Illustration by Lianne Middeldorp for MOCHNI
Illustration by Lianne Middeldorp for MOCHNI, Art direction: Antonia Böhlke

Do you ever wonder how the T-shirt you are wearing was made?
It seems so simple right, a cotton blossom turns into a terrific piece of fabric which then again is made into a beautifully designed T-shirt that lands directly on the counter in your favorite shop. Well, not quite yet. Here is a brief insight into the journey of the T-shirt, from the fabric to the counter.

The Textile Supply Chain

Before you buy a new T-Shirt it has already traveled a long way on trucks, boats, and airplanes and was touched by a lot of hands. On every level across the globe, different players are linked together – suppliers, intermediaries, logistic providers, production facilities, vendors, and consumers, the list goes on. To foster a fairer supply chain it is crucial to know which steps are involved.
To understand the complexity of producing a single T-Shirt every stage needs to be looked at individually. The chain starts with sourcing raw material essential for fiber production. There are two types, the natural fibers which are produced in farms (bamboo, linen, cotton, wool, etc.) and the manmade synthetic fibers (polyester, acrylic, nylon, etc.). Once the fiber is harvested it is spun in spinning mills and converted into yarn. The yarn can be produced in regular or fancy varieties. The actual fabric is produced in the weaving and knitting process. After this step is completed the process of dyeing, printing and finishing starts. These steps are also known as garmenting. Once the design is created pieces of fabric are cut in the specific shapes and joined together in the stitching process. Next, the design enters the finishing process where it is cleaned, pressed and final preparations are made. Finally, the T-shirt is packed, labeled and distributed to the respective retail store.

The Challenges

By the time you buy your T-shirt, it has traveled thousands of kilometers on different continents. In this complex and interconnected process the greatest challenges in assuring more sustainability cover the areas of labor rights, the environment, and anti-corruption. Along the way, key issues such as extreme use of water, chemicals, carbon footprint, child labor, and work safety are faced.

The Silver Lining

To create a more sustainable supply chain people, both on a societal and individual level, must be aware of its complexity and multiplicity of challenges.
Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives including companies, labor organizations, NGOs, and governments demonstrate that through joint forces safer supply chains can be built effectively. By exchanging on best practices, sustainability across the industry can be accelerated. In other words, only a united industry is capable of creating a fairer production cycle.

However, in the end, consumers have the power to facilitate a more rapid change. Next time you buy a T-shirts look out for textile standards on your T-shirt, such as GOTS, which assures the product purchased meets ecological and social requirements. Shop vintage, support fair labels and retrieve more information on sustainable fashion.