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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Screen printing

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

Screen print benefits:

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

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

 

Screen print challenges:

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

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

Digital printing

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

Digital print benefits:

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

Digital print challenges:

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

 


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

 


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

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

Rotary printing

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

Rotary print benefits:

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

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

 

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

Embroidery

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


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

 

Bulk Dyeing

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

Tie Dyeing

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

 

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

Credits:

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

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

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

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

 

WORK+SHELTER training program


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

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

 

 

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

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

 


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

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

 

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. One year we gave all of our employees a large scrap rug for the holidays.

 

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 Vulnerable 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 orphanages or non-profits to be distributed to children in-need.

 

Face Masks

We donated over 10,000 face masks to a variety of organizations globally during the pandemic.

 

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

 

Donate the Scraps for Educational Use

We partnered with Professor Christine Facella at Parsons School of Design in New York City, USA and her students on ideas for how to turn fabric scraps into creative new products. 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 + 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.

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. 

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.

For the WORK+SHELTER team, producing apparel and accessories in India is a joy. India has a rich history of textile production, and continues to be a global superpower in the fibers sphere today. 

That means we can source top-quality materials in the same place they’re made, which saves our client partners from having to pay import fees. Sourcing locally is also the most sustainable option, with in-country transportation leaving only a small carbon footprint.

So we thought it was time to explore the history of textiles in India, and how that legacy shapes what we produce here at WORK+SHELTER.

 

HISTORY

There is archaeological evidence of the cotton industry in India dating back over 5,000 years, and Indian fabrics have even been found in ancient Egyptian tombs. Wild! And cotton isn’t the only notable export of the ancient Indian textile industry: Indian silks were traded throughout the regions surrounding the Silk Road in China, and further down the line to western countries. 

 

Fragments of block-printed Indian cotton discovered in Egyptian tombs by Egyptologist Percy Newberry and his wife Essie. (1)


There were many factors that played into the colonization of India by the British Empire, but prominent among them was India’s high-quality, low-cost cotton. England has a centuries-old history of spinning, dyeing, and weaving raw fibers into highly sought-after textiles. But the English climate isn’t suited to growing cotton. So when the U.S. abolished slavery, England had to turn elsewhere for raw cotton fiber. 

Under English rule, many Indian farmers were forced to stop their traditional practice of growing small quantities of many varied crops (aka subsistence farming). Instead, they were coerced into producing huge amounts of cotton and exporting the majority of it to England. Those exports, once processed into cloth and clothing, were shipped back to India to be sold to the Indian people–at a premium. “The sought-after Indian weaver and spinner became a destitute farmer, hungry and scantily clad in [British] cloth made from Indian cotton he so dutifully grew,” writes Tara Kashif in the Friday Times. (2)

 

Followers of Gandhi preparing to burn clothing and household items made of English cloth. (3)

 

Indian mill owners and activists soon rose up in opposition to this new system. In the early 1900s, Mahatma Gandhi and his followers ignited the Swadeshi movement, whose name translates to “of one’s own country.” They encouraged Indians to boycott English-made products (especially cloth and clothing) in an effort to overthrow their colonial English rulers. Gandhi urged the Indian people to use two “weapons” to achieve this goal: non-violence and handspun cloth. 

Gandhi encouraged people to learn to use a spinning wheel, so they could make their own cloth. He himself spun his own yarn and made his own clothes on a portable spinning wheel while he was held as a political prisoner in Pune’s Yerwada jail in the early 1930s. Hand-loomed cloth came to be known as “khadi.” Gandhi felt khadi was a symbol of independence and self-sufficiency and “described it as ‘the soul of swaraj’ (self-rule).” (4)  The movement gained traction, and the British Empire’s hold on the textile industry (and the country as a whole) began to falter. This led to a complete re-organization of India’s textile industry, and a re-clothing of the Indian people.

 

Gandhi spinning yarn at his spinning wheel. (5)


Gandhi’s teachings and traditions have carried on, and weaving remains an important part of Indian culture. Because there is a lengthy tradition of Indians spinning, weaving, and making their own clothing, Indian “fashion designers” didn’t start cropping up until the 1980s, and even then they mainly focused on one-of-a-kind garments. 

Economic liberalization and the spread of global pop culture propelled the industry, as did the opening of the National Institute of Fashion Technology by the Indian government in 1986. This led to a more widespread pool of designers and the introduction of “ready-to-wear” clothing around 1990, no doubt spurred by the fact that large U.S. manufacturers were starting to move their apparel production to India.

 

MODERN DAY

Today, India is the second largest producer of textile fiber in the world. India’s most common textile crops are—


Perhaps not surprisingly, cotton makes up 60% of India’s textile industry.
The tropical climate here is ideal for cotton cultivation, providing temperatures and moisture levels that are ideal for the six- to eight-month growing season.

Silk is the second most common fiber produced here. And the Indian silk industry has a happy side effect: The production of certain silks helps slow deforestation, since the forests where some silkworms live are protected.

The third main fiber produced in India is jute: a soft and durable plant fiber mainly spun into twine, rope, burlap, hessian cloth, carpets, and matting. You might recognize it as the main material of the popular “Apolis Bag,” shown below.

 


          Natural Jute (left)               |              Black Dyed Jute (right)


In 2000, in an effort to maintain their standing in the global textiles industry, the government of India passed the
National Textile Policy. They passed strong legal protections (including high tariffs) against importing fibers from outside of India in order to preserve the domestic weaving and milling industries. This explains why certain fibers and fabrics are difficult to find in India–hemp, for example. 70% of the world’s hemp supply is grown in China, while only two states in India allow hemp production.

 

W+S CEO team and Khadi employees at Khadi facility in Rajasthan.

 

At W+S we tend to work with two types of vendors:

  • Artisan groups that do small-batch, handwoven fabrics (more expensive, smaller scale)
  • Large mills that may have certifications (better rates but larger scale)

As mentioned above, most of India’s textile output is in natural fibers. However, this doesn’t mean India doesn’t manufacture synthetics.

Synthetic textiles can be:

  • Petroleum-based, as in the case of polyester and nylon
    • India does produce polyester, but we mostly steer clear of it for sustainability reasons.
    • The exception is rPET (yarn made from recycled water bottles), which is plentiful in India. We regularly source knits blended with rPET, and 100% rPET woven fabrics.  
  • Cellulose-based, or made from wood pulp
    • Rayon, viscose, modal, and lyocell are widely available in India. 
    • We often get requests for Tencel, which is a proprietary lyocell made by Lenzing and flush with eco-qualifiers. However there are other, less well-known producers of eco-friendly cellulose fabrics.

 

Current client partner Allyson Dykhuizen at a fabric market in Delhi.

 

Because of its long history, cultural significance, and legal complexity, India’s textile industry can be complicated to navigate. So let us be your guides! We’d love to talk to you about the best options for your order.

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

 

 

SOURCES

  1. https://www.google.com/url?q=http://jameelcentre.ashmolean.org/collection/6/1272/1274&sa=D&source=editors&ust=1633671904457000&usg=AOvVaw31t7WaUECNjNFvAgdkukqZ
  2. https://www.thefridaytimes.com/weaving-misery/
  3. https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/indias-boycott-of-british-cloth-followers-of-gandhi-burn-news-photo/829942582
  4. Susan Bean, “Gandhi and Khadi: The Fabric of Independence,” 1989.
  5. https://theculturetrip.com/asia/india/articles/the-story-of-khadi-indias-fabric/

ADDITIONAL RESEARCH

  1. http://char.txa.cornell.edu/IndianTex.htm
  2. https://www.ibef.org/industry/textiles.aspx
  3. https://learn.culturalindia.net/swadeshi-movement.html
  4. http://jute.com/web/guest/polices-and-statues/policies/national-textile-policy#:~:text=The%20Government%20of%20India%20announced,manufacture%20and%20export%20of%20clothing
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fashion_in_India
  6. https://joybileefarm.com/sustainable-clothing/
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Textile_industry_in_India#cite_note-17
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khadi#cite_note-7
  9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swadeshi_movement
  10. https://mettacenter.org/definitions/gloss-concepts/swadeshi/

 

“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.

 

W+S tailor 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.

 

W+S: WHY UPCYCLED SARIS?

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

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

 

W+S: WHERE DO THE SARIS COME FROM?

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

If some of the saris are discolored in any way, I work with a local dyer to have the whole piece redyed. He has a color sheet and you basically have to dye what is compatible with the consistent color. Because it’s silk, you don’t want to 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

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

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

Purchase a LILY FORBES upcycled sari robe on her website.

 

THERESA’S TAKEAWAYS

Working with designers like Lily Forbes is a joy. 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
  • Packaging such as drawstring bags that can be a free giveaway for your clients

To discuss whether using upcycled saris might be a good solution for your design, drop us a line at [email protected].

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 (recycled polyethylene terephthalate) 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.  One of our clients, 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. Examples of products that fit these criteria:

  • Tote bags
  • Packing cubes
  • Packaging for other items

They can also educate end users about how to reduce microfiber waste. On that note, 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].

“I am so impressed by WORK+SHELTER’s efforts in helping women because it is not just about paying them a fair wage, but also about giving them a better life overall and a chance for a better future for themselves + their families. I have always felt like there needs to be a purpose to the work you do, and I feel extremely proud to be working with WORK+SHELTER.”

-Erin Glanz, Collective Heart Founder

Erin Glanz, Curator of Collective Heart

Our CEO + Founder Theresa VanderMeer sat down (virtually!) with Erin Glanz, curator of Collective Heart, for a conversation about being women entrepreneurs and what it was like collaborating on the launch of our fair-trade accessories line. Collective Heart is owned by women, made by women, and loved by women.

Theresa and Erin were initially connected through a mutual friend and sparked a conversation over a LinkedIn message.

W+S: Tell us a little bit about that first conversation-

EG: I had been recently laid off due to Covid after 13 years working for the same company in wholesale apparel sales and it was the first time I had to look for a job in as long as I can remember. Then it was as if the universe threw me a bone when I got Theresa’s message… 

Originally she had contacted me to see if I may be interested in helping W+S with some outside sales for their promo items and custom goods for indie designers. As we chatted, I told her it was something I was sure I COULD do, since I do know how to do sales. However, I do not have any contacts in the promo world, so I would be really starting from square one in that regard. 

I explained that the majority of my contacts were all retail buyers and we began to discuss the possibility of bringing W+S products to the retail market. Of course, there were many, many logistics that would need to be discussed in the months to come, but it all started with this “what if…?” conversation.

W+S: Can you tell us a little bit more about your background and how it has made you uniquely suited for this collaboration?

EG: In my past job our focus was on clothing with a conscience, so I had the pleasure of working with many brands & specialty boutiques over the years that supported our organic, sustainable, fair trade, zero waste, made in the US, and/or woman-owned designers. So I was instantly drawn to the mission of W+S and the incredible work they are doing in the lives of the women who work for them. I also knew that many of the buyers that I have strong relationships with hold similar values and would absolutely love to support this company. It felt like such a natural fit. 

Because of my 13 years of working with eco-friendly designers and also directly with buyers and hearing their feedback on every design, I had a pretty clear idea of which styles were going to be the best to start out with for the first season—like the decision to start out with accessories only. We did have to go back and forth quite a bit about pricing in order to make the collection approachable and available to many types of stores. Most buyers do know that organic cotton is more expensive than conventional cotton or that fair trade goods are more expensive than mass produced, but we wanted it to feel inclusive rather than exclusive. 

My background also gave me the eyes to look at the collection from a buyer’s perspective, knowing that they like to place orders that will merchandise together. So I chose prints and created distinct color stories per delivery so that all of the prints, however different, could all work back to each other!

Left- Square Tote & Makeup Bag   |   Right- Market Tote & Dopp Pouch

W+S: We love all of the fun prints + colors! How did you go about finding the independent artists and subsequent artwork?

EG: I initially created a Pinterest board for print inspiration and discovered through one of the pins this site called Creative Market, which has the work of independent freelance artists from all over the world! We are using prints from women artists in the UK, Greece, Ukraine, Russia & Berlin.  I chose designs based on color stories, with a separate color story per delivery, but with a mix of prints that all merchandise well together. 

Prints are very subjective, so that is why I wanted to offer a wide variety per delivery. While some stores LOVED the ladies & tigers from our first collection (or first “drop” in industry lingo), others went more the tropical & abstract route… everyone tends to buy each collection a little differently, which is fun! When going over pricing, we kept coming back to the fact that digital printing costs more the larger the bag and screen printing could be less expensive, so we decided to also add in some screen prints. 

At that point, I was excited about adding in the “Give Back Tote of the Month” program, where I chose one screen print per month (2 for our third drop) that would correspond to and celebrate a nationally recognized holiday in the upcoming month and give back $1 of the sale of each bag to a non-profit or charitable organization associated with that holiday. In keeping with the overall mission of the brand, the organizations that were chosen were picked in order to help specifically women (and children) and any other marginalized groups they are a part of. 

A selection of prints from Drop 3 and Drop 4.

W+S: What are your top 3 go-to items from the collection?

EG: My favorite style since the first round of W+S samples I received has been the Market Tote! It is the perfect carry ALL and fits so much!! I love that it is fully lined and has 2 separate compartments and an inner zip pouch for your valuables. And I also love that on one side of the inner piece is another panel of print! 

I also love the Small Silk Scarf! I am on the busty side, so never have been into scarves since I always felt like they added bulk to an already large area on my body. But I have been loving the small size as a cute neckerchief & hair accessory. Also cute tied on your wrist or on a bag strap! 

And I do use the Silk Eye Mask every morning once the light starts creeping in. And it’s the best when I realize I still have a few hours to sleep and get to put my eye mask on and really fall back asleep in the dark! It’s probably my favorite few hours of sleep!

The Market Tote, Small Silk Scarf, & Silk Eye Mask.

W+S: What has it been like working with WORK+SHELTER so far?

EG: Working with W+S has been beyond a pleasure. Everyone has been incredibly professional, super detail-oriented and always follow-up on my millions of questions! I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and love a fellow salt of the earth Midwesterner, so Theresa (CEO + Founder of WORK+SHELTER) and I definitely got along right away. And we share a very strong work ethic so that always makes for a great working relationship. 

The entire team has been so lovely and accommodating and have consistently helped to find solutions to any challenges that have come up along the way.  It has been a true partnership where we have all invested so much time and energy and it is feeling so fulfilling to be so close to finally shipping our first delivery! We are currently working out the logistics to add some organic cotton tees and crewneck sweatshirts with fun screen prints into the Pre-Fall collection, which I am super excited about.

WORK+SHELTER team members enjoying a chai break on the roof of our production facility in Delhi, India.

W+S: Why is our mission so important to you personally as well as Collective Heart as a brand?

EG:  Knowing that the fashion industry is one of the most polluting and the most wasteful, it is hard to understand how any brand can close their eyes to this and keep doing what they have always been doing. It is also devastating to see how workers (especially women) have been treated in factories that produce fast fashion. I am so impressed by W+S’s efforts in helping women because it is not just about paying them a fair wage, but it is also about giving them a better life overall and a chance for a better future for themselves and their families. 

This project has definitely given me a purpose again and I feel extremely proud to be working with W+S. I personally feel that I really could not sell something that I didn’t believe in, and it is so rewarding to also be working with like-minded buyers that also share the same values and are so enthusiastic about this collaboration. My personal goal is to be able to sell enough Collective Heart so that W+S will be able to keep hiring more & more women!

Meenu, WORK+SHELTER tailor, hard at work while making the Collective Heart products.

W+S: Can you talk about some of the challenges and benefits of being a female entrepreneur?

EG: For me, since this is the first time I have ventured out on my own, the challenges I am facing are mainly just that of being a new entrepreneur and trying to figure it all out. I actually think the timing has been pretty good to become a new woman entrepreneur due to the current collective consciousness and this moment in time where there is so much active support of women-owned businesses. 

I have gotten a lot of empathy about my job loss and have gotten so much encouragement about turning it into something positive. And that support has helped me to believe that this was all possible! And I think we have all reevaluated priorities and values during this past year and I want to spend my time doing something good that supports other women because we are definitely stronger together! 

There is a sense of sisterhood that feels so amazing that connects the tailors at the production facility, the US-based team, the print designers, myself, my family, the women entrepreneur boutique owners and ultimately the end consumer who gets to enjoy the product that was realized due to the efforts of so many women’s heads, hands and hearts.

The Standard Tote in two of Erin’s favorite prints from Drop 3.

W+S: How many stores have picked up the line already? And how can stores get in contact with you if they’d like to place an order?

EG: We have been so thrilled by the amazing turn out of support for this brand new line, especially during a time when a lot of buyers are cutting down on the number of vendors they are working with and/or reassessing their inventory mix. 

We have had 26 stores pick up the line for Spring 21 so far, some with multiple locations so it will be in 30 doors. And there are many more interested in bringing in the next delivery! It has been really amazing to reconnect with buyers I have worked with for over a decade and they have been super supportive and very enthusiastic about the new endeavor of mine. I have also been fortunate to have connected with some new buyers that I am very excited about partnering with, and it is so fun to meet these lovely new women, whether on Zoom or just over email!

Anyone interested in taking a closer look at the line and potentially stocking it in their stores can reach out to me via email at [email protected] or at 786-253-1970 and I will be happy to send linesheets. 

A big THANK YOU goes out to Erin Glanz for taking the time to sit down with us and share her knowledge & experience! Keep an eye out at the end of the month for a GIVEAWAY with some of the fabulous Collective Heart products. 

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].

 

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 Holly developed The Fair Shirt Project.

THE PROCESS

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.

 

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.

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 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.

 

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 including button down shirts drop us a line at [email protected].

 

Theresa VanderMeer

-Founder + CEO