Fashion 4.0, No. 10: Sourcing Ethical & Sustainable Factories Just Got Easier
Thr3efold founder Jessica Kelly didn’t always know so much about how clothes were actually made. She originally worked on the “front-end” of fashion in public relations and marketing. “I came into what I’m doing now in the business-to-business community through a ‘back door,’” said Kelly. A couple of years ago, on a mission trip to Zimbabwe, she came face-to-face with the social injustice that people in developing nations can face. “It just didn’t sit right with me. There was so much to be done, and people weren’t getting much help from their government,” she recalled. That trip led her to visit to India, where she began to research factories that had higher social standards.
“India has some of the leading labor standards in the fashion industry, and I visited several factories that rescued women out of sex trafficking rings taught them life skills like financial planning. What they all had in common was awful websites. It was very clear to me that it was way too hard for people to find these good factories, and if you did work with factories overseas, the confidence level in the labor standards was way too elusive. That was my light-bulb moment,” she said.
Last summer, she launched a crowd-funding campaign to develop the technology for Thr3Efold (IG: @thr3efold), an ethical manufacturing platform and online community that connects apparel and soft accessories brands with factories around the world that bear leading ethical labor certifications. The site officially launched in beta mode this past September.
Here’s how it works: brands pay an annual fee to become members, which gives them access to a database of factories. Brands can filter their search based on production categories, quantity or country. Each factory has a profile page, and members can message a factory directly through the platform, as well as upload tech packs or designs to multiple factories in order to make cost inquiries and compare pricing. Once a project goes into production, Thr3efold’s user-friendly interface acts as a project management tool that’s easily viewable from a dashboard.
"Now that we are getting brands on the platform, we see what works what doesn’t,” said Kelly. “If you are scrolling through factories, there’s an extra button to message them and/or start a project right away, so you don’t lose track of a factory and you can continue scrolling.” That factory also gets automatically sent to the user dashboard to ensure it’s not “lost.”
On the factory side, Thr3efold charges a scaling commission based on the amount of orders a factory receives through the platform. “We want more factories on the platform, so we don’t charge them until they know they are getting work,” said Kelly.
Part of Kelly’s work includes making sure each factory’s ethical labor certificates are valid and up-to-date. She’s continually sourcing new factories by working with the certifying bodies themselves, and she hopes to take more scouting trips as well, because “nothing replaces being there in person.”
Initial members include smaller and start-up brands that don’t yet have a supply chain set up. One of her goals is to onboard factories that can scale along with a brand as it goes from needing smaller quantities to larger ones.
Thr3eFold also hosts an online community called Deadstock District, where brands can communicate about leftover fabrics that they wish to sell or trade. Right now, a marketplace version exists on Facebook, but Kelly hopes to integrate it into the Thr3efold platform next.
“One of our goals is to facilitate more B2B fabric sourcing. There’s a huge need for more accessible deadstock fabrics and right now they tends to only be available in smaller quantities.
We have factories overseas that have larger quantities, but the key is getting them to list their fabric liability (their unused fabric) on the platform. I’d like it to be a marketplace like eBay where they can set prices and work out logistics themselves,” said Kelly.
Her biggest revelation since launching Thr3efold is just how complex clothing production really is. “I went into this idea because my background was not production, and I was
naïve enough about how it works that I jumped all in,” she said. “The more I learn about it, the more surprised I am that we get anything made. I recently saw a source map project that tracked the supply chain of Vans shoes. It takes 30 countries to make one pair Vans.”
Kelly says the reason it’s so hard for brands to find factories is that the whole process is decentralized, with no one place brands can go to look for things. “Forget having standards on top of that. It’s definitely ripe for the picking to be organized and improved. At the end of the day, we are a factor to make fashion production more ethical and sustainable.”
Here's to Jessica Kelly and others like her who are working hard to move fashion forward to a new and better place. We hope that you found her story as helpful and inspiring as we did.
The Variant Team
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