Since we covered the launch of her sustainable textiles sourcing platform Source4Style back in 2010 and saw her strutting her stuff at the Sustainable Brands Conference, our favorite eco-fashionista, Summer Rayne Oaks, has been hard at work. Earlier this year, she and her Source4Style co-founder, Benita Singh, won an international business plan competition, the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award, and this month they are launching a new and improved version of the website.
According to Singh, Source4Style is using the Internet to facilitate commerce between two groups that are disconnected in the global marketplace – the leading sustainable suppliers and the independent designers and apparel brands that are trying to find them. Traditionally, sourcing has required the expenditure of significant resources on both sides of this equation. Suppliers spend up to 43 percent of their marketing budgets on trade shows alone; and according to research from Cornell University, designers dedicate 85 percent of their time to sourcing materials. Source4Style’s mission is to alleviate this burden for designers while also providing them with access to high quality sustainable materials.
With Source4Style 2.0, the founders have successfully brought the traditionally uninteresting concept of a supplier database for sustainable materials into the realm of fashion. The sleek new look and robust, trend-driven content features of the site have transformed it into an online style community that’s likely to draw the discerning eyes of budding new designers. “Online directories are frequently glorified Yellow Pages where suppliers pay to be listed,” Summer explains. “Design and apparel brands want to come to a place where they are inspired, where they can discover new trends.” By listening to and understanding their consumer, Oakes and Singh have created a website that showcases the products beautifully, while also providing content and an experience that fits with the industry. The stylistic polish and aesthetically pleasing user interface may even draw the attention of designers who wouldn’t otherwise seek out sustainable materials.
These ladies have worked hard to vet and build relationships with sustainable suppliers all over the world. Any supplier – from cooperative artisans to emerging textile manufacturers – can apply to showcase their products on the site. Detailed profiles allow designers to learn about the suppliers’ unique stories and get detailed information on the specific sustainability attributes of each product. Source4Style is also expanding their selection of sustainable materials to include yarns, buttons, zippers, lace and trims and designers can easily order swatches and samples for $4 each. The content-rich website also includes seasonal trend reports, design webinars, bi-weekly Curations by some of the top names in fashion and culture, and an in-house video-mag, Cutting Edge, hosted by Summer. These features make Source4Style an online destination where emerging fashion designers can go to find information and materials that will inspire their designs and make them more unique as well as more sustainable.
Although Source4Style is not a certification body, they do take great pains to vet suppliers according to a variety of different sustainability criteria. Icons on the product page indicate whether each material is recycled, organic, handmade, or crafts preservation. Suppliers are asked to upload their certifications and to provide any other information that supports the sustainability of their products and operations. Users are encouraged to interact directly with suppliers to get additional information. By connecting sellers directly with buyers, this structure shortens the supply chain and makes it more transparent. According to Oakes, “the industry is under increasing pressure to ensure social and environmental compliance along the supply chain. Organizations like the American Apparel & Footwear Association, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, and OIA’s Eco Index send a clear signal that change is imminent. It’s too great a liability for any brand not to know where their stuff is coming from.”
Source4Style’s online approach to sustainable sourcing is unique in the marketplace but it provides a format that other industries may be able to duplicate in order to make finding sustainable materials easier and more enjoyable for everyone involved. Using relevant content and informed design, Source4Style has created an online experience with the potential to introduce many new designers to sustainable materials and show them how pleasant and inspiring the sourcing experience can actually be.
Kara Scharwath is a corporate social responsibility professional, marketing consultant and Sustainable Management MBA Candidate. She is currently working as a Graduate Associate in Corporate Citizenship at the Walt Disney Company while pursuing her degree at Presidio Graduate School. Follow her on Twitter @karameredith.