UPDATES BELOW THIS ARTICLE

in a nutshell: below, our outlook on small sustainability, our packaging, a candid supply chain analysis and goals for the future.

 

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ORIGINAL ARTICLE: written 08/11/2019

Sustainability has been lingering in the public consciousness for the last few years now. The Collins Dictionary's last two words of the year have been 'single-use' and 'climate strike'. Whatever you believe, it's one of the defining topics of our time.

For a long time, I had been considering ways of making Awake at Three more sustainable. One obvious area for me to tackle was the packaging I used: un-recycled, standard plastic polymailers. A quick Google search later and I found some 'biodegradable' polymailers that could be custom printed with my design in quantities of a few hundred. Perfect!

Not quite.

This sent me down a rabbit hole of disinformation, green-washing and, well, hopelessness. "Degradable" actually meant degrading in a year in specialised plants that didn't actually exist in many places. Compostable mailers were better, but still weren't recyclable and would take decades to break down if they ended up in the sea. Even paper packaging wasn't great, as they took 4 times the energy to manufacture than plastic bags did, and could possibly promote deforestation.

I was starting to wonder what the point even was. I didn't want to do something that was insignificantly small, that just seemed like a desperate 'grab' on a current trend. But then I watched this video by British comedian Jonathan Pie that really resonated with me:

 

  

In today's world, any and every action we take is going to be painfully hypocritical. Why go vegan when you still burn fossil fuels on the way to work? Why protest climate change when you still use an iPhone that contains materials mined by ill-treated workers that are devastating for the environment? Why change to 100% recycled and biodegradable polymailers, when you're then exporting packages across the world and contributing to the growing amount of new clothes being made?

Because, as Jonathan delicately points out, it's because we're not arseholes. Ridiculing genuine acts, however little they are, that try to tackle one of the biggest crises of our age is a pretty shitty thing to do. 

This isn't me saying that we should let cases of 'green-washing' go, where companies use climate change as a vehicle to sell more stuff. Companies should be honest, transparent and self-accountable in their sustainability policies - NOAH and HERESY are bigger streetwear brands that demonstrate this well, trying to improve whilst being very self-aware and conscious of of the bigger problem.

We should be encouraging any small acts in hope of inspiring bigger systematic change, instead of belittling them. We shouldn't be scared to try and make a difference. 

So, are you an arsehole, or a hypocrite? I know I'm trying my best to be a hypocrite.

 

 

As of now, Awake at Three uses polymailers that have biodegradable additives, but more importantly, use 100% recycled material. I use a single sticker to "customize" the parcels, to avoid me having to order 1000 custom-printed packages that I'll never use. Please try and reuse the mailers for your own use.

 

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UPDATE: written 31/8/2020

 

First of all, thank you to everyone who has messaged me about the original article saying how it was helpful, or even how it slightly changed their outlook on sustainability in the context of small streetwear. Means a lot to hear.

The first point of the original article was that we should encourage attempts to make greener choices in spite of fear of being labelled as a "hypocrite", as the social impact of you making these choices on your close friends and family will inspire and create more change than the act itself (much like protest).

In line with this, I have since made a change to the packaging of all orders. I now use new polymailers that are made with 100% recycled materials, of which 50% are specifically post consumer waste (the stuff that we really want to recycle). They are not as biodegradable as the previous mailers, but are much thicker and possess a second adhesive strip so that they can be immediately reused by you. I strongly encourage you to do so, perhaps for sending some of your old clothes or reselling some second hand garms. 

The trade off between biodegradability and re-usability is a perfect illustration of the imperfect reality of making greener choices that can be paralyzing.

 

The second point of the original article was to encourage honesty, transparency and self-reflection. It's all well and good using our new-found abandon to make green choices, but we need to be critical and candid when reflecting on our decisions to avoid "green-washing" and misleading ourselves and others.

In the spirit of this, I have written a small critical analysis of the main components of Awake at Three to deduce what we're doing well and what we're doing badly. 

 

[AAT] SUPPLY CHAIN ANALYSIS

 1. PACKAGING

Mentioned in previous section. There exists a trade off between biodegradability and reusability, and a similar trade off between plastic and paper solutions. Although paper solutions are inherently very biodegradable, per item, they take more energy to make.

In future, would like to find a paper solution that is reusable and that doesn't sacrifice on customer experience.

2. T-SHIRTS AND HOODIES (SCREEN PRINTER)

Currently, all of the blanks used for tees and hoodies are sourced from Stanley Stella. They have compiled a detailed report on their own sustainability practices here. They highlight the fact that they only use organic cotton (no GM, no pesticides and other environmental advantages like less soil erosion) and recycled polyester, have intimate and transparent relationships with partners and have inspected all factories, and invest/work towards providing workers with living wages and opportunity.

I have contacted the local screen-printer I use to confirm that their screen prints are done using water based inks. However, recently most of my design have been created using DTG printing. This method only works with water based inks, and is more efficient than screen printing, wasting less ink and water. Producing quality DTG prints has not always been possible - in recent years the technology has improved massively.

3. CUT AND SEW

Currently, all cut and sewn garments are manufactured in Hong Kong, and are shipped to the UK via Air Mail. 

Nowadays, manufacturers in China have a pretty bad rep. A lot of it is deserved, with many factories still underpaying and overworking workers in factories with desperately bad working environments. However, there is also a new generation of Chinese factories that pay workers fairly, offer pleasant working conditions and reasonable hours, and produce beautifully crafted clothes, shoes, and accessories.

My manufacturer (whom I cannot name for obvious reasons) has been audited and verified by SGS group. They provide 360 degree panoramic photos of the offices and factory floors, and they show that there exists full air conditioning, modern facilities and natural lighting. Workers conditions are considered carefully, are given more break time than is required by law. There have been many recorded anecdotes of brand owners visiting the factory personally, and they have been satisfied with what they saw. 

Fabrics are sourced from the biggest reputable fabric market in China, however supply chains that show where the fabrics are produced from raw materials are hard to identify. 

In future, I would like to find a manufacturer that is perhaps more local to reduce shipping distances, and one that could use more sustainable and well-sourced materials. It would also enable me to personally visit the factories, and be more certain that I want this to represent the brand. A brand who uses sustainable materials and is super transparent about their supply chains is STORY MFG - defo check them out. In reality, this would likely raise prices a lot, but I think it is a fair price to pay in return for being conscious about our impact on people across the planet.

 

 

I want to end by reinforcing one thing: Awake at Three is not sustainable. In fact, we are pretty far away from it. Nearly all fashion brands are outrightly unsustainable. But by making incremental and realistic improvements, perhaps we can inspire larger systematic change for a fairer, healthier planet.