Fair trade apparel, sustainable cotton, ethical supply practices, supporting the local economy and reducing our carbon footprint… we all want to be progressive with our purchases, especially ones as essential as clothing, but how do these different factors connect to making a custom clothing purchase?
First of all, concerns about ethical clothing manufacturing have become a priority of many Canadian businesses and consumers and this makes total sense.
With pictures of factories with poor working conditions prevalent online, articles written related to the environmental impacts of “fast-fashion”, the union busting practices from large businesses & other unsavory realities that take place behind the scenes… it’s completely normal to feel that we can collectively do better.
From the top down – ethical custom clothing isn’t as challenging as it seems.
For the companies making the effort, success is seen from practicing a few essential values:
For you – the custom clothing buyer – achieving these goals is a matter of doing a bit of research, determining how these factors fit into the promotional item goals and budget and collaborating with a like-minded supplier.
From our perspective within the industry, there is still some resistance to a full switch to sustainable and ethical custom clothing orders because the industry has not yet put a price on the environmental and human hours which are involved in each and every article of clothing.
Obviously, no one actively tries to be unsustainable or look the other way, but it’s an understandable desire for customers and businesses to want to make their budget go as far as possible and see good value on their custom clothing purchases.
These desires toward ethical and sustainable practices typically balance against real costs… and so to navigate this is the challenge.
Our view is optimistic and see it as a challenge which needs to be faced.
We feel that it’s entirely possible to have an affordable, positive and sustainable outcome if some planning is put into the custom orders and that it’s good to stay focused on the “big-wins”.
Evaluating sustainability of a clothing is always an ongoing process but here are the 6 major points to get right from the start:
As a first level of protection of unsustainable practice, a quick online search on the clothing manufacturer can be a great idea to see what the global communities experience has been as far as any notable grievances or public concerns.
Most major apparel blank manufacturers have pages on their website to outline their own practices and commitments, and so public news should be taken hand-in-hand with the companies own declarations.
While no country or apparel line should necessarily be ruled out solely by their Country of origin, it’s important to understand that the labour laws, environmental regulations and trade practices differ from country to country.
Custom clothing shops and manufacturers based in Canada are subject to Canadian standards, whereas companies overseas are not legally obliged to uphold our standards, but instead their own which may be rooted in different levels of protections for consumers and workers.
While there can be great relationships established in other countries which are sustainable and ethical, from a grassroots level a clothing company local to you will be easier for you to evaluate as far as sustainability, legal conformity, etc.
Navigating the legal and ethical landscape of the global economy is certainly possible but may be much more nuanced if your specific ethical goals aren’t defined.
Within every apparel manufacturers business, regardless of Country, there is a unique workplace culture and set of community standards which comes to exist naturally. This workplace culture, whether it presents itself as “meeting the minimum standards” or “always striving for better” is a major factor in how sustainable and ethical the company will act.
On the local level this is fairly easy to evaluate, by dropping in to see the space yourself, whether working conditions are good and healthy or not… however for any non-local printing business some research should be done to verify conditions.
Evaluating reviews, getting references or requesting a video printing-shop tour is a great way to feel comfortable with an unknown supplier.
Discussed previously was the Country of Origin for apparel blanks, however another important decision is for where the items are actually decorated. For the apparel decoration industry, most blank apparel is manufactured overseas yet decorated locally.
While this positive reality is more to do with practicality (it takes a long time to ship products from overseas), it is sustainable to have custom clothing printed and embroidered locally as it creates jobs and builds communities and this will likely continue on the majority of orders.
Local decoration also carries the benefits of containing the process within Canadian labour laws, environmental laws and fair practice which serves to protect everyone involved.
The choice of materials is fairly straightforward however there are a few distinctions which are worth looking into as a custom apparel buyer
Canadian Fabric vs. Non-Canadian Fabric
Synthetic Fabric vs. Blended Fabrics vs. Natural Fabric vs. Natural Organic Fabric
Plastisol Screen-printing ink vs. Waterbased Screen-printing ink
Embroidery thread type and backing choice
The main goals here are focused on durability (less waste), environmental impact, and community health (low or no byproducts / harmful chemicals).
Learning more about these can be done independently or with the help of a supplier which brings us to our final point…
More often than not suppliers will always prefer to sell environmentally friendly, ethical and progressive products so if something seems missing just ask.
Building a connection with the supplier will help to get the best information possible.
Finding out the cost of a fully Canadian sourced and decorated order won’t take much extra time and then true comparisons can be made that fit both the apparel budget and contribute toward an ethical and sustainable community in the long term.
With all that laid out, clearly, ordering ethical and sustainable custom clothing isn’t for those looking to click-buy-and-forget but that is the burden of making good choices – it takes time and research…
Good things aren’t easy and we commend the efforts our customers make to do it.
For our part, our business is committed to working with the community on these worthwhile goals. Ottawa Custom Clothing offers the choice of sustainable and ethically produced custom printed and embroidered clothing and we will stay committed to always having sustainable options available to our customers.
How this looks in practice is that in our regular day-to-day orders we refuse to supply anything which is known to use unethical or predatory production or business practices.
Our supply chain does involve blanks from overseas (from manufacturers with great reputations focused on fair practices in those circumstances) as well as locally Canadian made ones giving our customers the custom clothing options they need to act on their values.
For overseas production, Berkshire Hathaway is positioned to be at the top of the pyramid of most major brands and they are owners of brands like Gildan, American Apparel, Alstyle, Fruit of the Loom, etc.
In their business practices we observe consistent progress, sustainability, reduction of environmental improvements happening with them, however they do have critics and could be progressing faster.
Our conclusion is that we feel until clothing industry makes progress and the achieves more transparency there always remain justified concerns.
The need for evaluation of ethical standards will not go away.
We do our best to evaluate sustainability and ethical products and we encourage our customers (our community) to do so also because it takes more than one set of eyes to keep watch on industries as big and as complex as ours.
Fortunately, due to the large scale of major apparel manufacturers there is a lot of public information available which makes buying clothing aligned with your values is very possible.
For fully Canadian Made locally produced ethical clothing options –
We offer Canadian made and decorated projects from start to finish on top of our regular apparel blanks and we regularly use locally made shirts produced here in Canada (either Toronto or Montreal) with a range of fabrics including organic cotton, hemp, & more to any customers interested in doing so.
We feel that as more people choose to buy locally costs will continue to decrease and it will be easier to use these locally made sustainable custom shirts more often.
A rough rule of thumb is that a Canadian made fully ethical shirt can cost upwards of 7-10~$ more than an overseas equivalent, however given the local value and considering the number of times a shirt is worn this increase is very reasonable.
Customers choosing to buy local is something we’re seeing more often and we are happy to help with and offer our guidance on.
Ottawa Custom Clothing is sweatshop free.
We offer healthy Canadian wages and support the local economy and community with our decoration projects and we welcome any client looking to produce sustainable clothing.
Our printed shirt design studio makes it fast and simple to order your custom shirts.
Just select your product / colours and get your estimate.
Easy as can be and hassle free!
It’s possible you’re local to us and have seen our team in person, but since we service all of Canada there’s a chance we won’t have the opportunity to meet you… but we still want to show that we are experts who process orders securely and efficiently.
We want to use our skill and knowledge to help as many Canadians as possible receive cool custom shirts, uniforms, sportswear and whatever other apparel they might be looking for. We are excited and passionate to be a guiding force in how our country looks and what clothing they wear.
At the end of the day the first order is the hardest to give the go-ahead on for customers, once we get through that then we can grow together!
If there’s any questions you have about placing an order we’d be happy to help!