. However, it is typically more affordable and straightforward to work with our Indian producers.

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

At WORK+SHELTER, we have 5 main avenues when it comes to our fabric sourcing capabilities.

  1. In-Stock Sustainable: readily available in-house
  2. Small Scale Sustainable: made to order upon client purchase
  3. Industrial Scale Sustainable: made to order upon client purchase
  4. Cooperative Buying Sustainable: made to order upon group client purchase
  5. 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 minimus, but the piece minimums for your order may actually be dependent on reaching fabric order minimums. 

WORK+SHELTER is a full service production facility. We’re here to assist with anything that you may need within the development and sourcing processes, and to set the stage for a successful production partnership in the long run.

 

IN-STOCK SUSTAINABLE

W+S regularly hold inventory of many basic fabrics in-house including:

  • Organic cotton woven 5 oz and 12 oz canvas in natural
  • Organic cotton knit jersey in black, white, grey, and other select colors
  • RPET (recycled polyester) in select colors

We are oftentimes able to provide lower MOQs on your order if you are able to 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.

 

SMALL SCALE SUSTAINABLE

We have fostered many connections over time with small scale sustainable/ethical producers to provide beautiful handwoven silks, handwoven recycled fibers, and a variety of other woven fabrics to our clients. 

First, our sourcing team is able to buy “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.

Second, we are able to source custom hand-woven fabrics through artisan groups in India. It’s important to note that this process takes more time (4-6 weeks in fabric production time alone). Because of the small scale and handmade nature of this production, minimums can be as low as 50 to 100 meters.

An important note, the fabrics mentioned above are generally woven. This is because knits are almost always produced on a machine versus hand-loomed, making them more difficult to purchase on a smaller scale.

Both options listed above have a higher price point than machine woven fabric, as the fabric is produced by hand. But you get what you pay for an amazing artisanal heritage and a special hand-made quality outcome. 

 

INDUSTRIAL SCALE SUSTAINABLE

For larger scale production, we can provide fabric options in both knits & 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 infrastructural improvements that may be out of reach for smaller producers, so they can be a great solution for scaled, but still ethical, production.

To access certified fabrics it’s generally necessary to place larger orders. When it comes to knits, sampling minimums start at 100 kgs, and production starts around 500 kgs (though this can usually be split into a couple colorways).

A smaller sampling size fabric run is more expensive, but it may make sense to go this route if you want to test the waters with a scalable supply chain before investing in too much product.

We recently produced an order of jersey double knit longline blazers for our client partner Lev Apparel. Due to the doubled weight of the knit and the increased fabric consumption from the design, they were able to more quickly reach the piece minimums than if they were ordering fabric for a lightweight t-shirt. 

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

To sum it up, heavier knits will have lower piece minimums and lighter knits will have higher piece minimums.

 

COOPERATIVE BUYING SUSTAINABLE

WORK+SHELTER works with clients big and small. We have a special spot in our heart for small businesses, and understand it can be difficult to reach the large mill minimums for certified fibers. This is why we work with our client partners to bundle fabric orders. 

For example, if we are purchasing a large amount of specialty fabric, such as organic brushed fleece or a color of cotton jersey or RPET that we don’t regularly hold in our inventory, we may reach out to our client partners that use similar fibers to see if they would like to add on to the order.

If you are looking for ethical fibers but having a hard time meeting fabric production volume minimums, let us know and we will keep you in mind when there are other client partners seeking similar fabrics. If there is enough of a demand, we can arrange a group order and buy in bulk so each brand can achieve their smaller scale minimums.

 

CONVENTIONAL

Industrial Scale

Over 95% of the fabrics we source at WORK+SHELTER  have an environmental qualifier, meaning that they are either recycled, upcycled, or organic. That being said, we are able to purchase conventional fabrics if you are not able to find exactly what you’re looking for from our sustainable/ethical producers, if the minimums for more sustainable fibers are too high, or if the sustainable supply chain timeline  is too long for your deadline. Please note, conventional sourcing must be a short term solution, with the goal of transitioning into sustainable sourcing practices over time. 

Market Ready

Finally, we have the ability to send our in-house merchandising team, including Bhawana, pictured here, to the local markets to source conventional materials for small scale production. This option is more of a “backup option,” as there is a lack of information available on the supply chain, usually available in very small batches, and the fabrics are only in stock while supplies last. It can, however, be a good solution for clients who are looking for ready made prints in smaller volumes.

 

 

As you can see, the WORK+SHELTER team has a wide variety of fabric supply chain solutions that can be a good fit for your order. We are willing to be flexible and work directly with our suppliers to meet your needs. 

If you have something specific in mind that you’re looking to develop or discuss further, drop us a line at [email protected] or schedule a meeting with us if you’d like to chat through the process. You can also find more information on our website here.

Are you interested in utilizing WORK+SHELTER’s Designer Services but unsure what that entails? First, make sure you read our last blog post: How WORK+SHELTER Brings Your Custom Product Designs to Life.

This second installment of our Designer Services blog series will help you decide when it makes the most sense to work with us on your product design development, versus an independent patternmaker/product design specialist, or when a hybrid approach might work best for you.

The process of taking a concept and rendering it into a full blown product is both an art and a science, so it’s important to choose a product development team that can see your vision through to production.

To decide what your development team should look like, we need to figure out:

  • The complexity of your product idea
  • How much support you will need
  • How many rounds of sampling will be necessary 
  • Whether a fit model is necessary for your process

There are roughly three types of product development relationships WORK+SHELTER offers within our Designer Services:

  1. W+S product development
  2. Independent product development
  3. Shared W+S & independent product development collaboration

W+S PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT

If you are new to the cloth/apparel industry, you will most likely need the highest level of assistance with the technical steps involved in bringing a new sewn item to life. We can meet you wherever you are between the steps of initial design and final production.

For full development support, all you need to do is provide the product idea, review samples, and then approve the final sample before the product is manufactured. Our team turns your initial designs/sketches/pictures/existing garment into technical flats and tech packs with measurements to then be sent for patternmaking and sampling. You will be able to inspect and approve each sample and provide feedback to our team before production starts.

 

One of our in-house technical designers, Taylor McCleneghan.

Partial development support is a great solution if your product will need just one or two rounds of sampling– i.e. a tote bag, makeup pouch, mask, scarf, etc.– and you’re comfortable with us taking the lead.  It makes the most sense to work directly with us on product development if your product is not highly detailed or does not require a fit model.  

One significant benefit is that we are then thoroughly familiar with your product, and can typically speed up the production process. Additionally, if we are creating all patterns, tech packs, and other production details for you, we do so in the way that works best for the team that will be actually constructing your sewn item. 

Basically, working directly with us is ideal for apparel or accessories that do not have complex fit needs, or if multiple rounds of samples are unlikely.


INDEPENDENT PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT

If you have a product in mind that is more complex or detail-focused it may make sense for you to work with a local technical designer/patternmaker. By working with a technical designer that is near to you, you can be more hands-on with the initial steps of the product development process including overseeing sampling and fittings.

You may also consider working with a specialized technical designer if you have a highly niche item that requires many rounds of product testing.

You are welcome to find your own technical designer/patternmaker, or we can provide you with a referral. Working with one of our referral partners can help streamline the sampling and production process since we will have had experience partnering with them on previous production runs.

Hot tips – 

  • To jump-start the sourcing/sampling process and encourage seamless transition into production, we are able to ship fabric for your samples to you from our suppliers in India
  • When planning out your timeline, it’s always a good idea to prepare for at least one sampling round when transferring a design from a local product development or sampling team to W+S factory production.

 

Our favorite local pattern-maker, Xochil Herrera Scheer of The Chicago Patternmaker, working with clients during product development.

 

SHARED W+S & INDEPENDENT PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT COLLABORATION

Let’s say you’ve been working with a fashion or technical designer to help get your product vision from ideas/sketches to technical drawings, but now your team needs help moving into the production process. We can collaborate to help in choosing the right fabric, determining what minimum order quantities (MOQs) are involved, and/or starting the pattern making and sampling process. 

You might also be working with a technical designer who can help develop a full tech pack with measurements and details, but they don’t have the facility to start sourcing or sampling— that’s where W+S Designer Services come in.

When you complete your sampling with our team your design will be “production ready” upon approval, meaning once you give the green light your product will be put into production.

 

Xochil Herrera Scheer, working with Amanda Dye of WORK+SHELTER and a prospective client in Chicago.

 

 

The main goal of our Designer Services is to provide you with all of the tools and guidance you may need throughout the process, and to set everyone up for a successful partnership in the long run.

Stay tuned for our next post, which will discuss the 5 main WORK+SHELTER fabric sourcing avenues and how we work with you to find the perfect fabric match for your product and order size.

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 us if you’d like to chat through the process. You can also find more information on our website here.

WORK+SHELTER offers a range of Designer Services to guide you through the process of creating custom designed products. If you’re not someone who has a lot of experience in the production side of the industry, you might not initially realize how complex it can be. Some of you may have even gone through the process before on your own, and are looking for a better path.

The good news is, we can work with you regardless of experience level to fill the gaps where you may need help. We have assembled our own in-house team of designers, fabric experts, and pattern-makers to guide you through every step. We are also able to work with your in-house design team and collaborate throughout the process. Our designer services mainly focus on assisting with the development and sourcing for custom designed products before launching into production.

 

DEVELOPMENT

When it comes to initial product development, WORK+SHELTER can provide assistance with the following:

  1. Technical Flats
  2. Measurements
  3. Tech Packs/ Spec Sheets
  4. Pattern-making
  5. Grading
  6. Sampling

 

Our Production Manager, Ritu Marwari working with Founder + CEO, Theresa VanderMeer to finalize a tote bag sample for Ben & Jerry’s.

 

An important note–the process can take time— depending on level of detail in the product, necessary rounds of sampling & revisions, and designer experience.

Due to the nature of ethical manufacturing, sampling can take anywhere from 2-3 months, and once production begins it can be 3-4 months before you receive your final product.

Rapid development & prototyping can be achieved using in stock materials for less-complex products and flexible clients– resulting in less revisions & faster turnaround.

Throughout the development process, we will be considering the right fabric for the product(s) at hand and walking you through our ethical and fair-trade sourcing options.

 

SOURCING

WORK+SHELTER has five main avenues when it comes to our fabric sourcing capabilities:

  1. In-Stock Sustainable
  2. Small Scale Sustainable
  3. Industrial Scale Sustainable
  4. Cooperative Buying Sustainable
  5. Market Ready Conventional

The materials you need to source will depend on the product and on the size of the production order. Small batch production can pose challenges when it comes to sourcing, but we will work with our current stock and vendor connections to find you the perfect fit for your product.

 

One of the W+S queens, Bhawana Acharya is our in-house merchandiser and is responsible for going to the local markets to scout out what fabrics and trims are available, based on client asks.

 

Once we decide on the material for the product, we move into sampling and then production.

 

PARTNERSHIP

The partnership between WORK+SHELTER and our clients is what really makes our Designer Services stand out. With custom designed products, it takes a whole lot of teamwork to bring these products to life. We’re here to help & lift you up throughout the process— the whole point is to use us as a resource whenever you need us. We are willing to work within all of our capabilities and constraints to find the best solution for your custom product needs.

On average, our US team is in India for 6+ months over the course of the year, working directly with our team to oversee every aspect of sourcing and production.

We pride ourselves on our seamless communication not only throughout our close-knit W+S community, but also with our client partners. Time zones are no longer a hindrance— we speak with our team in India every day, and are able to provide a quick response to any questions or problems that may arise along the way.

 

Client partner, Samantha Jo along with Karina Rosenstein + Theresa VanderMeer of WORK+SHELTER meeting with our screen printer, Pratap Singh.

 

 

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be sharing more insight into the specifics of our Designer Services and when they’re right for you to use them. We will also be discussing our different sourcing avenues in more detail to provide transparency about our ethical supply chain and options for our client partners. Stay tuned on the blog!

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 us if you’d like to chat through the process. You can also find more information on our website here.

 

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