Note: These are our opinions, and while we're very passionate about our views, we're not dogmatic. If something we say doesn't seem to hold water, or if there is more we should know, please start the conversation. We're out to build a company that is always evolving, and at the start there is plenty of clay to mold.
Pt. 2 - Materials, life cycles, and design
Welcome to the second installment of our three part series on sustainability. Having a consistent conversation about sustainability and what it means is part of how we will hold ourselves accountable as a company. These articles are intended to be a conversation starter. The more we talk about it the more it becomes a part of our daily lives, and ultimately a part of the fabric of the brand.
The apparel industry is the world's second largest polluter, second only to oil. What drives this waste is an overflow of clothing production, major shifts from natural fibers to synthetics, and the fuel used to facilitate the process. Beyond the material, there are aspects of durability, repairability, style, and design that contribute significantly to the overall environmental impact of a piece of clothing. Because our industry creates a physical product, the first place to start in curbing environmental impact is the raw material.
Green materials and their challenges
Over 95% of our sampled fabrics are either organic, recycled, or otherwise environmentally friendly. Organic, natural materials minimize water usage in the growing process. Keeping post processing to a minimum saves water after the fabric has been created. Most of the recycled fabrics we're working with come from post-consumer plastic bottles that would otherwise end up in a landfill or incinerator. We also believe that by using a wide range of available materials, we can spread the impact over a wider range of sources.
There are instances when choosing to produce organic or recycled can be cumbersome for a small business. The biggest barrier is cost. There is a definite increase in price for green material over its identical (but not green) counterpart. Along with higher costs often comes higher minimum yardage required to order. This can force a small brand to make choice between making a significant investment far in advance of when they'll be making sales, or to go the more budget friendly route of ordering the cheaper fabric with (often) lower minimums.
Higher costs affect both the brand and the customer by leading to higher retail prices. As production and material costs go up, those costs are multiplied in relation to the final retail price. The business has to be confident in the value of its product and the customer has to be willing to pay for a clean, well-made garment. The prices will be higher, but the impact will be lower. Good clothing is rarely cheap.
Durability & Repairability
Over 80 billion garments are produced annually, and that number is projected to grow at a fast pace due to trends in fast fashion and a growing global middle class. Paying $12 for a top at Zara is not paying its true price. That shirt is subsidized by a supply chain focused on racing to the bottom of the cost scale.
In developing countries, fabric mills and sewing factories are working overtime to keep up with increasing demand for cheap clothing.
These factories are often unsafe, have poor working conditions, and pay very low wages. A survey by McKinsey & Company found that the average consumer bought 60% more clothing in 2014 than in 2000, but kept each garment half as long. Add to this that the average U.S. resident throws away 70 pounds of clothing per year and we've got a serious issue.
Here we come to one of our main beliefs at LIVSN: A product that performs well and stands up to extended use is as sustainable as it gets.
A product's full life cycle should be considered as important as its initial production impact.
We have a guideline when choosing fabrics for development: Strive to utilize organic or recycled materials unless we firmly believe that by using virgin materials the product will last longer and serve its purpose better. If we can build a product that lasts twice as long, but to do it we have to use a virgin fabric, then we believe it's the right choice to do so. By buying once and buying for life, we're able to consume less.
Clothing can be repairable as a function of its design. We're designing our products so that when life happens and they inevitably fail, they can be repaired easily. It's not hard to design this way, but it takes an intention. An intention to put in a little more effort in support of a common good. We want you to put our clothes to the test, and we're prepared to stand behind them with a full warranty.
Style and dynamic use
One aspect of clothing not often discussed in relation to sustainability is style. Our way of approaching sustainable style is to use classic silhouettes, refined and tested materials, and clean, modern fits.
For the majority of our line, we are using versatile colorways such as navy, khaki, olive, grey, and white to make it easier to pair pieces in multiple ways. That's not to say that there isn't a place for more flamboyant pieces (and we'll probably release some wild combinations in the future) but the majority of the time, a high quality and understated wardrobe offers incredible range. In keeping with this, our branding and style elements are kept minimal and tasteful so as not to overwhelm the piece or draw undue attention. Our idea is to look good, not flashy, from across the room. To become more interesting as you step closer, noticing that there is something inherently nice about the piece as you pick up on details that are understated on purpose, but functional by design. We want you as the wearer to feel special, but not to call attention to it.
When we say we are designing dynamic clothing, we mean we're intending for the piece to be usable in a wide range of activities. We approach this with the intention of avoiding the classic jack of all trades, master of none outcome. There are differences in what's needed on a hot sunny day vs what is needed in a winter storm. What we want is for you to be able to wear LIVSN clothing to the trail, to the pub, or to the (casual) office and not look out of place. It's a target often aimed for, and sometimes hit, but it's not easy. When we use technical fabrics and construction, we work to hide those details in a casual look. When we are making a casual shirt, we look to include just one detail that gives the wearer away as an outdoor native.
The end result
We hope to come out in the end with something that is inarguably unique, but also familiar. A refined collection dedicated to the highest standards of craftsmanship and mindfulness. We hope you share our values and will help us in our journey to keep what matters and create essentials, not basics.
- Pt. 1 - Setting the stage and lowering the barrier
- Pt. 2 - Materials, life cycles, and design
- Pt. 3 - Sustainable corporate thinking (coming soon)
To those of you who are keeping up with these posts, thank you. Please comment, email, or message us with your thoughts. We're looking to include you in the process.
If you haven't already joined, please sign up for The Pipeline, our email list, by following the link below. By signing up you will be eligible for early bird pricing and perks at launch and we'll also send you a free LIVSN sticker in the mail!
Words: Andrew Gibbs-Dabney, Founder
Photos: Trent Sugg & Ian Caple
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