After making my decision to make the change at work, I decided to have a quick look at what relevant community college courses might be around next year. I found this fabric printing course and decided, on a whim, to give it a go.
Although I don’t see myself actually doing the printing, I wanted to learn about the concepts. I also thought it might be a good way to meet other people doing interesting stuff, but also just to have a bit of fun and to feel like I’m actually moving forward on this idea, even though I can’t really do a whole lot until early next year.
One thing I’ve worked out pretty quickly is that there doesn’t really seem to be an environmentally sound method of printing. Even though you can use water-based inks, which manufacturers claim are non-toxic and can be washed into our waterways (a claim I’m yet to fully examine), the process of creating the screens seems to be either using plastic sheeting (Ezycut – for short runs) or photo emulsion, which uses photographic chemicals – neither of which is environmentally sound.
One of my hopes for the products is that perhaps, some day – when we have the money and resources to do so – to get our clothing Cradle to cradle certified. I can’t really see a way, unless we can properly recycle the chemicals or find an alternative method of creating the screens, to achieve that goal while using these printing techniques.
I’m also pretty sure that the C2C review will find all sorts of issues with printing ink, despite the general view that it’s “safe”, that make it unsuitable for C2C certification. And this doesn’t even venture into the world of fabric dyes, either, which are likely to have even more impacts!
In either case, that’s a longer-term goal – and there’s a lot of ways to be much more environmentally friendly than most manufacturers without getting to this level of detail. But I do want to ensure that our design process takes these things into consideration from day one – looking for alternatives and designing these kind of problems out of our products.
For example, if we design shirts that don’t require printing we remove one potential problem from the production process. And if we find clever ways to use undyed fabric, even better. (I should be clear that I’m not talking the “natural hippy” look here – just using natural fabric in clever ways within a fashion context.)