With the rise of performance textiles, sourcing the best fabrics can take an activewear brand on a worldwide shopping spree. While design is important when creating a garment or shoe, so are other attributes like sustainability, technology, innovation and, of course, cost.
For Pam Theodosakis, founder of yoga, swim and climbing apparel brand prAna, manufacturing decisions revolve around conserving energy and water as well as closely monitoring chemical use. Much of the line is crafted with organic cotton, natural fibers and recycled materials.
Footwear brand Cushe is focused on comfort and unique details. By conforming to the foot’s natural shape, Cushe shoes provide protection and stability for the tired toes of surfers, skiers and BASE jumpers aprÃ¨s-adventure.
To find out what else matters when it comes to sourcing and manufacturing products for the active market, we asked Theodosakis and two of her fellow prAna associates, Design Services Manager Meme Snell and Director of Sustainability Nicole Bassett. Theo Malkin, the sourcing director for Cushe, also weighed in.
Tell me about your favorite new offerings for spring and the textiles used.
Theodosakis: We love our jacquard performance fabric. It’s a new textured design which we use in our Perla Top, Raven Top, Randa Jacket, Clover Capri, and the favorite, the Misty Knicker.
Malkin: I am looking forward to the launch of the Cushe-Hoffman collaboration. In the 1950s, Hoffman California Fabrics started making these wonderful tropical/surf prints. It’s the original and classic Flamboyant “Hawaiian” shirt, but on your feet.
Where did you source these materials and why?
Snell: Through one of our long-time suppliers who is also Bluesign certified. Bluesign is a environmental and chemical system that looks at the impact on water, energy, air emissions and green chemistry. This offers us maximum quality without compromising on environmental impacts.
Malkin: Hoffman was and is an indelible part of the midcentury California surf scene. The artwork was used on light airy cotton and blend fabrics. We took some original prints and inspired designs to a textile expert in China for use on more durable materials, like canvas, suitable for footwear.
Where were the products manufactured?
Are certifications important to you throughout the supply chain?
Bassett: Absolutely. prAna not only requires certification where applicable, but has a traceability program inside the company where we verify certifications each season. For this product specifically, the fabric is Bluesign certified, which means the mill has been audited for high energy, water and air emissions standards and the chemistry of the dyes meet the highest standards.
Malkin: Absolutely. We have a dedicated material sourcing team who chose our suppliers based on quality and best practices.
Have you vetted factories and replaced any due to compliance?
Bassett: Yes prAna vets all of our suppliers to our Code of Conduct. prAna is a member of the Fair Labor Association. [Editor’s Note: FLA is an organization which protects workers’ rights worldwide]. This means our Code meets that of the FLA and we monitor our supply chain to those standards. Additionally, we follow up on remediation if there are issues and incorporate supporting factories into our sourcing decisions.
Malkin: Wolverine Worldwide (Cushe’s parent company) has an audit policy of the highest standards.
Would you like to do more manufacturing in the United States?
Theodosakis: Yes! We do look to our domestic partners each season to manufacture close to home. There is a fine balance between finding the right products to make in the U.S. and also ensuring we are offering our consumers the variety of products. We currently produce roughly 20 percent of our units in the U.S. and try and increase this amount every season. We feel pretty proud of this since the industry average is about 1 percent to 2 percent.
Malkin: Yes, of course. Wolverine even maintains a factory in Big Rapids, Michigan. It’s something customers do want and when we can, we do manufacture in the U.S.
Have you shifted at all to local sourcing?
Snell: Where applicable, we do source locally, although some of our domestic product is made using overseas fabrics.
Malkin: Yes. For some domestic manufacturing, we would obviously source some local components.
What is your biggest supply chain challenge?
Snell: Luckily we have been seeing more sustainable fibers being produced by the mills we use. This has helped tremendously. The biggest challenge is putting all of these great things together in one–best cost, best factories, best fabrics, best quality and best delivery. The challenge is the balance of it all.
Malkin: Following the latest fashion trends can pose a challenge for sourcing. The design side is on trend, but many times the most fashionable materials are not suitable for footwear.
How are you dealing with cost increases?
Bassett: Costing is part of this balance. We are always testing how much the consumer can absorb, and ensure we are delivering up to their expectations, season after season. Fair wages and environmental compliance in our factories is extremely important to prAna, which can sometimes increase cost of goods, so we have to be creative with the product and the pricing to find a way to make it work.
Malkin: It’s tough. But if we can anticipate increases at the beginning of the season and build it into the project cost, it’s easier to deal with. If we don’t look ahead, a mid season price increase can throw the balance of a project off. For example, right now rawhide prices are rising season after season, but if we project forward smartly, we can plan for those costs.