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Starting Out Sustainably

A lot of folks reach out to us because they want to create ethical and sustainable products. We have had three introductory calls in the past two weeks where someone wants it all on their launch item – sustainable fabrics, eco-friendly trims including labels and thread, eco-friendly printing, custom earth safe dyeing, compostable packing materials, fair trade local factories, etc. While we do promote each of these things and want our clients to get to this point eventually, launching with all of this is not always possible with a small budget or small volume. It is better to start somewhere rather than try to get every single detail on the first product. For components like organic thread or labels, the minimums and associated prices are often exceedingly high.

Think of the launch and growth of your product or brand in stages, knowing that you will reach your ultimate vision someday. Try to land one or two of the things on your list first. Sustainable fabric is more readily available than it used to be. And more manufacturers are working towards fair trade and more environmentally friendly business models. These two points are a great place to start as most of the impact to the earth from an apparel or accessory product comes from the raw materials and fabrics. The ethical impact comes from those who physically cut and sew your product at the factory level. An upgrade to sustainable trims can be added with the second batch of production and so on. Work towards your ideal product but start where you can manage your costs and minimums.

You likely will not be making custom fabric at the beginning either. Custom fabrics often come with a 1000 yard or more minimum. There are tons of stock fabrics in the world to choose from. Working with what is available instead of selecting a specific Pantone color to custom dye is the best way to go when launching a product. If you're using two different stock fabrics within one garment, they might not match exactly but that's OK. Maybe your jersey waistband only matches tonally or is a contrast color to the main woven fabric on the first batch. It is fine to start like this and work towards custom color matches in future production runs. We have worked with several very successful brands now who all started with one item, in one colorway that wasn't what they imagined as completely perfect. It is the idea that matters. And getting the idea out into the world.

It is a similar story with profit margins. The first production is often a small batch, maybe 100 to 300 units. This is a lot more expensive to make than 800 units. (See why here - The first round is often not a big money maker but if you stay in it for the long haul, the rewards come later. Like most things in life, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Start somewhere – you can do it!

(We highly recommend EcoEnclose for that compostable mailer and any packaging for your products. If you use our special referral link - - you'll get a $20 off discount for orders over $50. Any money we make from your purchase will be donated to The Nature Conservancy.)

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