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Sustainable fashion: Print-On-Demand from Printful 
Sustainable fashion is the new norm

Sustainable fashion is a scientific and data-driven movement that aims to ensure that our clothes are made, sold and worn as sustainably as possible. Furthermore, the movement aims to address the social problems that affect industrial workers, such as low salaries and poor working conditions.

I find it satisfying that this call comes from the customers themselves. People are aware of the problems of the fashion industry. They want to improve the situation and demand that companies follow suit.

Source: Nielsen

Retail chains understand that they must respond to customer requests. However, brand manufacturers must understand that simply repeating marketing slogans is not enough to satisfy an eco-conscious target group.

For example, in 2019 the British fashion retail chain Boohoo (article in English)that they stop using wool to be more environmentally friendly. This decision was reversed a few hours later after they were heavily criticized by their customers, among other things because wool is a relatively sustainable material.

Aside from the rocky start, Boohoo has since proven that they care about making meaningful changes. Last year, the retail chain expanded its first collection made entirely from recycled material (English), published. Today they are more transparent about what their Social Responsibility Initiatives (English) concerns.

Deceiving customers that you are sustainable, so-called greenwashing, doesn't work. You have to become sustainable to actually make change, not just follow consumer trends (or pretend to).

To understand why it is necessary to work together towards sustainable fashion, it is important to know the main problems of the fashion industry.

The current state of the fashion industry

The global Fashion industry turnover (English) is expected to rise from $481.2 billion in 2018 to $712.9 billion in 2022.

Source: Statista

Luckily, the fashion industry has never been more eager to become more sustainable than it is now.

The main problem is the pollution caused by the production and sale of clothing. To better understand the magnitude of this problem, let's look at the life story of one of the fashion industry's all-time favorite items: the white cotton t-shirt.

Cotton clothing is comfortable, durable and breathable. Cotton is also relatively cheap to plant and harvest, so it's no surprise that, other than food, cotton is the world's most widely consumed grain.

However, cotton has a dark side: Farmers use pesticides, insecticides and fertilizers, which, mixed with the water, penetrate the soil and thus affect the country's biodiversity and reduce fresh drinking water.

Growing cotton for one T-shirt requires 3,323 liters of water. This is enough drinking water for a person for 3.5 years. For comparison: the same amount of polyester only requires 18 liters of water.

After the cotton is harvested, it is sent to a mill, which processes it into a rough, gray fabric. The fabric is then bleached, dyed and processed with chemicals to achieve the desired look - a roll of soft, white fabric that is sent to sewing factories to make T-shirts. Each of these steps can cause environmental damage through the use of chemicals and water.

Eventually the t-shirts arrive at your favorite store, you buy one and wear it. But what happens to the other shirts on the rack? T-shirts that are not sold often end up in landfills and are burned, which leads to even more exhaust fumes and pollution.

The fashion industry and its customers are aware of these issues and the commitment to change things for the better is at an ongoing high. Everyone is looking for solutions that will turn the industry around so that every cotton t-shirt ends up in our wardrobes in a sustainable way.

Printful's experiences as a print-on-demand service

Print-on-demand services are probably just one step towards a more sustainable fashion industry. Let's look at how Printful's product catalog and inventory, printing techniques and equipment, and the way we manage our manufacturing facilities help our customers create sustainable brands.

The pressure

We try to make the printing process as environmentally friendly as possible. We invested $27 million in state-of-the-art printing equipment and will continue to invest in the latest technologies from companies with sustainable fashion in mind.

We are a proud partner of Kornit, a specialist in prints directly on textiles. Thanks to their commitment and efforts towards sustainability, Kornit printers produce almost no waste water and use less energy, reducing their carbon footprint.

Direct-To-Garment prints are more sustainable than traditional printing methods such as screen printing. Not only does screen printing use a lot of water and non-biodegradable plastisol ink, but it also tends to lead to overproduction. For comparison: Direct-To-Garment printing is more environmentally friendly because items are only printed when they already have a buyer.

Our stocks

The biggest advantage for print-on-demand providers over other large fashion retailers is that they produce less waste.

Traditional clothing chains create items to sell and are mass-produced to save costs. In contrast, at Printful we only print an item once a customer has placed an order for it and only produce items that already have a destination.

Because of this, we can avoid overproduction, where unsold goods have to be thrown away or burned, as is the case.other retail giants are already doing (English). In an industry that produces 92 million tons of waste every year, such a business strategy is groundbreaking.

Print-on-demand waste primarily comes from items that are damaged during the printing process. Printful's average for damaged goods is within the industry average.

Printful donates returned items to local charities and gives damaged clothing to animal shelters, which can use them for their own purposes.

The products we print and how we source them are also crucial. That's why our purchasing department is always looking for new products that we can add to our range. One of our goals for 2020 is Printful's range of organic and eco-friendly items to expand.

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