Sustainable Fashion Misconceptions Debunked: A Five-Part Series (Part 4 of 5)
Intro to the Series
Intro taken from the first installment of the series.
My co-founder Itzett and I run a self-funded, ethically sourced compostable luxury menswear brand based out of New York City. We’d met on the steps of the New York Public Library during COVID, with both of us seeking shelter from the rain. Five months later, we launched Gomorrah.
The two of us are currently pioneering next-generation sustainability in the green apparel space by solving for post-consumer textile waste: something that’s widely talked about, yet whose discussion never really stretches beyond the problem itself. And so in response, we set out to manufacture clothing that can disintegrate into non-toxic, natural elements and become food for microbes and bugs, thereby creating an endless cycle with nature. Though aside from being a mission-driven company, there’s a whole lot more to our model that, in 2022, would unfortunately still get labeled as being progressive, like bringing the social equity aspect of sustainability into our pricing decisions or earmarking a percentage of all revenue to maintain and/or restore Earth’s natural resources.
But the most unique thing, I think, is that we focus on men because men are disproportionately disinterested in protecting the environment when compared to their female counterparts. American pop culture has provided us with a very narrow idea of what it means to be a man, having conditioned us to think that we can’t be caring or nurturing (among other things), and so making lifestyle changes out of concern for our planet is in direct opposition with the outright terrible people we’ve been indoctrinated to be: dominant, aggressive, isolating, intolerant, and emotionally confused. To really dumb it down – because it honestly doesn’t deserve any more justice than that – America has been teaching its boys to eat meat, play sports, only sleep with women (and to be forceful about it), and ignore anything even reminiscent of a feeling in favor of shoving it down.
And it’s for these reasons that being a steward of our planet doesn’t exactly fit within the male paradigm. Meanwhile, I’m a 35-year-old straight dude who was raised by the sensibilities of two generations of men having passed through Jones & Laughlin Steel, and yet somehow I ended up in New York fashion, bootstrapping a company that places people and planet before every decision made. And I’m not some anomaly. I’m just as broken as my peers. But there’s a point at which all of us need to pick up our heads and realize that the world is changing because it’s our responsibility to change along with it.
In this series, I’m going to present the most surfaced misconceptions I’ve seen over the past year: views that invariably crop up in everything from advertising campaigns to influencer reels. Each of these ideas deserves a second look because none of them are ever unpacked. They come to us in blurbs with the sole purpose of inciting an action – either to follow or buy – and so these words mistakenly become truths because the experts, i.e. the CEOs and founders of brands, aren’t doing much of anything to educate the customer.
Misconception #4: A brand’s lack of supply chain traceability is an immediate red flag.
Climate change has driven a newfound focus on environmental, social, and governance reporting, and that has helped to give birth to The New York Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act, which recently made headlines by making history, placing even more eyeballs on the problem. And while the Fashion Act is great – although the $100MM global revenue requirement is probably too low – what consumers need to understand is that multi-tier traceability (sustainable fashion’s newest buzzword) can be challenging. What’s really going on is that white-collar demands are being placed on a blue-collar world, not to mention one that has been historically shrouded in secrecy, and expecting an entire industry that mainly lives overseas to comply with what Americans want. And it’s just not that simple.
- Major international brands that meet or exceed the global revenue requirement of the act will have a much easier time mapping their supply chains because they’ve either completely structured them themselves, run their entire verticals, or have the buying power to pressure stops in the chain to reveal their sources. Smaller brands don’t have any of these luxuries.
- New indie brands will frequently partner with full-service factories as they take on what can feel like a pretty insurmountable project: running a successful company. Teams that solely consist of founders have very little bandwidth, and so anything that can be passed off to someone else free of charge, more often than not, will be. The trade off is that transparency becomes lost, as the factory usually won’t reveal its sources. The reason is that it’s the contact list that they have painstakingly built over time, and they don’t want their clients to take their sources and move to another factory.
- Brands that produce a small amount of units per SKU must source materials through merchants, as the yardage minimums at mills are too high for their production needs. Merchants will never broadcast where they’re sourcing their fabric from. Sometimes they themselves don’t even know because they’re sourcing from other merchants. The reason for this secrecy is so that they don’t get weeded out of the equation and lose a brand’s business once it scales and is producing enough garments to be able to meet the minimum and go straight to the source for a better deal.
- It’s next to impossible to find out where a mill is getting its raw fibers. They’ll disclose the country of origin, but they’re more than likely never going to reveal the province, much less the city or farm. This industry is rife with fear, and providing detailed information regarding their sources, in their minds, may mean the difference between them getting their hands on enough raw materials to use to manufacture goods and them losing out on business or having to go somewhere farther away or more expensive and cut into their margin. To put it bluntly, their sentiment is that it’s none of the buyer’s business.
Takeaway: In theory, multi-tier traceability is a novel idea, but forcing an industry to comply with the positions of industry outsiders who don’t understand that complexities and nuances of the fashion business can be somewhat jarring for factories and mills and even interpreted as being a bit impolite. As with anything, the potential for financial loss can pressure the situation, but only brands with accounts large enough to actually affect the profits of mills will find success in negotiating farm-level traceability. Moreover, traceability says very little about the social and/or environmental commitments of the entities within a company’s supply chain; however, it does suggest that brands do have intimate relationships with their vendors and are proud to be partnering with those businesses.Gomorrah is currently planning a Kickstarter campaign for June/July 2022. Subscribe to our newsletter for early access (50% off).