Bringing Textiles Back to the Triangle
Redress Uses Eco Trend and New Technology to Grow an Industry
BY SARAH BILL
Filed Under: NEWS: Startups
The Triangle area is a major hub for technology and sustainable businesses. But it used to be the center of a booming textile industry, before globalization sent much of manufacturing overseas. Now, three textile advocates are trying to bring it back—using the technology and eco-consciousness the region is already known for.
Redress Raleigh is a for-profit S Corporation aiming to grow the eco-fashion and textile industry in North Carolina. It provides a network that connects local designers, retailers, textile manufacturers and industry leaders. A paid membership to the Redress community includes access to all other members' information, and the ability to develop valuable business relationships. Redress seeks to support the triple-bottom-line of not only increasing revenue, but also taking into account social and environmental impact in decision making.
But it wasn't always structured this way. According to Redress co-founder Mor Aframian (pictured right), who handles marketing and communications at the company, there was a long path to get to this model.
“In 2008, the three [co-founders] got together. We were interested in sustainable fashion, [and] wanted to promote and empower designers,” says Aframian.
At that point, Aframian already had a textile upcycling business where she altered donated clothing into fashionable pieces with social messages. The other two co-founders, Beth Stewart (center) and Jamie Powell (left), had involvement with sustainability as well: Stewart served on the U.S. Green Building Council's Emerging Professionals committee and Powell had a vintage clothing business.
They began with a fashion show and expanded to clothing swaps and other social events promoting eco-conscious fashion. Aframian admits that some of the events did not work very well, such as music socials. Though the number of new entrepreneurs in the textile industry seemed to be growing constantly, it was hard to find their niche.
“Nobody else in the area was doing that,” says Aframian. “Then the Refashion fashion show in Durham started happening. We could see our local community was excited about the concept [of sustainable fashion].”
Redress was officially incorporated in November 2012, and started the membership program in 2013. According to Aframian, the goal of the program is to strengthen the network of eco-conscious industry stakeholders so they have an opportunity to grow businesses and improve manufacturing practices within the industry.
“Our product is a network and being connected to that network is valuable. We want to break down barriers with the membership program,” says Aframian. Redress currently has 34 members, approximately 65% of which are designers. Leopold Designs, which makes hand-dyed silk fabrics, is a member of Redress, as well as the U.S.-manufactured Lumina Clothing line, with a store in downtown Raleigh.
Besides membership fees, Redress makes money from the annual fashion conference through ticket sales and sponsorships. It makes perfect sense to host an eco-fashion and textile product conference in Raleigh, Aframian says. “Our area embraces sustainable design on many levels. We have the College of Textiles in our back yard. We have the Duke Social Entrepreneurship program. UNC has similar programs. [Our businesses] look at the triple-bottom-line.”
Redress hosted its 2014 Eco-Fashion and Textiles Conference (REFTC) May 30 and 31, gathering fashion designers, textile manufacturers and business owners for a fashion show and educational workshops all about the next generation of the textile business.
New technologies in the industry were discussed during the conference. Appalatch, an apparel manufacturing startup in Asheville specializing in sustainably-sourced wool, is beginning to use 3D knitting for its custom-fit sweaters (Its co-founder Grace is pictured right). The technology is similar to a 3D printer, which uses digital inputs to construct a solid object. The technology saves time, ensures precision and reduces waste. Although 3D knitting has been around for a few years, according to Aframian, it is just now coming into mainstream fashion.
Another new innovation is the use of 3D avatars in sampling. Sampling is the process in which garment prototypes are fitted before going into production. Traditionally, if any changes were needed, the garment would need to be remade. Instead, the 3D avatars can try on virtual clothing based on design specifications, speeding up the process and eliminating waste.
All of these new trends are part of what is drawing talent to the area. Both sustainability and new, efficient technologies are big focuses for businesses. “Sustainability reduces costs. [...] It promotes innovation. Also, customers are more aware of [eco-fashion] now. The demand is rising,” says Aframian. She says that the industry is no longer what it was, and now it requires much more training to use “top of the line” technology. Redress hopes to play that role.
So does the Carolina Textile District, another textile manufacturers network featured at the recent REFTC. It is a year-old statewide network for supporting and growing textile-based startups. In addition to providing a network, Carolina Textile District also holds a week-long intensive educational program. During the program, participating businesses receive mentoring in areas such as design, sourcing and production for sustainable textile products. Carolina Textile District has over 20 members.
Aframian says growing the North Carolina textile community is a main goal for Redress. “We want to make sure we create community where people feel comfortable to engage and talk about resources or share ideas,” says Aframian. “Really together we can push forward and push forward and make practices better within the industry.”
Redress plans to expand membership on a national level. The founders will also publish a $20 'Lookkbook' featuring fashions from the annual conference. According to Aframian, this will bring awareness to consumers about North Carolina's eco-conscious designers, and hopefully, some revenue to Redress so they can expand outreach and services for the textile community.
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