In China, Bangladesh and Vietnam, where a majority of all clothing is made, lives something called “shadow factories”. Shadow Factories were essentially created to increase production capacity, without their location being given away to the enemy. Today it still sort of works in the same way except these factories are outsourced so they don’t have to follow rules and regulations implemented by the head company, as the head company did hire them. It’s a bit confusing, I know. The point is that many times it leads to stories like this. With such a need for fashion that is truly sustainable, traceable, and high quality, we caught up with Zady co-founder, Maxine Bédat, two years later to pick up where we last left off.
Zady has grown so much since we last met. How has the journey been?
I think it’s been interesting to see where the world has shifted. What we’ve been doing and how that has fit into it. We see on the macro level that people are starting to make that connection in the same way they have been with their food. They really are starting to ask the questions about their clothing. To be able then to provide a product that helps them feel a deeper need for people. Looking down to the farm as to how a product comes to be. That has been a very exciting part of the journey. We started with the wool sweater. That was in November of last year. We sold out of that sweater within 48 hours. It was very exciting. Then we just relaunched it and there was a 1,000 people on the wait list. People really do want to know. They just haven’t been given the access to that information.
What sort of information?
Starting with the wool sweater and going to that journey of sourcing it. Starting with the farm and the ranch in Oregon and then finding the washers and the spinners and the dyers and the knitters in California. Doing all that domestically, that was a huge learning curve for us. The industry doesn’t know their own production and their own supply chain. As we were doing it, we were just sharing what we were learning with the industry as well. Just to say that, “Look, guys. This can be done.” It’s not rocket science. It means a massive shift in how things are done. People want this and we need it as a planet at the same time.
Were there other things you learned along the way?
We learned about soil and organic cotton. Beyond that buzz word of organic. What does that mean? It means not using pesticides. Cotton is the number two user of pesticides globally. That is entering our water systems. Because the US is a major grower of cotton, there is an area the size of Connecticut at that end of the Mississippi called the Mississippi River dead zone. That’s because all of these pesticides from the farms along the Mississippi have just ended up in there. Fish can’t live. Nothing lives in this water. That’s what we’re doing to our planet. Or, in this case, how linen is grown. Our linen comes from the north of France in Belgium. It’s a very specific geographic zone that linen can grow beautifully. Again, deciding for the lighter weight fabrics for the winter. What could be we really do that is light weight but warm. That was, again, a major learning process where we learned some pretty scary things about cashmere.
So what is happening with cashmere and the cashmere industry?
Today, cashmere comes from, primarily, Mongolia and China. 90% of Mongolia is actually threatened to become dessert because of what’s happening with the cashmere herds there. There’s a major over herding problem. The goats take out the roots of the grass. The land is becoming dessert which has implications both for the people who are living … It’s like a dust bowl. The same way that we experience the dust bowl in this country. It also is impacting warming in a major way. Which, we’re all impacted by. Kind of thinking through that and landing on Alpaca. Beyond being the cutest animals out there, they’re also a much more efficient animal. One Alpaca can produce enough yarn for five sweaters. Or as cashmere goes, it takes five goats to create one sweater. Twenty-five times more effective. Then, it’s also the performance … The fiber itself has a lot of great performance to it. Because it’s fiber is super long. It doesn’t ever pill. You get a great cashmere sweater and you think it’s awesome. Then your fighting the whole winter with those stupid little things, you know? Also, the other great thing about Alpaca. The reason why it is light weight but also very warm, is because the fiber itself is hollow. That makes it very light and very warm at the same time.
I realize that for fashion, it’s similar to food there’s a high turnover of what’s the next “it” material. Or, like the “it” food. For some reason, we want to gorge on it. To a point that there’s nothing left for the people who actually produce it. For them it may cost just ten cents but because of this high demand it ends up costing them a dollar. They can’t even afford it anymore. How do we know that won’t happen with Alpacas or the next thing. How can we as society, prevent that from happening. Is there a legal way? Can we lobby?
Yes. I think that’s such a thoughtful question. What we really just try to do is be just real about stuff. We don’t say something is 100% sustainable because we’re making clothes here. We’re not planting trees. I’m very optimistic about the future in that way. We’ve gone through this period in fast fashion but now people really are getting exhausted by that. Just that constant turnover is no longer fun. It just seems burdensome. The way in which we describe our process is taking in to account really everything that needs to be taken into account in terms of making a product. I’m always hesitant to use the word sustainable, because, it’s such an overused word. But, for us and what we … The actual definition of sustainable is that it’s systems that can exist in the long term. You know? That’s what we’re creating. It’s a sweater. This is a system of a sweater that can work in the long term. That’s why, for us, it’s the future of fashion.
More directly to answer your question, I think it’s about just getting real. That’s why we’re focused on creating products that you don’t need 10,000 of them. You need one really great one. That goes a long way. In the fashion world, because of that turnover, so much of the problem is the turnover. We throw out 70 lbs of clothing every year. It’s crazy. There’s enough clothing produced every year for everyone to have 21 new pieces of clothing. That’s like very man, woman and child on Earth. If you think about food crisis issues. It’s crazy. We’re now going through this process of just being real. And, that feels good too. It’s not like a hype … Alpaca’s not the new hype product. It has great actual performance properties. You have to be conscience of them.
I remember I also read that the thing about one of your garments is sourced and made in the US? What is the importance of that? Why do you think not many people are doing that?
For us, it’s particularly the launch product. For us to be able to go and visit, on a regular basis, these places is so important for us to learn. How do you do sustainable farming? How do you do sustainable ranching? What does a water treatment facility look like? How is it set up? What should it look like? What do the actual nontoxic dyes look like? That entire process. The final, where it’s made. The way we make our clothes hasn’t changed. We tend not to realize it. It’s still somebody sitting at a sewing machine. Being able to have an open door policy with all of our products and being able to walk in and see how things are doing. Knowing firsthand how people are being treated. Not just getting reports on it. That is incredibly important because of how that is happening in the shadows so much in the fashion industry. The running costs and building costs is now where two years ago, that was just symbolic of what is happening all over the industry. That was a shadow factory. That’s how things are done. Where a brand will have a contract with a factory. Maybe they’ll take a picture of that factory, but then, that factory outsources to these shadow factories so they can do it cheaper and faster and in the budget that the brand wants. We don’t want to be a part of that. It’s important on that side. Then, on the other side, it’s important for jobs and skilled labor. We want to be real about where we are as a country and with our economic times. And, with where our products come from. Where we are as an economy and where jobs are. To be able to support something is something that we’re very proud of as well.
Do you see a difference in products that are made here in the US in comparison to products that are made, let’s say, in Italy or France? Do you see, I don’t know, like, quality? Is there any difference?
Well, there’s certainly a difference in the production of the yarn and the fibers themselves. It’s important to work in countries that has been the case with all of our fibers, work with countries that have a strong local government for environmental protection. 90% of waste water effluents so the dye stuff in the developing world is just dumped into local rivers. You can see the rivers in some of these countries. They’re dyed the color of the next season’s hottest trends. It’s scary. That’s peoples drinking water. The fashion industry is the second biggest polluter of fresh water globally. That’s a major problem. That’s in terms of environmental regulation. We’ve gone through that. We have the EPA. They have standards in place that we can feel really good about and secure about. In terms of the actual quality difference, for us, it’s being able to work so closely with our producers. That helps us a lot with quality. Our coat, with like ten streets away, you can go and really be thoughtful of exactly how it’s produced. It’s shocking with fashion companies. It’s just about churning. Getting it out. Getting something new. It’s like throwing spaghetti at the wall. We want to be like, “No. How should this dart go exactly and how should it be cut? Let’s make this adjustment.” Whereas, if you do that half way around the world, it’s very hard to communicate that. So, it just doesn’t happen.
What can we expect from holiday season from Zady?
It always has to be a surprise. Santas on scooters with graffiti in their hair. We’ll keep, hopefully, surprising and delighting people. I think just keep building on that connection that people … It’s just the very beginning of that movement. What else can we do to show that connection and get the world to feel smaller again.