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From the Field: To the White House We Go!!

Team Zady

It’s not often that one receives an invitation from the White House, so when an official invitation arrived at the office, well we had a little moment. And then we booked the earliest Amtrak we could find, and we were off.

Let’s set the stage for you a little. The invitation was for a roundtable discussion on innovation in supply chains. On all sides were companies like Boeing, GE, Toyota, Whirlpool, IBM, and us, Zady. (The official press release can be found here. For the very unofficial account, keep reading).

Innovation in manufacturing, historically, has been the heart of growth in this fine country. From the original assembly line in the Ford Model T factory, to the lightbulb, to the air conditioner, to the airplane, our “can do” spirit has innovated on the ideas as well as the means to make those products a reality for many of us.

But then the Aughts happened and U.S. manufacturing, well it stopped doing so great. In fact, America lost 5.7 million, or 33%, of its manufacturing jobs in the 2000s. It’s a tough statistic to absorb, when picturing that livelihoods the it represents.

Today when you hear the phrase “U.S. Manufacturing,” what comes to mind? The first thing many people think of these days are big empty, decaying factories. But in the 1960s, when manufacturing was booming, that phrase conjured up images of “the future.” And that’s the problem—U.S. manufacturing is no longer about the future, it’s lost its cool. Of course, we 100% want great jobs in the country, but if the industry isn’t cutting edge, it’s not cool. So if we want jobs, we need to be cutting edge. Innovation and progress both in the ideas and in the execution of those ideas must be the starting point, then the jobs will follow.

Innovation and progress both in the ideas and in the execution of those ideas must be the starting point, then the jobs will follow.

In the textile and apparel industry (one of the very hardest hit within the domestic manufacturing sector) there is so much progress and innovation that is needed, which makes it a very exciting time for us to be working on these issues.

Today the textile industry is the second most polluting in the world, second only to oil. (Yes, you’re right, that’s as crazy and horrible as it sounds). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, you can find more about the issues here and here. Ya know why? Because brands went for the cheapest places for production, but ‘cheap’ has also meant cutting corners on everything from the environment to labor (and it’s exactly that corner cutting that has made it cheaper to produce overseas).

There is so much innovation to be done in making clothing more sustainable. From improvements in water treatment, to innovation in waterless dyes, to workflow management systems at the cut and sew stage, to verification systems to ensure sustainable practices, to closed loop systems so our clothing may have a second and third life.

And what’s great (and green!) about producing in America is that we already have a cleaner power grid than the other apparel manufacturing hubs and we already have really great environmental regulatory standards in place from the Clean Water Act and the US Department of Agriculture, among others. Of course that should just be the beginning, but it’s a very good head start.

Thinking, strategizing and acting on ways to move the fashion industry in a sustainable direction is, of course, at the core of what we do

Thinking, strategizing and acting on ways to move the fashion industry in a sustainable direction is, of course, at the core of what we do. But it was a unique opportunity to be able both to share and learn from companies in completely different worlds like Boeing, IBM and Toyota. For our part, we shared the feedback that we have heard from you, that we, as a community, want to make good decisions and want companies to be transparent about their processes and active in making them sustainable. We go to the White House representing all of us who want our purchase decisions to matter.

For the U.S. to lead in manufacturing innovation, and what we hope will be sustainable innovation, we all have to think big and dream big. That’s why we are thankful that the White House has been supportive of the manufacturing sector and creating opportunities like this roundtable discussion for us to connect. (And something seems to be working - since 2010 manufacturing jobs have actually increased, at an average rate of 152,400 new jobs each year).

We have a lot of pride in being American. America has stood for progress and innovation. The country and the world have great challenges to face: how to dress and feed a global population that will reach 10 billion by 2050 in a world of constrained resources and have it all done in a way that keeps the planet safe for future generations. To get us there, we must innovate. America can lead this wave of innovation and in so doing return American Manufacturing to the heart of our country and a source of pride. What’s great is that the environmental and labor regulations and infrastructure that we have developed in this country in this context are actually an advantage rather than a hindrance. We’re excited and honored to be a part of this future and with your participation, we the Zady community will be drivers of this change.

P.S. FLOTUS, if anyone who works with you sees this, we love your style! How great would it be if your style also said “sustainably sourced and made in the USA”? If so, we know a t-shirt or sweater that would look great on you!

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