During #FashionRevolutionWeek we’ve talked a lot about how we create our garments, but ethical considerations don’t end there. Everything from ensuring you’re receiving a high-quality garment, to managing waste is part of our commitment to creating clothing with a small ecological footprint.
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At the tail end of the design and manufacturing process, we get the finished product delivered to our warehouse. This happens about once a fortnight, and we’re always excited when it does!
Upon delivery from our makers, Laura and Sam check over the garments to ensure they are up to our production standards.
But before these pieces go out to stores, we need to ensure the final product is up to a standard we know our customers expect.
Because we take great pride in the quality of our garments, quality control is an important step between receiving the final product from the makers and sending it into stores. This is where the keen eyes of our production assistant Sam and our warehouse assistant Laura come in handy.
At this stage, all the information for the products online are also finessed, including garment measurements, photographs and product descriptions. We know you might not always be able to make it into our stores to try before you buy, so we put effort into ensuring you can make a confident choice with your chosen size and style – just a couple of things that extend the life of our clothing.
If you’ve ever wondered why some sizes and styles sell out quickly, here’s your answer: We intentionally keep our quantities small, meaning you get a limited edition product that is worth cherishing.
Our jewellery now arrives both from our makers and from us when you order online without the inclusion of single-use plastic packaging.
If there’s one thing you get when you buy something online, it’s (often) an excess of packaging, right? Of course there is a functional element to packaging – noone wants their purchase to arrive at their doorstep damaged! But we also don’t want the efforts we go to when creating ethical clothing to be undone by poor attention to packaging our products
Packaging has been a focus at Obus for the last 12 months, with our team researching and designing packaging that can be used to post out online orders and be either recyclable, reusable, and/or not wholly made from plastic materials. As well, we have worked with our makers and producers to deliver product to us packaged in recyclable materials or in ways that reduces the amount of single-use plastic waste.
CAPTION: Our cardboard clothing swing tags are recyclable (and you can even bring them back to us for re-use!). Shoes arrive from our makers without superfluous plastic packaging. And if you choose to leave take your shoes out of the box before you leave one of our stores, rest assured that box will be put to good use in our production studio for housing bibs and bobs.
Fabric offcuts are inevitable part of clothing production. While we strive to make the most of each piece of fabric (even tweaking the design of garments to ensure fabric wastage is reduced), there will always be small leftovers.
So what do we do with those offcuts? Quite simply, we make things from them like scarves, beeswax wraps and other accessories. Yes, by donning a humble Obus scrunchie, you’re doing something to save the planet from fabric waste! Thanks, scrunchies (*whispers* We’re so glad you’re back.)
Extending the life of our clothing
As we mentioned earlier this week, built into our design ethos is a desire to make each and every Obus garment something to treasure – not just for one season, but for years to come.
It’s the key to reducing the pressure clothing manufacturing puts on the world’s resources: buy well, and be intentional about your purchases. Keep your items in tip-top shape and you’ll enjoy them much longer than a garment with an expiry date built into it.
Whether it's through our initiatives such as Swap Shop, or our offer to repair garments if they are found to be faulty, or sharing our tips for the best washing and general care of your garments – we're always looking for new ways to help our customers get the most out of their Obus clothing.
Thanks for following our FASHION REVOLUTION series!
While we realise the small size of our business can’t change the processes of a global fashion industry, collectively both yours and our purchasing power can.
We’re proud to be a part of a groundswell of businesses making similar ethical manufacturing decisions, and we hope this series has offered you insights into how we are making our business philosophy and practices more transparent and ethical.
Making a garment is one element of fashion production, but what about the materials these products are made from? In this part of our Fashion Revolution series, we take you behind the scenes of some of our local suppliers of fabric and hardware.
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At Obus, we like to design our clothing using fabrics that we trust to go the distance – in terms of wearability, comfort, and compatibility with our original prints. There’s a reason we feature cotton, linen, Tencel, Viscose, Merino wool, cotton jersey and denim in our seasonal collections over and over again. You love these fabrics, and so do we!
To talk about our favourite types of fabric could cover a dozen separate blogs, so we’ll keep it simple today and tell you about the fabric behind one of Obus’ best-selling products: our black TRAVELLER PANT. Yep, you know the one – you might even own a pair (or three!).
The sisterhood and the TRAVELLER PANT
While we produce almost all of our products in limited edition quantities, the TRAVELLER PANT is one style we continue to produce over and over again (because you can’t get enough of them!). We love the Cotton Traveller Pant in Midnight because it is made from GOTS-certified Organic Cotton. The cotton is dyed by our partners in Melbourne, before being made by our Melbourne makers (maybe we should have called it the MELBOURNE PANT?). Our Winter version of this wardrobe staple - the MERINO TRAVELLER PANT - is also dyed here and made in Melbourne.
Our cotton jersey and Merino fabric is produced and dyed in Melbourne.
You might recall we visited these folks last year – they also dye our Merino fabric. Raw wool for all our Merino collections is sourced from New Zealand and Australian sources where possible, and when we source Merino from Vietnamese producers, this is done so by a Bluesign® system partner, which means the company producing the wool complies with strict ethical and environmental standards right from the beginning of the manufacturing process.
Not all the cotton we use is organic, but we work hard to ensure it is ethically sourced. We are signatories of the Uzbek Cotton Pledge, meaning none of our cotton is sourced from Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan (these countries have a seriously poor reputation on human rights when it comes to farming cotton). Most of our cotton is grown and produced in China, and we’re moving toward ensuring all cotton suppliers are BCI Members.
Of course, cotton is not the most environmentally friendly base material – it uses a lot of water in its growth and production. To counter that, we look to other methods of reducing water waste, such as our move away from screen-printing our original designs onto fabric, towards digital printing. It’s a small step, but in adopting a developing technology we hope that in coming years it will have a big impact on the industry as a whole.
Buttons and trims and zips, oh my!
The Melbourne fashion industry is full of colourful characters, and none more bedazzled than Jim Ketoglidis, affectionally known by his business’ name: Jimmy Buttons.
Every month or so, our production assistant Sam will venture into Jimmy’s shop in Fitzroy seeking out the perfect button, elastic or zip to complete an Obus design. And oh my, is there a lot of options!
Self-described as ‘a magical Aladdin’s Cave full of amazing fashion accessories’, this Melbourne institution is an important part of the local fashion industry.
Jimmy Buttons has wall-to-wall-to-ceiling buttons, zips and other haberdashery in Fitzroy, with its namesake Jimmy at the helm.
Jimmy Buttons is open to the public, so you can go and see it for yourself (and say hi to his pups from us!).
Obus Corozo buttons – a little thing that does a lot of good
We want to give a shout out to one type of button we often use in our garments, because it has some pretty cool environmental credentials. It’s a corozo button.
Obus corozo buttons ready to be sent away for dyeing to match our forthcoming SEVEN SONGS print. They're dyed for us into custom colours in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.
What is a corozo button? Well, corozo is a 100% natural product. It’s actually a nut that grows on the Phytelephas palm tree, a native found in countries such as Ecuador and Peru.
Corozo goes a long way to support indigenous communities of northwest South America with sustainable trade and employment, and because the Phytelephas Palm can’t be grown on plantations, it doesn’t risk these areas falling victim to deforestation and over-farming.
As a button material, corozo is tough, can be dyed into a multitude of colours and is much more environmentally friendly than plastic. Isn’t it great how a small choice can lead to a lot of good?
Read more about how we’re reducing waste at Obus tomorrow, as we wrap up our Fashion Revolution series!
Not everything from Obus is made in Australia, but that is by no means a bad thing! Ethical fashion production can be undertaken all over the world – the key is choosing manufacturers wisely, and we do so with our high standards front of mind.
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Around five years ago, the diminished state of the knitwear and leathergoods industry in Australia encouraged us to look overseas for specialised businesses who could produce our seasonal knits and footwear, while meeting our high ethical production standards.
Truthfully, it’s been a journey to find overseas partners who understand our ethos and can work with a business of our size to bring our ideas to life. For many manufacturers, we are simply ‘too small’ to partner with. As we mentioned yesterday, producing huge volumes of product is not something we aspire to - yet for many on the manufacturing side of things, consciously producing a small minimum quantity of clothing or footwear styles is often a dealbreaker. Which we’re sure you’ll agree is a sad state of affairs, given that there is a crisis of fast fashion today and an oversupply of poor-quality clothing on the market.
But nevertheless, we persisted! As we detailed on the blog last year, Kylie undertook a factory research tour in China in 2018, and we now work with Dongguan-based knitwear and Yunnan-based footwear manufacturing partners.
From a design perspective, it’s very freeing to work closely with manufacturers who have decades of knowledge and the latest technology to make excellent products at an affordable price. But we’re also thrilled to be in tune with them on an ethical level. Our knitwear factory is BSCI accredited and audited annually to confirm all aspects of their workplace conditions are in accordance with human rights, ILO conventions and national labor law. Our footwear is made by a small team dedicated to producing made-to-order limited runs of bespoke shoes in an ethically and environmentally conscious way (you might remember them from this blog last year!).
While leather is a natural product, there are environmental considerations when it comes to tanning, dyeing and producing products from it. We work with our partners to assist us at this level too. They help to ensure leather is sourced from tanneries that have strict environmental controls in place. All material comes from farmed animals, and is vegetable dyed (not chemical dyed with nasties like chromium).
We want to assure customers that products can be manufactured in China ethically, and the first step is to increase transparency around our overseas production processes (so both we and you can make informed decisions). Having chosen our manufacturers after an extensive research process and site visits, we can be confident that those who produce our footwear and knitwear are respected, have safe working conditions and are remunerated fairly. We're excited to be creating products with them thanks to their decades of specialist craftsmanship and their passion for investigating new ethical materials and processes.
As you might already know, over 80% of Obus products are made in Australia (the majority of them right here in Melbourne!). Today we introduce you to our designers and production team, and take a tour of one of our local manufacturer’s factories.
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It starts with considered design
Each Obus collection is designed in collaboration by our founder Kylie, designer Joni and general manager Natalie. At any one time the team could be working on three seasonal collections at once, each at different stages of production.
Kylie’s inimitable prints are always the core of each collection, bolstered by coordinates in unexpected colourways. Depending on the season, the team could be conjuring up styles and silhouettes in light breezy cottons or cosy knitwear.
Kylie, Joni and Nat are concerned not just with creating single-wear items – that concept is wholly against Obus’ philosophy. Instead, they are committed to building wardrobes of pieces that are at once on-trend and timeless in their design aesthetic.
Truthfully, there is a lot of talk about YOU in these meetings – how are you, our lovely customers, wearing our garments? Where are you wearing them, and why? How do we want you to feel when you put them on, and what features do you love that we can include in a new design? Surrounded by fabric swatches, yarn samples, and tons of colour inspiration, the pieces of each collection puzzle come together slowly but surely at these meetings, before being passed on to our production team and makers.
Remie, one of our pattern makers, Tamsin our sample machinist and Sam our production assistant take the design team’s ideas and get them closer to a final product design. When making samples, Tamsin records her time spent making a garment, and this helps to ensure bulk manufacturing is costed at a fair wage price.
From 2D sketch to 3D garment
Before we make dozens of an Obus garment, we must first make just one! Our pattern makers Ros and Remie, and sample machinist Tamsin, work in our Northcote studio taking the sketches from our design team and turning them into a three-dimensional garment. Through fittings and some informal ‘wear tests’ (meaning the Obus team wearing samples around the studio to see how they perform in real life!), the design team tweak each design until it feels just right.
Once a garment is perfected, Ros will create garment patterns and Remie will grade them to different sizes, before our production assistant Sam gets these patterns ready to deliver to our makers.
Meet one of our Melbourne makers
Liem, one of our Melbourne-based makers, with a fresh batch of our LOVE AND FURY styles!
Our commitment to manufacturing locally has a been at the heart of Obus since its beginnings 20 years ago. While once-upon-a-time Kylie made many of the garments herself, over the years we have been in the fortunate position to work with other small businesses, primarily in Melbourne, to manufacture our clothing.
The benefits of working with local makers for a business of our size is two-fold.
First, we can keep our order quantities small, so garments are not over-produced (contributing to myriad environmental problems down the track!). Yes, many of our garments sell out quickly when we produce in small quantities, but we think this is actually a good thing. Each one becomes a treasured possession for years to come.
Sam regularly visits our maker Liem’s factory to check in on how things are going with upcoming styles like our WINTER GARDEN print, pictured here (really though, we think she just loves to regularly cuddle Liem’s puppy Luna).
Secondly though – and importantly – by manufacturing locally we have ready and easy access to the working conditions of the people making our clothes. Based in Melbourne’s West, our maker Liem’s small factory is equipped with all the space and resources needed to make small-batch clothing. Timelines for production and delivery of our products are dictated by our makers. This means they can manage production of garments without requiring excessive overtime from their staff, all the while ensuring fair remuneration.
Sam, and our production manager Alison, are in regular contact with Liem and our six other local manufacturers, coordinating everything from fabric delivery to garment details. Whether we go and visit them, or they come to us, they’re a visible part of the Obus family. (One maker regularly brings us donuts, so they are obviously our favourite. Kidding, Liem, kidding!).
Details of Liem’s studio. From our large rolls of fabric, his team seek to maximise the use of the fabric for the style (thereby reducing fabric wastage), before producing and pressing each garment.
Just like our customers support us – a local business – we feel proud that we can support small local businesses as well. We’d like to make everything we produce in Australia, but unfortunately this is not always possible. Why? Tune in tomorrow for information about our overseas manufacturers and the steps we’ve taken to ensure our high ethical standards are upheld when we produce offshore.
Each piece of Obus clothing goes on a long journey before it is worn and loved by you. As part of Fashion Revolution Week 2019, we want to show you who makes our clothes and talk more about what we are doing to champion ethical fashion.
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A few of the faces behind Obus clothing! Back row L-R: designer Joni, production assistant Sam, photographer Kit, sample machinist Tamsin, patternmaker Remie, marketing manager Tess and founder/creative director Kylie.