Social Procurement | Pt 2: Fashion Supply Chain

SOCIAL PROCUREMENT DIRECT SPEND

In a previous blog post we have discussed what Social Procurement means, and how, by sourcing from social enterprises, the impact can be much higher and longer lasting than by giving donations to charities.


We also gave a lot of examples of social enterprises that provide services such as catering, coffee, or picture editing. This all falls under the category of indirect spend for companies: costs that are not directly linked to the core product. There is a whole other set of opportunities for direct spend from social enterprises in fashion: everything that is in the supply chain for garments, from material sourcing, to manufacturing, and end of life.


I, your writer, had the honour of contributing Yunus Social Business’ recent publication, which is an overview of Social Procurement in the Fashion and Textile sector. You can find the document here, which we are summarising for you in this article.


Yunus Social Business has developed this list of objectives, which can be achieved through social procurement, and sounds like a pretty great place for the Fashion industry to get to:

  • The tens of millions of people employed are given opportunities to grow and overcome disadvantaged situations.

  • Regenerative systems heal the earth instead of damaging it, by using circular solutions, renewable sources of materials and energy, at a rate that allowed them to replenish.

  • The industry is used as a tool to solve current problems rather than contributing to them.


OPPORTUNITIES IN FASHION

From reading brand’s sustainability reports, you probably have an idea of how brands start their sustainability journey. First they get some visibility on their supply chain, ensuring compliance to laws, then they move to basic certifications to show that less harm is done, and then slowly they might start with some positive actions.


Through Social Procurement, though, social enterprises become direct suppliers for clothes, and positive impact is driven directly through corporate contracts, that are part of standard business operations, rather than separately through charity programs. A striking piece of data from the report is that 75% of social businesses focus on both social and environmental impact, showing that they could contribute to multiple areas of the ESG agenda of companies.


Things are never too easy, and of course for a brand it is complicated to switch suppliers or change business as usual, however there are a lot of opportunities that don’t require change in the core product. An example is in cotton: a pair of jeans will look exactly the same whether the cotton is sourced through a mass volume farming system, or a cooperative of organic farmers that focuses on supporting poor families.


Social businesses can contribute to most steps of the supply chain, however, based on YSB’s research, most social businesses surveyed sell finished products, such as clothing, bags, homeware, or artisanal products. This can be explained from the nature of the work, as sewing is the most labour-intensive and value-adding stage of the supply chain, and therefore allows to hire larger amounts of people from disadvantaged backgrounds. A lot of social businesses are trying to tackle the issue of textile and process waste caused by the Fashion supply chain, by recycling or upcycling discarded materials.



LIMITATIONS

YSB explains what the main barriers in this topic, and what needs to be done to see more collaborations between brands and social enterprises. The main challenge is the difficulty to get in contact with relevant procurement staff in large companies. Given the speed of production, sourcing teams tend to always be chasing collections, and don’t have the time to research more sustainable and impactful alternatives.


Another issue is the lack of long term sustainability. You often see in stores capsule collections that showcase sustainability and work with social businesses, however this model isn’t a long term solution. Social businesses need longer term visibility and funding to achieve their impact.



EXAMPLES

YSB has highlighted in their report three Social Enterprises, Cartiera, I was a Sari, and Bananatex. You should definitely check them out as their story is very impressive. Here we want to give the space to other Social Businesses, there are so many great projects out there, it was difficult to choose.



Cotton | Seed2Shirt

Seed2Shirt is a vertically-integrated apparel manufacturer that works from the ground up — literally — for a transparent, diverse, and ethical supply chain created specifically to bring value back to the African diaspora communities they source from, via their Farmer Enrichment Program. This Program began with organic cotton farmers of Burkina Faso, who, in their transition to organic agriculture, were facing issues of soil nutrient depletion, less abundant yields, and less profit. Today, Seed2Shirt works with 8,400 organic cotton farmers (58% of which are women!) in 5-year partnership models, and with Black-owned production companies throughout the US — ensuring consideration of people and land throughout the entire process.


Weaving and dyeing | Selyn

Selyn is Sri Lanka’s only Fair-trade certified handicrafts company, and one of its largest social enterprises. Selyn has around 1000 artisans within its network, who work on handloom textiles and can make various types of products. They dye house uses natural dyes to make vibrant colours, and work with a wide range of fabrics, which become home textiles, garments and toys. Their vision is to craft premium products whilst empowering local artisan communities, and preserving the tradition of the loom, which takes its roots at the very inception of Sri Lankan history. They are committed to uplifting the living standards of rural artisans by providing them with the opportunities to access work and the skills to stay at work.


Finished Product | Stitch by Stitch

Stitch by Stitch is a social business that works as a tailor's workshop in a socially and ecologically sustainable manner, set up in Germany by Nici, a social entrepreneur, and Claudia, fashion designer. They specialise in the topic of social integration, training or permanent employment. They are a B2B tailor's manufactory that uses professional, refugee tailors to produce small series and prototypes for fashion labels Made in Germany.


With their own collection they draw attention to the global environmental pollution in textile production, and work together on the design for cross-cultural items. Everyone brings their own cultural background to the table. They only use organic certified (GOTS, IVN Best, Oeko-Tex) and upcycled materials.


They enable seamstresses to train as tailors in order to achieve formal recognition of their skills, which paves the way for social participation and integration into the job market, for them and their families.


Upcycling | Mr Green Africa

Mr. Green Africa is the first recycling company to be a Certified B Corporation on the African continent, leveraging business as a force for good to realize sustainable, long-term social, environmental and economic impact through the collection, conversion and selling of post consumer plastic waste.


Their collection model enables waste collection at the source, integrating informal waste workers, micro-entrepreneurs and consumers into the formal value chain, providing employees the chance to earn a fair, predictable and transparent income and benefits.


Their processing equipment, housed in a factory in Nairobi, allows Mr. Green Africa to convert locally collected plastic waste into high-quality PCR (Post Consumer Recyclates) and sell it as a substitute imported virgin plastics at competitive rates. To close the loop, Mr. Green Africa works with brands to develop and execute three-way off take agreements for high quality PCR, helping FMCGs and others realize their sustainable packaging goals by accessing ethically sourced, locally produced PCR.


Accessories | Salvage

Salvage project allows underprivileged women to earn an income by making jewellery, with two aims in mind - to Recycle and Rehabilitate. Salvage’s purpose has organically become protecting the environment by using materials that would otherwise end up in landfills. Every product is made out of recycled material from local designers, homes and companies. Materials include newspapers, bottle caps, scrap designer leather, kite surfing material and denim material. Each piece is unique and the art of making this jewellery becomes therapeutic. The artisans receive an income for each piece they make, the day they make it, and all proceeds goes towards funding projects such as the Drop in Centre for HIV Positive People and a shelter for women.


THE PERFECT OUTFIT

Wouldn’t it be great if every item we wore was contributing to the solution to a major societal issue?


We imagine a pair of trousers where the cotton in sourced from a cooperative of organic regenerative farmers in Burkina Faso, such as Seed 2 Shirt, which is then dyed and processed in a centre to support local artisans and protect traditional techniques, such as Selyn. The fabric is then cut and sewn in a workshop employing people from disadvantaged backgrounds, such as Cartiera, I was a Sari or Stitch by Stitch, which also uses upcycled waste parts. These jeans are paired with a beautiful pair of earrings made with bottle caps from Salvage, and a waterproof jacket made from recycled plastics, which has been collected by empowered waste pickers in Kenya through Mr Green Africa.