Updated: Jul 24, 2020
Introducing HxN: back to basics
Has sustainable fashion piqued your interest but you still consider yourself a newbie? Then you have come to the right place! I would like to introduce a new article series here at HxN which focuses on the fundamentals of the sustainable fashion movement because we all have to start somewhere, right? Join us as we cover topics such as the fashion supply chain, explain exactly what circular economy is, and provide you with a glossary of terms which will leave you feeling like a pro in no time. We will jumpstart the series with the fashion supply chain. In fact, you can read it right here, just scroll down, see you there.
The Fashion Supply Chain
The fashion supply chain, simply put, is the process in which clothes are born. It starts with a seed and ends with a garment. Let’s walk through this process together. Using cotton as a simplistic example we can say that the supply chain begins at the farm. It starts with the planting of seeds and the cultivation of cotton. The next step of the chain is the harvest. Harvesting and collecting the bales of cotton which then go into the next step of the chain, ginning. Ginning is the process in which the seed and the contaminants such as foreign plant matter are removed. This is particularly important because “cotton essentially has no commercial value or use until the fiber is separated from the cottonseed'' (Sinclair, 2014). There are essentially two kinds of ginning: saw ginning and roller ginning, saw ginning being more efficient in high production rates but causes greater damage to the fibers in the cleaning process, while roller ginning is more gentle while separating the fibers from the seeds but is not as efficient in the removal of foreign matter (ibid).
After ginning, the fibers move onto the fourth step in the supply chain which is spinning. Here, the fibers abandon their original form and are spun together to create long drawn strands. The strands form yarn. The yarn then moves onto the next stage: dyeing. Dyeing these strands so they achieve their preferred color can be done in a myriad of ways both natural and synthetic. Natural dyeing options range from using berries, nuts, veggies, and more to create varying hues. It should be noted that not all fabrics respond well to natural dyeing methods and in fact, the fabrics that respond the best are based in natural fibers themselves: silk, wool, cotton, and linen (Maslowski, 2014). Synthetic dyes on the other hand are “manufactured from organic molecules” (Williams). Prior to the discovery of “synthetic” or “chemical” dyes in 1856 colorants were created through the medium of natural products (flowers, roots, vegetables, insects, minerals, wood, and mollusks). The use of natural dyes allowed for more room for error, making it far more difficult to create a more uniform and consistent color between varying batches. Dyes can be absorbed by the fibers, attached to the surface of the fiber, or “interact with the fiber’s molecules” (ibid).
After the desired color has been achieved the dyed yarn is then moved to weaving. Weaving is “a fabric construction where two sets of threads, the warp and the weft, interlace to create cloth” (Shields, 2015). Weaving is a multi-step process in itself, most of the steps involving preparing the selected yarn to be woven. After the yarn has been selected and woven into workable cloth it moves onto the next step, finishing.
Finishing, surprisingly not the final step in the supply chain, refers to the process where the woven material is then treated to make it a usable material “to improve the look, performance, or hand of the finished textile or clothing.” This process also includes any chemicals used to improve the product. This stage’s objective is to “enhance the suitability of the fabric for end-use and to improve appearance and sale appeal for comfort and utility” (ibid). The final step before the garment moves onto brands and retailers is sewing, this is where the garment is assembled into the familiar pieces we see on the racks of our favorite stores. Understanding the fashion supply chain and knowing that it can be transformed into a traceable and transparent mechanism is a great step towards being a part of the sustainable fashion movement.
Author: Hailey Matarese
Editor: Alondra Magana
Maslowski, D., 2014. Natural Dyes For Fabric: All Natural Ways To Dye Fabric Different Colors. [online] DIY Natural. Available at: <https://www.diynatural.com/natural-fabric-dyes/> [Accessed 2 June 2020].
Scitechnol.com. n.d. Textile Finishing Treatment | Scitechnol | Journal Of Fashion Te. [online] Available at: <https://www.scitechnol.com/textile-engineering/textile-finishing-treatment.php> [Accessed 2 June 2020].
Shields, H., 2015. Guide To Weaving. [online] Make Works. Available at: <https://make.works/blog/guide-to-weaving> [Accessed 2 June 2020].
Sinclair, R., 2014. Textiles And Fashion. Elsevier.
Williams, R., n.d. Chemical And Synthetic Dyes. [online] Fashion-
history.lovetoknow.com. Available at: <https://fashion-history.lovetoknow.com/fashion-clothing-industry/chemical-synthetic-dyes> [Accessed 2 June 2020].