What happens when you try to investigate the supply chain...
A company that "doesn't know" where it buys its raw materials. Reassuring!
Happy Easter and Happy Pesach, if you celebrate.
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Happily a lot of people say they enjoy these newsletters (but of course you'll be the judge of that!) and it's my sincere hope that my humble sustainability-themed musings may become part of your Sunday ritual.
You'll find an archive of past newsletters, here. Popular editions were the "Cradle to Cradle" certification explainer, and the interview with Rachel, who runs the warehouse that picks and packs Luxtra orders (Rachel's lovely, but the true star was Brian, the warehouse dog).
Fashion's supply chain is a global one.
Today we're talking supply chains. But before we get stuck in, let's make sure we're on the same page, definition-wise. A supply chain is defined as:
The entire process of making and selling commercial goods, including every stage from the supply of materials and the manufacture of goods, through to their distribution and sale.
The supply chain is the most important aspect of a company's sustainability effort. For example, as we saw a few weeks back, 81% of an iPhone's carbon footprint occurs during the manufacturing stage.
Source: Apple's iPhone 13, product environmental report.
Early on in my sustainable-fashion journey, I met with an expert on the topic. Whilst I can no longer recall her name, I vividly recall the meeting - because I felt humiliated.
Why? The woman didn't mince her words: I clearly didn't know about sustainable fashion. My faux pas? I had asked her what she meant by "Tier 1 and 2" suppliers.
The fashion supply chain: Tiers 4 through to 0 Image courtesy of @aumanufacturing
So whilst she of course had a point, I'm a sensitive soul and took her comment personally. On the positive side, I subsequently did my research and supply chain "tiers" have now been etched into my soul.
Per the above image, the fashion industry has 5 overarching tiers: Tier 4 through to Tier 0 (not at all confusing).
Tier 4 is the starting point: it's where basic raw materials are grown, mined or otherwise generated. For clothing this might be growing the cotton, for leather bags this might be the slaughter of the cow, for synthetic textiles it might be the mining of fossil fuels.
Tier 3 suppliers are our processors: they take the raw materials and knock them into shape, ready for the next stage.
Tier 2 suppliers produce items needed to assemble the finished product (fabric, vegan 'leather', zips, buttons, trims etc.)
Tier 1 suppliers manufacture the finished product. These are the ateliers and factories that cut, sew, assemble and package the fully finished bags / shoes / jackets / dresses, ready for shipment.
Tier 0 is known as "direct operations" and involves offices, transport, warehouses and shops.
The "Who Made My Clothes" campaign brings much needed attention to the humans in the supply chain.
Being a "sustainable" brand demands an understanding of one's supply chain - the whole supply chain. So whilst it's increasingly common to read on brand websites that they "visit their factories" and, almost as common to learn that they "work with small family enterprises" (ah huh), this touches only on Tier 1, and maybe Tier 2, if we're lucky.
But companies need to dig deeper and go further upstream if they are serious about sustainability.
For example, your jacket / dress / bag has a zip or other metal components. Well, where did the metal physically come from? In what country was it mined? Were children involved in the process? What about modern-slavery (which is far more prevalent than any of us would wish to acknowledge)?
Last year I began the process of going upstream, attempting to obtain information about the materials used in Luxtra's own supply chain. My enquiries, despite putting them as charmingly as I could, were met with either platitudes or hostility (as we saw with Virginia's email at the start of this newsletter).
Right now I don't have concrete answers to the above questions vis-a-vis Luxtra. As a small company, we are but a pittance for many of our suppliers. In these situations however, I pep myself up by telling myself that Luxtra can be the trailblazer, we can start asking these harder questions. When I first visited Première Vision (the world's leading textile fair) in 2017, I was asking about vegan leathers. The exhibitors barely knew what to say. A few short years later however, the alternative leather sector is booming.
So, as much as I am writing about supply chains for you, dear reader, it's also a memo to myself to get back on the horse and to keep asking those thorny questions...
As always, I thought this edition would be a short one! Thanks for sticking with me. I hope it's provided some food for thought...
Bye for now!
LUXTRA Founder | Supply Chain Investigator* | Proud B Corp-er
* or rather attempting to...