If you’re an up-and-coming fashion designer, you probably don’t have the cash to travel to trade shows to find the best materials, but you also (hopefully) don’t want to end up with a supplier that uses sweatshop labor or spews pollutants. In the past, you might just throw up your hands in frustration. But now Source4Style, an online platform that facilitates interactions between environmentally and socially responsible suppliers and the designers that want their goods, is offering access to feel-good fabrics from all over the world.
The site, founded by Benita Singh and "eco-model" Summer Rayne Oakes, launched in beta in October 2010, but a snazzier redesigned version rolled out this past December. Since launching in 2010, Source4Style has rounded up 1,500 registered design and apparel brands, 40 suppliers, and over 1,000 materials. There are 40 more suppliers in the pipeline.
Originally, Oakes and Singh planned to focus on serving independent apparel designers—a group that shells out anywhere from $5,000 to $100,000 a year on materials, and spends up to 85% of their time sourcing instead of designing (what they would presumably rather be doing). But during the beta test, the entrepreneurs discovered they were also attracting professionals working for big name brands like Monsoon and Eileen Fisher. "We realized the infrastructure didn’t exist for designers to connect with more sustainable suppliers around the world. This [success] was great affirmation that this was happening," says Oakes.
Designers have a few options when signing up for Source4Style, including a free membership that offers access to material specs (weight, country of origin, etc.) and the ability to order swatches and samples from Source4Style’s warehouse; and a $35-per-month membership that features sustainable design trend sheets, the ability to book orders online directly with suppliers (thereby shortening the supply chain), and unlimited global sourcing.
During beta testing, Source4Style was free. Oakes soon realized, however, the monetary value of the service the site provides. "We started valuing data. We collect 120 data points per material," she explains.
Products are searchable by color, type, country of origin, and socially and environmentally responsible attributes. All suppliers have to fulfill one of five criteria: they have to be recycled, organic, Fair Trade, handmade, or vertically integrated—meaning all stages of production are controlled by one company. "We built relationships with suppliers with the over 10 years combined experience we had in the sourcing world," says Oakes. "Now we’re getting requests to showcase on the site, and we’re working with trade ministries in countries where textiles are a huge part of the GDP."
So what are some of Oakes’ favorite materials on the site? "The things that are most interesting to me are a bit more precious," she says. " They come from suppliers in India and Cambodia, and are beautifully handwoven materials that make sense for independent designers who are creating special collections that really stand out because they can never reach the price point of an H&M or Gap."