Credit: Geoffrey Abraham


Despite the push for widespread vaccine access in late 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic rages on across the globe. 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.


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. 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)

Discarded face masks and gloves wash up on shore. (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, the 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


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 is 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!



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. (Update: Holly now works with us as our technical client manager, helping support other small brands like hers that manufacture with W+S.)

Holly entered the world of sustainable fashion at a young age, learning to sew and craft from her mother and grandmothers and sewing lots of her own clothes. Her interests eventually led to a career in fashion. When one of her first industry jobs brought her to China to visit apparel factories, she saw firsthand how scant oversight made it easy for factories to treat workers in whatever fashion was necessary to get the order out.

She got out of corporate fashion, and ran a custom bridal business for 13 years, where she offered both her own designs and a handful of sustainable and fair-trade labels. After that she worked as a freelance patternmaker, and spent some time volunteering with Chicago Fair Trade, before moving into product development for a fair-trade dress company.

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



W+S: What inspired your product idea?

Holly Greenhagen: Through volunteering with Chicago Fair Trade I got to meet the staff at Ten Thousand Villages Evanston. Joseph, the manager there, mentioned more than once a lack of fair-trade menswear in the market. I was jonesing to work on an extracurricular project (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, having met the U.S. team in Chicago. I knew if they could sew to the quality standards I had in mind, I could manage the fittings and such at this end. As it turned out, W+S did the patternmaking too.


W+S: Please describe the fabric decision-making process. How did W+S help guide 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 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: What parts of the development process did W+S assist in?

Holly Greenhagen: W+S did all of the patternmaking. They made the initial pattern and a first sample. I fit the sample at this end and sent 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.


A few of Fair Shirt Project’s button-up men’s shirts.


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 tried the samples on as many men as I could. 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.


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 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 sharing her story.  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 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 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 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 used when a river cannot sustain life.

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 invest in a water filtration system that in and of itself can cost more than what low-income folks earn in a month. 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?

Water is a key player in the supply chain. Water pollution can actually be the result of many different stages throughout the production process. Take 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 probability it’s getting treated with harmful chemicals and pesticides that the rain ends up washing away, into the groundwater.

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

Fast forward, and that cotton has been spun into yarns that will later become your new favorite t-shirt.  But first they need to be dyed. Workers have to mix a variety of different chemicals together to get that color just right, and as a result these dyes could contain toxins such as AZO dyes, which are so bad they have actually been banned in countries including China, Japan, India, Vietnam, and the European Union. Not only can these chemicals harm workers, but if they are not disposed of properly these toxins then go and wreak havoc in the environment. The garment dyeing process is no simple process, and sometimes means 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’s impossible to know everything that 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 are 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, mills undergo a heavy inspection 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.


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 excited to be 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 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 zero impact.

Enter upcycled saris.

As you may know, the sari is a common garment worn in India, comprised of a really long piece of fabric that is 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.



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 is an amazing thing for me, starting out small and self-funded.



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.”



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 overtreat 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


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 its second round of upcycled sari silk robes!  Stay tuned for those new patterns and see what is currently in stock HERE.



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. By recycling already existing fabric, Lily is cutting 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 goals is to reduce our use of virgin materials 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.


Creating products out of RPET uses 50% less energy than creating 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 burning. The trash is incinerated, in part, because plastic is such a durable material that it can take over 700 years to decompose.* In a city of over 20 million inhabitants, that’s a lot of trash, taking up a lot of space. So much of it ends up engulfed in flames, disseminating toxic fumes into the air. 

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

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 because the polyester dries fast and is super durable, which is great for athletic wear, while the cotton makes the garment more comfortable, soft, and breathable. 


In woven form, RPET is smooth to the touch, lightweight, and very strong. Due to its weight, it’s lighter to carry–and 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 the water supply. This has given RPET somewhat of a bad rap in the environmental community. 

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

Designers should especially consider using RPET in items that can be wiped down, or, if their product does need to be machine-washed, work to ensure that their end users are educated about how to reduce microfiber waste.

A few recommendations:

  • Wash in cool 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