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What's new in various product categories; monthly update.

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Eco Friendly & Socially Conscious Yarns 

Hiring and sourcing local supports the economy and the environment.

by Phyllis Howe (November 3, 2008)

Ask anyone in the textile or fiber industry what it means to label a yarn as "green" or "organic," and you will get as many answers as the number of people you ask. There are no enforced standards or guidelines for organic yarns, and eco-responsible practices are very difficult to enforce and maintain. The production of most textiles and related products, including yarn, often include polluting substances such as dyes and fixatives. Strong chemical materials are needed in order to produce the vibrant colors that appeal to designers, consumers and all those who work with yarns.

In addition, a popular current claim is being made for the production of fibers in a socially conscious environment. While many highly regarded companies promote cottage industry development and the societies that are thus affected, it is necessary to understand and examine the countries where labor and safety laws may be lax in order to properly evaluate the social merits of such industry.

This is not to say that the practices are intended to be irresponsible. It's simply that production of low margin materials, such as cloth and yarn, requires many hands, working many hours and unless watchdog policies are maintained, it's impossible to always guarantee that workplace standards are kept high.

Add to this the devaluation of the U.S. dollar and the resultant rising costs to manufacturers, and it is no wonder that some manufacturers are re-considering another form of commitment to the well being of one's citizens and economy: Realistic and responsible domestic sourcing, hiring, and production.

In the end, supporting local communities, where and when possible, is just good business for more than one reason. Those who have been able to do it successfully cite the following benefits of going local:

A) A local work force is employed and families and goals are supported. B) Quality control is more easily maintained, as is flexibility in adaptation to change, customization, and faster delivery. C) Strengthens community relations. D) Manageable shipping costs. E) Energy savings via use of local transportation.

While local hiring and sourcing is feasible for some products, it is often not possible to source all materials domestically. When necessary to import, another factor to consider is the social wisdom of working within countries where fair trade principles regarding labor are actively enforced. Italy and Japan are examples of two countries who produce fine fiber and yarn products in a responsible environment.

One company that has successfully employed this mode of production management is ArtYarns, located in White Plains, NY. (www.artyarns.com). As a producer of high-quality, fine knitting and crochet fibers, ArtYarns employs several U.S. citizens from its local neighborhood -- all of whom are supporting families here and abroad.

Elliott Schreier, President/CEO of ArtYarns, says, "When we have to buy out of the U.S., we feel it's important to only buy our yarns from countries where fair trade labor practices are enforced, but whenever possible, we make sure to source everything as close to home as possible. That includes dyes, equipment, and our staff. We feel good about hiring and training local people, as well. All of our employees have family responsibilities and have put down roots in the community."

In the end, it's not just about a label that makes claims. It's about the realities of a business and what they can do on every step of the journey from raw materials to finished product to insure that all phases of production are conscious and humane. Many smart companies realize that a lot of that takes place close to home.

(Note: To read previous Category Reports, click on the titles in the right-hand column.)



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