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New Fabric

My new fabric is finally here. It took a little longer than anticipated but we got there.

This new fabric is a shift in direction and strategy for me. I originally aimed to use locally sourced fabrics (jobs ends - the left over fabric from a larger production run). Using this leftover fabric worked (in theory) in that it was sourced locally and ‘should’ have been of a good quality and price point.

After several months of testing and sampling I have found a lot of flaws in this approach. The major flaws I identified were:
  • Quality: Finding good reliable information about fabric is surprisingly difficult.  I need ‘good’ information about the fabric to develop things like care instructions. Merchants market fabrics as 100% linen when clearly they are not. A couple of meters into a roll you find an enormous oil stain or tear. Test fabrics have shrunk by silly margins and others leak colour everywhere (even after being advised they were pre-shrunk or colour fast!). Some of these issues I’ve caught before I purchased the fabric, others after, when I’ve begun testing. Not Cool.
  • Country of Origin: Details regarding country of origin are extremely sketchy and many merchants simply don’t know. Others are very vague and can only provide possible regions of the world. None have been able to provide assurance that it hasn’t been produced in an environmentally damaging way or utilising poor labour standards. As a side note it is always worth asking where the linen was grown and where it was milled. Vagueness should trigger warning bells. Many budget offerings utilise Chinese or Indian Mills. The flax is grown in Europe and then shipped to China / India where it is turned into linen. Some of these mills use really nasty chemicals to treat the flax to prevent rot (formaldehyde is a favourite).  This fabric is marketed as European Linen, and technically it is I guess, but is akin to saying a metal thing made in China is Australian because the material to go into the metal was dug up here… Again not cool.
  • Ongoing Supply: An issue with job ends is once the fabric is gone, it’s gone. There is no getting more. This makes it difficult to build an ongoing and cohesive collection. Depending on what I’m making I might get 5 or 50 products out of a particular roll of fabric. This makes orders really tough as I live in constant state of fear I may sell something and not have enough fabric to make it.

As linen is grown and produced overseas there is no local offering I can buy. I could either buy it through a textile merchant (who would do the importation) or just go directly to the source. I gave the local merchants a shot and after many weeks and calls it became clear that unless I was willing to buy several kilometres of fabric they didn’t really want to know me. I then begun looking globally and again I ran into similar issues with meeting minimum order quantities, manufacturing transparency, country of origin issues and price.

Finally I found Merchant and Mills.  From the get go they have been super friendly and helpful. My requests about origins of the fabric have been met with answers and they are happy to follow up and seek additional information for me. Merchant and Mills are based in the United Kingdom and have the fabric produced exclusively by a number of smaller mills in Lithuania. Merchant and Mills regularly visit and inspect these mills to ensure they are operating in a sustainable manner.

The shift to Merchant and Mills has not been a cost saving exercise. In fact it has increased my costs and complexity of production greatly; the fabric is almost much twice as expensive as what I was paying locally. I’ve had to rework some of my pricing models and patterns but it is worth it. I’m committed to making quality products that last and that don’t come at an unsustainable expense to people or the planet. 
  • Post author
    Alistair Birrell

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