MAGIC Trip Report: Kathleen pt.2

Continuing from part one, I found WRAP in Infopod #2. WRAP stands for Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production. It’s described as “an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to the certification of lawful, humane and ethical manufacturing throughout the world”. The way it works is a contractor signs up and WRAP will send an auditor (an accredited affiliate, WRAP doesn’t conduct audits themselves) to study the organization according to acceptance standards. Once accepted, the contractor is entered into a sourcing database and is required to pay a $895 annual fee as well as agreeing to annual monitoring. WRAP also provides sourcing services to access the database for $1,000 a year but I notice you can search the site directly for nothing. Be advised there are three levels of compliance awarded; I don’t know that the website indicates a contractor’s compliance level.

In the same vein as the organization above is Bureau Veritas, another standards organization (they’re also a certified monitor for WRAP). Bureau Veritas seems to focus more on quality assurance and contractor compliance according to your specified standards. BV does a lot of product testing (fibers, garment etc) according to either ASTM standard specifications or whatever terms you define. Unfortunately, their site makes short shrift of available services; their information packet was much more educational. I was hoping to copy and paste the information in but as I said, the blurbs on their site aren’t going to convince anyone of the need of their services. Too bad, although definitely geared for big players, they offer a comprehensive range of impressive and very valuable product certification services. Their information packet (and CD Rom) should be available on their site.

Another organization I found was Labor Law Inc, their tagline reads the “Employer Defense Corporation” which -sounding so contentious- leads me to hope you never need their services. They’re operating in California but no mention is made of whether they’re licensed to practice in other states. Perhaps they’d refer you. Their site says

Labor Law Employer Defense Corporation provides labor law consulting and legal services exclusively for EMPLOYERS in the United States and South America, including Mexico. Labor Law Employer Defense Corporation provides an array of services which will proactively address all issues relating to employment law as it applies to your workplace.Avoid Lawsuits, Prevent employee disaccords, and Establish a fair and comfortable working environment.

Among the product sourcing booths -most were Asian firms and the choices were overwhelming- I found #21258, a supplier of organic Kapok fabric. Their minimums are stratospheric (30,000 yards) but I wanted to mention this because this is a very sustainable fiber and I wish it were more accessible. The lady I spoke with is named Nancy (email). She explains that their US enterprise is very new but she is very eager to develop relationships with distributors here (and actually, happy to talk to any of you regarding your needs) so that they can more easily serve the designer market for organic fabrics. If you know anyone who is interested in this product, point them accordingly. I have every confidence that Kapok will become another sustainable alternative even though it is largely unknown at this time. With demand and a distribution network, I have no doubt we can get those minimums down.

Perhaps I should explain what Kapok is; it’s a tree born fiber. It looks like cotton but doesn’t require anywhere near the processing. Formerly it had only been used as filler for pillows and such but that is a poor use considering its benefits. Speaking of, Kapok is the lightest fiber in the world; 80% hollow with high thermal properties (60%-80% higher than polyester) which is why it is ideal as filler in down jackets and technical outerwear. It also makes great fabrics, including blankets. The hand is very soft. It reminds me of cashmere. It takes dye readily and can be woven in any configuration. I’m surprised a company like Patagonia isn’t using it. I’ll probably write more about it later but I have a learning curve to climb.

Then I went to US sourcing consortium with TC2 and the really big mills. There, they pretty much ignore you, or maybe it was just me. I didn’t collect any sourcing stuff because you just know it’s only accessible to the really big players. Sigh.

Off to the side, next to them though, I hit pay dirt. I found the Textile Technology Center and did the whole fiber geek-out thing with Michael Hubbard (National Council of Textile Organizations) and John Anderson, director of the Textile Technology Center at Gaston College. Ever heard of these guys? Me neither but I definitely want to know more. As it turns out, the TCC is kind of like the TC2 of fabric and they do fabric product development. They do incredibly fast turn around, like two weeks. They also do any kind of textile testing you can think of. This is one place I definitely want to visit; it’s all fiber technology. Boy, I wish I could swing a gig over in that part of the world (NC) to pay for my trip. I learned a lot of interesting things from these guys (as we debated sustainability vs organics). One interesting thing was, you know that fabric made from recycled plastic bottles (such as Repreve from Unifi) and how expensive it is? As it turns out, it’s expensive -not due to processing or recycling- but due to supply. They can’t get enough bottles. Who knew? As they explained to me, mills have gotten out of producing that fabric because they can’t get inputs in the door. It sounds like recycling programs need to be more comprehensive (plastics aren’t collected around here) or there’s a bottleneck in distribution. I really enjoyed talking to these guys, very open minded. Mike completely understood why I don’t have much sympathy for US textile producers who can’t renovate their practices to supply smaller companies. The TCC is a lobbying group, maybe we can lobby them :).

I think this post is long enough. More to come in part three…

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