Choosing an ethical factory to partner with involves a lot of thought and research. Knowing what to look for and which questions to ask are important in establishing the ethical credentials of the factory and whether it is a good ‘fit’ for you. We reached out to Ellen Saville, one of our sustainability experts and co-founder of the fantastic deadstock knitwear brand - The Endery - for her thoughts on the matter. Ellen has a wealth of experience in this field having worked with Latin American artisans in the handmade textiles industry and launched sustainable productions for well known brands such as Nike, and Banana Republic. Let's find out what she had to say.
1|. What criteria do you consider when choosing a factory?
When searching for a partner factory, there are plenty of factors to consider. For anyone new to the space, I would suggest starting with some reading and research, and beginning with the set 'sustainable development goals' set by the UN, understanding which are important to you and why. You might be wanting to focus on gender equality, or more social and human concerns, or you might have more environmental focused goals. Ranking these and understanding your targets as a brand helps, and will help you refine which partner is a good fit for you. Personally, I trust my instincts and have a few core questions which usually are a great way to see if a partnership will work from the get go - if they are working on / or have certifications, and if they have any sustainability goals for the next few years”.
2|. What ethical or sustainable certifications do you look for?
Fair trade and B-Corp are always great options, and seem to be the most popular certifications. However, smaller factories may not have the access or revenue to invest as certifications can be extremely expensive. B-Corp is the most thorough and complete certificate when working with overseas producers, and the label carries a lot of credibility. For fibers, GOTs ensures safe working conditions and low impact on the environment regarding the specific area of production being audited, which I believe to be extremely important. The Nest Homeworker Seal offers a cohesive certification process, created for supply chains made specifically for homeworkers, and particularly speaks to me since I have worked predominantly with craftspeople and artisans. The CFDA has some amazing resources on sustainability, including a free toolkit”.
3|. Do you have any suggestions to enable factory check-ins?
It's a great idea to ask for a 'virtual tour' which can give you an overall view of worker safety / conditions and what the interiors look like. Although not the complete picture, it's helpful. Factories can be busy so don't be put off if it's difficult to arrange something like this! Now that the world is opening up, we can expect to see more client visits with brands wanting to visit in person, which should never be a problem, and the factory should help support travel plans and access. However, please bear in mind that factories aren't often open to visitors unless you are a client, to help protect their workers. Some regulations around COVID are still preventing in-person visits, so make sure to check in directly”.
As with most things, it is essential to do your homework before jumping into partnership with a factory. Here are a few additional suggestions to help you get a more thorough picture of the ethical and sustainable processes within a factory:
Wanting to improve your brand's sustainability efforts but unsure how to move forward with maximum impact? We have the perfect course for you! Our Sustainable Summer Seminar Series has only one class left. This one hour foundations webinar is designed to cover all the core tenants of sustainability and equip you with what you need to begin building your strategy. Brands of all size are welcome so RSVP now!
* The Endery is a waste textile hub that explores circularity through craft. Using deadstock yarns and other types of textile waste they create beautiful knitwear collections and collaborate with other brands to bring their designs to life. Make sure you check out the inspiring work and beautiful products Ellen and her co-founder Kelly Phenicie are producing.