Where does the stuff you buy come from? The chances are pretty good it comes from China. China is still the world’s manufacturing powerhouse, responsible for a quarter of the world’s manufacturing output.1 Textiles, personal computers, air conditioners, solar cells, ships, cement and shoes, you name it, China makes it, in very large quantities.
Making all that stuff requires a lot of resources, including water. A single mill in China can use 200 tons of fresh water for each ton of fabric it dyes.2 And that's just dyeing fabric. As a result of overuse, 55% of China’s 50,000 rivers that existed in the 1990s have disappeared.3 Over half the rivers in China are gone? Yikes! (in addition to manufacturing, the study cites agricultural use and a growing middle class as chief water usage culprits).
The garment industry is especially taxing on China's resources. Though low wages in Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Myanmar are attracting more manufacturers to those countries, China is still responsible for a huge amount of global clothing exports. In 2013, China exported $177 Billion worth of clothes.4 In pants, that equates to about 1.5 pairs for every person on the planet!
All that resource usage is disturbing enough without taking into account how much textile output is discarded before it even reaching customers. The way the textile industry works, there are all kinds of reasons why a mill would throw out perfectly usable materials. Here are a few examples:
All of these excess materials amount to 20 million tons of textile waste landfilled each year in mainland China alone!5There are warehouses upon warehouses of materials just waiting to be landfilled. We’ve had our design team head to China a couple of times, and you would not believe the mountains and mountains of excess that pile up. Here's one such warehouse.
As a company, we decided that pre-consumer waste would be our chosen entry point to solve these problems. We figured, there are all kinds of waste materials piling up that consumers never even touch, and that are perfectly usable. Why not take that waste and do something useful with it? In the process, we could reduce the need to create new materials.
We made the Northwest Collection from pre-consumer excess polyester and leather that we sourced from such warehouses in southern China.
By using these “waste” materials instead of creating new ones, each bag conserves the water and carbon emissions that would be required to make new materials, and keeps waste out of landfills.
But beyond those benefits, there’s a larger vision that this collection, and our company is working toward. The manufacturing model for this planet is fundamentally broken. In our current model, the goal is to produce large quantities of goods for as cheap as possible no matter the consequences.
We believe that there are opportunities for our company and for other companies to reimagine manufacturing on this planet, and to create the products we need in a way that is truly sustainable. All that’s required is a little creative thinking.