Simple things like where our clothes come from make a huge impact on our environment. The fashion industry is one of the biggest factors of climate change. We’ve heard all about how as consumer expectations continue to change, the fashion industry continues to worsen to meet those expectations. According to Business Insider, in 2014, people bought 60% more clothing items than in 2000. A study that analyzed greenhouse gas emissions of the textile industry in China found that it was responsible for 4 to 8 billion tons of GHG emissions from 2000 to 2011, and 18.5 billion tons in 2020. But, what are we doing to combat these impacts? One non-profit in Tempe, Arizona is sustainably restructuring the fashion industry for fashion entrepreneurs.
FABRIC Incubator was founded in 2016 when designers Angela Johnson and Sherri Barry faced the lack of manufacturing resources outside of Los Angeles, and the unsustainable options for entrepreneurs wanting to get into the industry.
According to this UN report, the fashion industry is responsible for 2-8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The UN says it takes 10,000 liters of water to grow the cotton needed for one pair of jeans, which is equivalent to a person’s water supply for 10 years.
Johnson says that the lack of resources forces aspiring fashion entrepreneurs to rely on manufacturing their clothes overseas in unsustainable factories. Research by the Harvard Business Review found that companies in countries with stricter environmental regulations offshore more often “particularly in countries with laxer environmental standards,” making them susceptible to excess inventory that gets burned or sent to landfills. The research found that tighter regulation results in a 43% increase in emissions abroad.
“By re-shoring manufacturing and making small batches, that is the number one way that we are sustainable,” Johnson said.
As of today, FABRIC has helped 800 apparel entrepreneurs start their business locally without over-production overseas. They've also provided $6.8 million in free and discounted programs and services.
“That’s the main reason that we started this, is so that somebody with a good idea for a niche product could compete with the industry, with the bigger brands. And we are doing that by providing them with all the resources they need to get through all the complexities,” Johnson said.
The company offers many resources to help entrepreneurs start their business and create their product. They have several scholarships that give recipients access to resources and education needed to enter the market. The City of Tempe granted the non-profit access to the city’s Performing Arts center, and it is now a full time event space and runway with a photography studio, makeup room, audio visual equipment, and so much more for designers to bring their designs to the spotlight.
One of FABRIC’s biggest accomplishments is that they manufactured 800,000 reusable hospital gowns to help minimize PPE waste during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. They claim this initiative helped keep 80 million disposable medical gowns away from landfills. President Biden and Vice President Harris visited to recognize this effort to minimize waste in the healthcare industry.
Another initiative is their creation of Arizona Eco Fashion Week where they feature local sustainable brands. They also started their “reFABRICate” program where the scraps left over from designs are donated to local designers to be re-purposed rather than sent to landfills. They get turned into new garments, insulation, bedding for dogs, and even art installations. FABRIC has also partnered with the Centers for Habilitation to re-purpose Arizona State University’s old banners into tote bags that are sold at ASU campus stores.
ASU’s president, Michael Crow awarded them the President’s Award for Sustainability for this effort. FABRIC was also awarded the AZ Department of Environmental Quality's Voluntary Environmental Stewardship Program Award.
Their growth and demand has been evident throughout the years. They have held tours for entrepreneurs wanting to get started every week since FABRIC was founded. Barry even opened a second factory down the street to help keep up with the demand for automated manufacturing for designers that have grown out of FABRIC.
Johnson says that it’s important for everyone to think about how the clothes we wear every day are impacting our planet.
“The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry on the planet, so if you want to get to the core root of why things are so messed up, that has to be one of the things that we all care about. And all of us wear clothes, so this is all of our responsibility,” she said.
Disclaimer: As a member of the Digital Audience Lab at Arizona State University, I work directly with FABRIC Incubator for their marketing needs. This is not for profit and simply a learning experience offered by the school.