Sustainability

American Pride

Emma the Lion is 100% American, building a community of fashion hustlers in Houston, Texas and from sea to shining sea.

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I believe in voting with my dollars, and supporting business practices that I feel are right and just. I want to do businesses with companies that don’t exploit their workers. This is why I like working with American companies: American fair labor laws provide enormous protections for workers. I also just believe in meeting the people you’re working with: shaking their hand and meeting their employees.

I’m not saying I won’t do business with the right foreign fabric or apparel manufacturer, but I am saying that before I pay, I investigate.

How You Too Can Vote with Your Dollars

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  1. Know what “Made in USA” Means, and Doesn’t Mean

Textile products that are “all or virtually all” made in the U.S. can bear the label “Made in USA.”

What does this mean? The Federal Trade Commission has a lot to say about this, but I like this example:

Example: A table lamp is assembled in the U.S. from American-made brass, an American-made Tiffany-style lampshade, and an imported base. The base accounts for a small percent of the total cost of making the lamp. An unqualified Made in USA claim is deceptive for two reasons: The base is not far enough removed in the manufacturing process from the finished product to be of little consequence and it is a significant part of the final product.
— FTC Website

How does this apply to a garment? If a garment has an unqualified “Made in USA” label, then its seller should have considered not only (i) the country where the garment is manufactured, but also (ii) the country of origin for the substantial amount of materials (including fabric) used to make the garment. If both USA, then Made in USA.

2. Two percent of the Clothing Americans Buy is Made in USA

The apparel industry today is hugely valuable. But profits are high when costs are low and it’s cheaper to produce clothing outside of the US than in the US. Ergo, only 2% of the clothing we buy today is Made in the USA. The average U.S. garment worker may be paid about 38 times more than the wage of their counterpart in Bangladesh.

So, give yourself a pat on the back if you’ve supported a brand that makes its clothing in the USA. You’ve supported fair, living wages for another human.

3. Customization is America

As a designer, one of the best parts about making things in America is that I can take more risks, be more creative, and “customize” my designs. Being able to sit across a table with my amazing pattern-maker, and review a pattern in person, is magical. Especially since some of my designs — most, I hope — are “different.” I don’t think I would have a very easy time creating the Athena from halfway across the world. American workshops can move quickly and are more artisan-based than volume-based, allowing creations such as the Athena to come to life.

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In conclusion, thank you America.

x o x - Emma

Sustainability: Environmental Impact Achievement

I care very much about the environmental impact of this business, or its “sustainability”. I’ve written about the ambiguity of “sustainability” before, here, but nonetheless, I pursue “sustainability” in this business. This week I made an exciting, positive discovery regarding the ecological sustainability of the fabrics used in ETL’s first collection.

Sustainability of Fibers and Fabrics used by ETL

As a fashion consumer, I felt endlessly frustrated by companies making vague claims regarding “sustainability” without providing details. I want to know the type of sustainability — environmental, ecological, fair trade? I want to know what stage of production is being described as “sustainable” — fiber production? fabric creation? garment sewing? If I can’t get those details, I assume they don’t pass the sniff test.

My exciting discovery this weekend concerns the environmental sustainability of the fibers used to make the fabrics used in ETL’s first collection. (You can read more about ETL’s “societal” sustainability measures here.)

Exciting Discovery

The environmental impact of the production of the Micro-Modal and Spandex fibers that comprise the “95% Micro-Modal / 5% Spandex” fabric utilized to make Athena with the Sashes, Jane with the Chain, Morgana with the Silk Rope, Jo with the Bandolier, and the drapes in Maureen with the Drapes, scores better than 52% of other fibers on Higgs Sustainability Index, a recognized tool used by professionals in the fashion industry to estimate the sustainability of fabrics.

And now the details. What is Higgs and what kind of “sustainability” does it measure?

It’s very specific. Higgs was founded 10 years ago as part of a partnership between Wal-Mart and Patagonia, called the “Sustainable Apparel Coalition.” Higgs measures the impact of the production of fibers on:

  1. climate change (20% weight);

  2. eutrophication (artificial enrichment of bodies of water due to runoff) (20% weight);

  3. fossil fuel depletion (20% weight);

  4. water scarcity (20% weight); and

  5. chemical impact (20% weight).

Higgs does not measure the environmental impact of “downstream” practices after the yarn’s creation: fabric production, garment production, consumer care (A large portion of a garment’s environmental impact comes from consumer care — between 40 - 70% depending on who you ask.)

Why did this “fiber blend” score well?

One big reason: the Micro-Modal fiber (95%). This fiber is made exclusively by the Lenzing Group in Austria. Lenzing, as Higgs tells me, have a rare “vertically integrated” yarn plant, meaning the entire process for creating the fiber is contained within one plant: everything from harvesting wood to spinning, knitting, coloration and finishing. This is very rare in Viscose/Modal/Lyocell fiber production. In comparison to other factories, the vertically integrated Lenzing factory significantly reduces fossil energy consumption due to the re-use of excess energy recovered from pulping process in the actual fiber production process.

Using Lenzing’s Micro-Modal fiber — as opposed to regular Modal — decreases the overall environmental impact of the production of this fiber by almost 25 points on the Higgs Sustainability Index.

Finally, what can we do better?

The issue is complex. I worked really hard to find beautiful fabrics that were made in the USA for the first ETL collection. I can’t live with the idea of unfair labor practices in the development of my business. I tabled the environmental impact issue because I was still researching and I didn’t want to make un-substantiated claims. What can ETL do better?

  1. I’m on the hunt for fabrics (i) made in countries with fair labor laws, or at least made under fair labor conditions, (ii) that score even higher on the Higgs Index, and (iii) that fit my fashionable and artistic sensibilities.

  2. I’m also on the hunt for other objectively verifiable measures of “sustainability” as it relates to the environment. The Higgs Index is great, but it is not the be-all-end-all. It measures one small part in the process — the fiber production process — which ultimately culminates in an ETL garment. The other parts of the process are important as well.

xo, Emma