This week is Fashion Revolution Week, marking the anniversary of the devastating Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh. Killing 1,138 people and injuring over 2,000, it is the fourth largest industrial disaster in history. There were five garment factories in Rana Plaza and all of them were manufacturing for big global brands.
This devastating tragedy inspired the launch of Fashion Revolution, a global movement to campaign for a clean, safe, fair and accountable fashion industry. Each year they run a campaign throughout the week called #WhoMadeMyClothes, asking brands to be transparent about their supply chain and encouraging consumers to ask brands where their clothes actually come from.
Transparency and traceability are at the heart of Riley Studio and we strive to provide our community with as much information as possible. We currently list each stage of our supply chain on each product page and we love answering any questions that our community might have.
For this year’s Fashion Revolution Week, we wanted to talk to you about our Global Supply Chain. During this worldwide pandemic of Covid-19, we have been reminded of just how connected we all are and how reliant on each other we are - whether that is in our supply chains or as a global population. More importantly we are reminded that we all share an equal responsibility to protect and preserve our planet and the people that inhabit it.
When the Covid-19 crisis started to unfold, the only thing that affected us in the first instance was our garment labels, which are made in China. But soon, like most companies, our whole business turned upside down and all of our plans for 2020 were abruptly halted as the pandemic raged across the world. As a small brand, (we’re only a team of 5), it could now have a drastic impact on our business but we’re doing everything we can to stay afloat.
Being so interlinked, we must all take responsibility for ensuring we look after each other. We’ve committed to not cancelling any of our orders so that we do not negatively impact anyone in our supply chain. At the moment we’re unsure when the new collection will drop but we’re working with all of our partners to ensure everyone is safe and healthy as a priority, and we’ll figure everything else out as and when we can.
For many who don’t work in the fashion industry, it might be difficult to conceive just how many people go into making a garment and how many stages there are. What has been really highlighted during this time is that without everyone doing their job at each different stage, there is no product and consequently, no business. We wouldn’t be anywhere without the dedication and work of our global supply chain so we wanted to illustrate the journey of one of our upcoming garments to show you what really goes into making a product.
The Journey of our Organic Cotton Workwear Jacket
Step 1 - Design and Development
Our products are the most important aspect of everything we do. As a brand we take responsibility for their entire life cycle and ensure that what we produce adds value to our community, and the world. The last thing we want to do is create a product that will add to the problem. We design to minimise waste, creating only desirable products with a purpose, ethically sourced and consciously crafted.
We were set up with a mission to tackle overproduction and overconsumption, and so our products are designed for life, not just a season. They must stand the test of time, whilst having minimal impact on the environment. So our primary concern is to understand what the product’s life cycle will be. We need to ensure that we do not create additional ‘textile waste’ and ensure that our products can be easily recycled at the end of their life-cycle.
Even at this stage of the design process we would involve a number of our team in London. Led by our Creative Lead, Jenna, and our Founder and Creative Director, Riley, we like it to be a collaborative process.
We have key principles that we focus on when designing any new product - fit, durability, versatility and style. So when looking at what pieces were missing from our sustainable wardrobe, we felt this traditional workwear inspired jacket was the perfect year round piece. We wanted it to be a twist on the classic style, and include our subtle detailing to make it unique.
Step 2 - Choosing the Raw Material
Once we’ve established our design, we look at what fabric would best suit the style. For the Workwear Jacket we felt an Organic Cotton twill would give it the versatility we wanted.
The global consumption of regular cotton releases around 220 million tonnes of CO2 a year. Organic cotton is grown without harmful chemicals, leaving the soil, air and water free from pesticides and encouraging biodiversity. It produces nearly 50% less CO2 than regular cotton and uses less water as it's rain fed rather than putting pressure on local resources. By using organic cotton we are making a conscious decision to invest in better farmer livelihood and a slower method of producing natural fibres.
We work with Codefine to purchase the supply of our organic cotton. With over 75 years and three generations of experience, Codefine is a trusted global cotton supplier and has a collective of organic cotton farmers across Pakistan, Egypt, India and China. Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified, we can be assured that they adhere to the strict regulations to protect both people and planet. At the moment, we cannot trace our supply chain directly back to the individual farmer, which is something we are actively working towards.
What we do know is that during all phases of cultivation, harvesting and transformation, no synthetic chemicals have been used, only natural products and the seeds have not been genetically modified.
It's hard to imagine the many hands that are involved throughout all phases of cultivation, harvesting and transformation. From extracting, ginning, purifying, drying and finishing the cotton, many months of hard work goes into creating a workable fibre for us to turn into a fabric.
Step 3 - From Fibre to Fabric
We chose to work with Olmetex to source our Organic Cotton, a leading fabric mill based in Como, Italy.
Before committing to any supplier our Sustainability Lead, Laura, does a thorough review of our various options. When choosing a fabric supplier, we are not only looking at the sustainable properties of the fabric itself, but the mill's commitment to sustainability. Established in 1954, Olmetex stood out to us as a mill prioritising transparency, traceability and innovation. They have a number of certifications including GOTS, Global Recycling Standard, OCS 100 and OCS Blended. Since 2010 the company has committed itself to eliminating the use of harmful substances by adopting a greener approach and a commitment to eliminate dangerous chemical substances in every phase of the production process. They have also installed a cogeneration plant capable of producing renewable electricity as well as thermal energy for heating the factory.
At Olmetex, the cotton is spun onto rigid cones before being warped and woven by state of the art machinery. The dying is not done at Olmetex but with an external partner, who is also GOTS certified. The finishing department at Olmetex is where the company stands out in the market, with their ability to develop and enable fabrics through a technical and performance finish.
Again, to quantify how many people this process takes is very difficult, but across the numerous stages there are multiple experts working on the development of our fabric.
Step 4 - Sampling
Before we go into production we work on perfecting the design in the correct fabric. To make a sample our in house production team will have worked behind the scenes with our freelance pattern cutter, Hanna, to develop the patterns which are then sent to our freelance toile expert, Anzela, before being sent to the manufacturer.
To build a strong relationship with the team, we sample at the same location as our production and make sure there is no breakdown in the development of the garment. Once with our manufacturer, their sampling team work to develop our prototype. This alone takes 10 people, from the person cutting the sample, over to the machinist, to the under press, then the button hole specialist, and finally on to the end press and quality control. And that’s just for one sample!
Back at HQ, we test the final sample before going into production. We’ve recently launched our RS Insiders programme which is a group of individuals who will act as ambassadors and a sounding board for fittings, designs and new styles. Sadly we couldn't put this into practice as planned for our new Collection 04 so for the Workwear Jacket we had two fit models (male and female) to test the product. Lost count of how many people involved yet?
The final stage before production is to send the pattern off to be graded with our specialists in London where their team develop the size gradients.
Step 5 - Production
Once we are 100% confident with the piece, we send it to production. For the Workwear Jacket, and over 50% of our new Collection 04, we are working with Tower Garments, just down the road from us in London. Not only do they have years of experience working with luxury British brands, they are particularly good at wovens, so we felt confident they were the right partner for this order.
Having visited the factory a number of times we felt confident the owner Lev and his team had the same core values as we do at Riley Studio. They have not been officially audited but operate an open door policy so you can go and speak to any of the workers whenever you want. They are completely transparent and open and we saw first hand just how happy everyone was working there.
Similar to sampling, our production goes through approximately 10 stages from cutting and pressing to final quality checks. End to end production is all done in house so we can monitor the whole process.
Due to the current global pandemic we have halted production. Tower Garments are actually open with restrictions in place to operate as safely as possible but we felt our new collection was not essential and we did not want to add any unnecessary reasons for the virus to spread. In addition the team at Tower Garments are now working with the Emergency Design Network to produce 400 scrubs for our front line heroes and we did not want to impede on that production.
Step 6 - Distribution
Once our Workwear Jacket is produced, which would take between 2 - 4 weeks, it will be quality checked by our Production Manager Charlotte, before being packaged up and sent off to our warehouse facilities, a family run business in Suffolk.
Once an order is placed, the team pick-and-pack it in our recycled packaging and send it off to the customer. Hopefully we have a happy customer who can enjoy their Riley Studio garment for years to come. We are committed to taking responsibility for every product we make and offer a Lifetime Guarantee to everyone, on every garment.
We started this journey with the aim of quantifying exactly how many people worked on our Workwear Jacket, but we quickly realised we’d set ourselves an impossible task! It is difficult to grasp just how much man power and hours go into developing a single style from our global supply chain.
For our Workwear Jacket, the process from initial design development to final production will have taken over a year, and will be a style we are all proud of and hopefully sell for years to come. Understanding the full supply chain allows us to appreciate the workers in the process, and by looking after our clothes properly, we show these people the respect they deserve.
It is with great sadness that it takes a global pandemic for people to appreciate how vulnerable their supply chains are, but without them we are nothing. We must stand together to protect and support the people who make our clothes.