The industry is racing to become more responsible by developing all manner of sophisticated upcycling, recycling and closed-loop innovations—but some eco-friendly solutions can be quite simple.
Tengiva, for one, has developed an online textile marketplace for manufacturers, distribution centers and designers to buy and sell excess fabric, be it overstock from a production run or textiles with slight defects.
Annie Cyr, Tengiva’s founder, previously worked in textile development and sourcing and is dedicated to changing the way apparel brands think about sourcing.
Overstocks are not uncommon, Cyr said, but they are part of the reality of producing goods, and it’s time companies find ways to use the material.
“Before Tengiva came along, textile manufacturers had three ways of getting rid of their overstocks,” Cyr said. “Incineration, discarding in landfills or selling in large bundles to jobbers at low costs.” The strategy manufacturers decide to use depends on demand for a certain material, and brands that can’t find an interested buyer in their network are likely to just dispose of excess product, she said.
Statistics on overstock quantity and usage are inexact, according to Cyr, but Tengiva estimates excess textiles represent 3 percent to 5 percent of a supplier’s annual volume. That amount varies based on a company’s product assortment and business model, but across the entire apparel industry, it adds up to a substantial amount of fabric.
One way Tengiva stops excess product from entering into landfills is by targeting different points in the supply chain. This provides the company with a wide array of types, quantities and qualities of fabric, Cyr said. “Distributors or converters have a higher risk of having excess stocks because they must estimate the potential demand for a specific product months before they receive it,” Cyr pointed out.
On the other hand, textile manufacturers have a better chance at controlling excess stocks during production, but might need to get rid of fabric due to client insolvencies, color issues or slight defects.
Cyr and her team have a strong network with worldwide suppliers, through prior career experience that brought them to textile fairs, or paired them with designers as sourcing consultants. The company’s sales team also had plenty of connections to designers and fashion brands with an interest in saving money and reducing waste through small-batch materials orders. Sourcing its stock from all points in the supply chain allows Tengiva to serve a wide variety of clients while preventing as much excess as possible from being wasted.
Tengiva’s transactions are primarily B2B, with most sales going to industry professionals who have the technical knowledge and specific needs that allow them to navigate the company’s offerings. Still, Cyr hopes to use Tengiva as an educational tool as well, to help apparel manufacturers expand the array of fabrics they use and encourage creative uses of overstock.
“By teaching customers about the potential performances of fabrics, instead of telling them what to do with a certain item, they can go dare to explore and take their ideas much further,” Cyr said. For that reason, the search interface on Tengiva doesn’t categorize by finished clothing product types, such as shirting, casual or evening wear. “We don’t want our clients to limit the scope of their ideas. In reality, materials can be used for many other applications, so why label and limit their use?”
The Tengiva marketplace also sells second-grade fabric. The materials may be “off” for a number of reasons: color retention issues, contamination from other fibers, yarn defects, shrinkage or finishing issues. Because its customer base is already so knowledgeable about material, Cyr is happy to sell second-grade fabric that might otherwise be thrown away.
“We believe that as long as we’re transparent about why a textile is second-grade, and support this with documents, buyers can decide if it works for them or not.” Some customers choose to cut out defects from the materials, Cyr said, while others will buy the fabric and use it only for testing or sampling.
Cyr hopes Tengiva will be able to expand its network and serve a broader range of manufacturers and brands, especially as designers demand more specific performance and aesthetic qualities from their fabrics. Not only does it present a cost savings for both buyers and sellers, but it also prevents fabric from entering landfills.
Since post-consumer textiles already enter municipal waste centers in the number of millions of tons per year, Cyr hopes that manufacturers will realize the opportunity to create change, and stop burning or throwing out perfectly good overstock. “It happens all too often,” Cyr said.