By Michael Menninger, Founder & CEO, Far From Lost
Brands come to us all the time looking to source deadstock fabric and be more sustainable, but then they stop short when they realize they cannot find the exact fabric they want. The biggest problem with our current design model, is when you come up with the product idea first, you have to then source new fabric to fit the exact vision you have in your mind. This perpetuates our massive waste problem in the fashion industry. To be more sustainable you have to design differently. By using design thinking you can design FOR deadstock fabric and still build a successful sustainable fashion brand to scale. Here's a real life example of how one man did just that with the brand Far From Lost.
Discovering the Deadstock Problem
It began with a routine business meeting about manufacturing. It became something completely different.
I parked the car out front of the factory, the San Francisco fog gradually fading as sunlight filtered into the Dogpatch District. I’m here to meet Kathy, a manager who works for one of the biggest leather manufacturers in the States. Specifically, they make belts. Lots of belts.
After our meeting, Kathy offered to give me a tour of the factory floor. Intrigued, I readily agreed.
Lines of cutters, polishers and sewing machines intersect rows of tables and benches creating a meandering assembly line; an industrial vista lacking only some of those coin-operated binoculars you get at scenic overlooks. A single 100,000 square ft room, the efficiency is palpable. Henry Ford would be proud.
We walk the length of the room. By the time we reach the storage area, I’ve stopped attempting to keep my mouth closed and simply let it hang open. As someone somewhat obsessive about leather, I gaze up at the 20ft tall industrial shelving and the masses of pristine, exotic articles from all over the world. Some of it is eye-wateringly expensive.
Next to us is an enormous industrial laser cutter which is in the process of cutting out belts. A leather hide is placed onto the cutting surface, and the laser tracks out the various shapes. The leather the factory will use is removed and what’s left over resembles a jigsaw someone has abandoned halfway through. This is slung unceremoniously into a huge bin.
This bin was called the scrap box. The scrap box, Kathy elaborated, was then taken to the scrap room.
Inside the Scrap Room
The scrap room is a jungle of remnant leather. Boxes are stacked precariously a bit like when you play Tetris and things start well but then get a bit tetchy as you progress. I look into one of the boxes and see a piece of pristine leather the size of an immodest TV. I turn to Kathy and ask
“what happens to all this scrap?”
Nothing, she says. Nothing at all. It stays here. Occasionally they sell some. But mostly, it sits, unused, gathering dust.
Some of the boxes are labelled. “Cavalier Horween Euro Navy, 168 lbs.” “Glace CHRXL Gold Brown, 150 lbs.” Expensive, desirable articles. The thought of it going to waste makes me feel queasy.
I ask Kathy whether the scrap is for sale. She shrugs. Not many people are looking to buy it, but sure.
Outside, it’s a glorious day, though I don’t really notice as I walk back to my car in a daze. Instead, my mind is racing with the realization of opportunity. In that instant, I decided to start what would become Far From Lost. To travel to factories and tanneries sourcing the highest quality remnant leather, and use it to create individualistic, artisanal pieces which would do the quality of their materials justice.
The Wasteful Facts of How We Design
After my time at the leather belt factory I began doing some research to try and quantify this potential problem.
The next week I was in New York, and I googled leather accessory manufacturers in the city and in Brooklyn. I personally visited each of them, and came to the same conclusion - each manufacturer was creating many leather scraps from their cutting, with zero market for resale or repurpose.
From just a small handful of leather manufacturers that I visited over a week period, the amount of leather remnants created as a byproduct of cutting was roughly 100,000 square feet per year. And I’m only counting the pieces that were useable. Tiny scraps, strands and strings I am not factoring in. But this is a rough estimate.
After further research the raw facts are staggering:
Creating a Sustainable Solution
Remnant material should not be committed to landfill or left to stagnate. It is Far From Lost’s mission to create a marketplace for remnant materials across industries. Far From Lost sources the very best of these remnants, and makes luxury-competitive products from the discarded materials of others. Check out the sustainable collection at Far From Lost here.
If you have a great sustainable idea you'd like to launch, Ico Design Partners is the place to go. They helped Far From Lost go from idea to beautiful brand. See how here.
**If you are interested in applying design thinking to create a more sustainable fashion brand, join Deadstock District today. Get access to a private brand community to ask questions and swap resources AND shop our private Facebook Marketplace group to sell your fabric liability and source deadstock fabric.