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Materials and how the fashion industry wastes local resources

Yennie Tran, Fashion Editor at Harper’s Bazaar, interviews Séfu founder Thomas Grové about fabric sourcing in Vietnam. 

Could you walk us through the normal process of creating the Athena jacket? Which part of the making progress do you find most stimulating?

The Athena Jacket, and all of the products that we’re developing at Séfu Fashion use what I call goal driven design. In goal driven design, first we use awareness of the world, observation, to identify a problem and then to develop solutions to solve that problem. In our case, I was noticing what people were wearing while riding motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City — and the majority of what I saw were hot, unflattering hoodies that won’t offer any protection in an inevitable accident. So we started with a question: can we develop clothing that people will want to wear because it’s attractive, that will also help protect the customer from heat, sun, and traffic injury?

“So we started with a question: can we develop clothing that people will want to wear because it’s attractive, that will also help protect the customer from heat, sun, and traffic injury?”

At that point we started to develop concept sketches based on assumptions about how air might flow and what areas we might want to protect, and what would look cool. At the same time we researched materials, best practices for protective gear, garment heat and moisture management theory, consumer buying habits, and studying data about the most common locations for injuries. All of this data feeds back into the concept stage of development and we make changes to the sketches.

Then we do 3D sketching, draping, drawing on models — whatever it takes to discover the lines that we want to express in our pattern. A 2D pattern is then developed and initial prototypes are cut and sewn together.

Now’s when the real fun starts. We get to wear the jacket! Typically we’ll wear a jacket for one or two weeks before summarising what we like and don’t like about the design. What assumptions about fit and materials were correct and which were wrong? We go back, adjust the pattern, change materials, and produce a new prototype. This process repeats until we’re confident that we’re able to reliably produce a quality item that achieves our design goals.

Speaking of finding the right materials for the jacket, have you encountered any difficulties with the local resources?

Yes! The good point about local resources is that you can buy one or two meters, there’s no MOQ (minimum order quantity). However, in our case, we want to use the highest quality materials and what’s generally referred to as technical fabrics. There is very little production of technical fabrics in Vietnam, and what is produces has high MOQs. That said, many of the materials in the local markets are good enough for us to test some of our assumptions, it’s just that they are not durable enough for us to use for our actual production runs.

How do you find the right materials for your jacket? Do you find it hard to work with the oversea suppliers?

We attend trade shows to see the latest fabrics on offer from mills and resellers. We also visit factories in Taiwan and China and resellers in Japan and Korea to see if they have anything interesting that will work for one of our products.

Comparing the local to the oversea fabric market, what are the advantages the oversea fabric market can offer which the local market can not?

The main problem (in our case) is that the local markets aren’t stocking technical fabric.

I have learnt that your next projects are to make hoodies and denim bottoms/jackets. Do you think it will be easier/more possible to find the good fabrics in Vietnam?

We’ve found a knit factory in Binh Duong that produces really interesting fabrics that we would love to use in a hoodie. We’re still trying to find out if we can buy from them in lower quantities. The main benefit to us for choosing a local supplier is that we can save on shipping and import duties, and maybe that also results in less greenhouse gas emissions. I’d love to buy all of our materials locally for these reasons, it’s just a challenge for us to find exactly what we want, no matter where in the world we source from.

As for Denim… the world has so many jeans. So if we can’t do something different, if we can’t make something special, then there will be no point. I’m fairly sure that we will need to import our denim in order to have something special about it. But I’m open minded — if there’s a local supplier who can make something great then I want to work with them!

What are the most important aspects of a product from the consumer’s perspective, in your opinion?

Price, comfort, and style… right? And when the item costs a bit more than what they’re used to spending then I think durability and reliability and brand reputation are going to come into play as well.

However, in Vietnam where it’s common to buy knock off or fake or factory surplus garments with big brand names on them… I guess the main concern is associating yourself with the brand image that you’re wearing. Quality isn’t the main concern.

It is said that the consumers nowadays want cheaper but more sustainable products, how do you think about that statement and what is your long term solution to meet their needs?

We always want something high quality with a cheap price. And we want it to be green and fair trade. We want it all. It’s just not realistic at all. The majority of what’s on the market is only intended to last for one season, and throwing away clothing after just wearing once or twice isn’t sustainable at all.

I’d love it if someone can wear one of our jackets for 5 years and have it still look nice and meet their needs. That’s sustainable.

In our case, we target to make things twice as good as they need to be, and I’d love it if someone can wear one of our jackets for 5 years and have it still look nice and meet their needs. That’s sustainable.

Yennie Tran

Author Yennie Tran

Fashion Editor at Harper's Bazaar Vietnam

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