Week in Fabric: July 2nd, 2018


What's Inspiring Us From The Global Material Landscape

North Korea: Fashion’s Next Sourcing Hub?

The historic summit between the leaders of North Korea and the United States of America is bringing the world one-step closer to the CVID (complete, verifiable, irreversible, denuclearization) of the Korean peninsula. Many Asian manufacturers are beginning to ask themselves how their business will be impacted if North Korea were to rejoin the international community as a sourcing partner for fashion brands. Kim Jong-un’s low-cost sourcing nation could prove to be an ideal partner for textile brands due to low minimum wages and an adaptive workforce. 

Trade will play a major roll in the CVID negotiations between North Korea and the US. The fashion world would see an immediate change if the US were to lift sanctions, which include trade embargoes, imposed on North Korea. Clothing and textiles are currently NK’s two largest export categories. The country’s garment and textile industry was estimated to be worth $750 million back in 2017. 

Textile production is nothing new for North Korea; thousands are currently employed in state-operated factories spread across the country. The North Korean government systematically uses forced labour from ordinary citizens to sustain it’s economy. These government-assigned entities do not compensate the ordinary citizens for their work completed. 

Outside investment into production and manufacturing facilities within the state will be major risk to the companies involved. Foreign investment partners must be conscious of political elections in South Korea, ‘denuclearization talks’, and a possible regime change in North Korea itself. All of this factors lead to major uncertainties for companies involved. 

The timing of the North Korean manufacturing sector’s introduction to global markets is prime. China is focusing on complex technical garments, while Vietnam is suffering a labor shortage, making North Korea the best partner to produce cheaper goods quickly. Some financial experts are comparing the apparel industry’s move into Myanmar, to North Korea, even though Myanmar suffer a damaged reputation from issues with human rights. 

The potential earnings to be generated by the North Korean market is more attractive to their neighboring parties, specifically China and South Korea. Manufacturing in North Korea could allow nearby partners to move sourcing closer to existing supply chains.  The bordering city of Dandong, in China, has served as an entrepôt for Chinese clothing manufacturers for years. 

The Chinese players have sent textiles to the clandestine factories across the Yalu River in North Korea to receive clothing labeled “Made in China”. China would be an ideal partner because they have developed 4-lane highways connecting to the two nations and are known for privately financing factories within North Korea. Labor in Korea has been reported to be half of that in China, which reaps major profitability for business partners. NK factories are compelled to upgrade and improve standards in order to comply with international requirements of corporate social responsibility.

ASOS Bans Silk, Cashmere, and Mohair

A London-based fashion retailer, ASOS, “firmly believes it is not acceptable for animals to suffer in the name of fashion or cosmetics” according to it’s updated Animal Welfare Policy. ASOS is leading the charge to sustainable fashion, joining brands like Topshop, GAP, Zara, Boohoo, and Primark, who have all pledged to ban the sale of Mohair.

 ASOS has already banned animal by-products, such as rabbit fur (angora fibers) that come from vulnerable animals. “One billion rabbits are killed each year so that their fur can be used in clothing or for lures in fly fishing or trim on craft items”, according to PETA

ASOS requires animal material suppliers to adopt industry best practice rearing, transportation and slaughter standards, based on the internationally recognized ‘Five Freedoms’ which recommend animals should be afforded:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
  2. Freedom from discomfort
  3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease
  4. Freedom to express normal behavior
  5. Freedom from fear and distress. 

Animal materials that are not allowed to be used in products sold through ASOS’s websites include vulnerable and endangered species, fur, feathers & down, angora & other rabbit fur, mohair & cashmere, silk, bone, horn, and shell. Animal materials that can be sold on their site include leathers and skins as by-products of the meat industry if they are humanely collected, wool that is sourced adhering to the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), and imagery that’s sensitive to to animal welfare issues.

It’s important to understand the differences between the recently banned animal materials: silk, cashmere, and mohair. Mohair is a natural fiber used in clothing such as sweaters, hats, another fluffy accessories which comes from Angora goats. Silk is the fibre that silkworms weave to make cocoons. Cashmere, the hair taken from the undercoat of a cashmere goat, is used to make anything babywear to sports jackets. 

China is the world’s largest producer of commercial cashmere, with control of 60-65 percent of the world market, producing 12,000 tons per year. Additionally, The North American Cashmere Goat (NACG) Breed Standard is “a dual purpose animal, providing both fiber and meat products”. PETA claims that the mohair, cashmere, and silk industries “cause these sentient beings unnecessary pain and suffering.”

Its 2018 and we are still debating animal welfare for the sake of fashion trends. Brands are responding to consumer demands for clothing that is consider to be more ‘ethical’ and socially responsible.

Piñatex fiber

Anti-Leather Initiatives

In a report from PETA, “every year, the global leather industry slaughters more than a billion animals to tan and skin their hides. Many of these animals endure all the horrors of factory farming—including extreme crowding and confinement, deprivation, and unanesthetized castration, branding, tail-docking, and dehorning—as well as cruel treatment during transport and slaughter.” Pineapple, wood, cork, kapok, and mushroom are top contenders for vegan leathers.

Inexpensive, low-tier leather is typically produced in developing countries where animal welfare standards are obscene to none. It’s important to note that leather production is a toxic business, with “300kg of chemicals being added for every 900kg of animal hides.” Additionally, many of those business in third world countries lack legal protection for the people affected by the harmful working conditions. 

Tireless efforts by animal rights activists, as well as journalists, are exposing the true cost of these cruel and unsustainable products, which has helped increased transparency to consumers. Companies must also amend their human rights policies to end prison-like work conditions. Even though the environmental damage of waste water does not involve taking the life of a conscious, traumatized animal it does directly relate to the health conditions of the textile plant’s workers. 

Anti-leather initiatives were introduced to eliminate poor working conditions and animal materials. Pineapple, wood, cork, kapok, and mushroom are top contenders for vegan leathers. 


The strongest player in plant-based alternatives to leather is pineapple – or, more specifically, the plant’s leaves, which are strong and flexible. “It has a lovely feel to it, and can be fashioned into shoes, clothing, and is even being incorporated in to the car and aeronautic industries”, says Carmen Hijosa, the first developer of Piñatex textiles. Because these are unwanted natural fibers are a  byproduct of the pineapple harvest, they require no extra land, water, fertilizers or pesticides to produce them. Piña fibers are often tagged with “low environmental impact, high social responsibility”


Paper and tree bark are all wood-derived alternatives to leather, but the big one is Tencel (also known as lyocell) made from wood pulp. This material imitates that way synthetic fibers or silk have the ability to drape. Wood is both soft and strong, while resiliently resistant to wrinkles. Allbirds recently unveiled their ‘Tree Line’ shoes captioned ‘light and breezy’, as being their “most sustainable material to date.” Allbirds sources their Tencel Lyocell from eucalyptus tree fibers in South Africa. Compared to traditional materials, eucalyptus uses 95% less water allowing ALlbirds to reduce their carbon footprint. 

We Wear Culture

Google Arts & Cultures, an online platform that allows anybody to explore collections, stories, and artwork from around the world, has released their project on fashion, titled "We Wear Culture", that shares the stories behind what we wear. The stunning, searchable archive sorts 3,000 years of world fashion into a seamless portal. “We Wear Culture” is a collaboration between Google and 185 museums, schools, fashion institutes from around the worlds.  The collaborations collective archive of some 30,000 fashion pieces that puts fashion history at your fingertips. 

The website does not strictly serve as a database, Google has created 450 exhibits celebrating “The Icons, The Movements” , “The Making Of”, and “The Arts” of the fashion realm. The first filter, “The Icons”, highlight the famous faces and designers that changed the way we dress. “The Movements” takes a look behind the scenes of politics in fashion, from the court at Versailles to the street of Tokyo. “The Making Of” category dives into the craft and stories behind what you wear. Lastly, “The Arts” connects fashions long term relationship with famous artists.  

“We wanted to show that fashion is much deeper than just what you wear; that there’s a story behind it, there’s people behind it, there’s influences that come from art, that come from music, that come from culture more broadly, And we thought that if you can have this kind of singular resource online where all of this was starting to be discussed—and hear it from the authority, I think that’s really critical—it would be valuable.” - Kate Lauterbach, Program Manager for Google Arts & Culture

The site also features “The Color Palette of Fashion” to discover the rich color palette of the world’s textiles, dresses, and accessories. 

Jacket, Skirt from 1980 ©The Kyoto Costume Institute, photo by Taishi Hirokawa

Jacket, Skirt from 1980 ©The Kyoto Costume Institute, photo by Taishi Hirokawa

“This velvet jacket and pleated tartan skirt ensemble is associated with Scotland's traditional garb. Tartan is a check cloth deriving from approximately the tenth century in Scotland, where the designs were used in the manner of a crest or emblem, to show clan and family affiliations. Even Queen Victoria, a leader in fashion at the time, loved tartan. It is said that the fad of tartan in women's clothing was due to her influence.” This is only one amazing example of what Google has offers to the culturally curious readers.

Cheongsams and Vintage Photography

The years between the 1920s to the 1940s marked a glorious period for the development of modern Chinese women’s garments, with the 1930s witnessing the heyday. This was when cheongsams were established as an irreplaceable and representative variety of Chinese female clothing.


Although originated from the old Manchu women’s robes, cheongsams actually marked a far cry from that ancient category of ethnic clothing. They evolved into the standard dress that integrated Chinese and western clothing characteristics for Chinese women in the Republican-China and early New China era.




Salmon-pink Jacquard Satin Lined Cheongsam with Lace Hem

On this jacquard satin cheongsam, or chi pao, the highly-decorative almost 9cm-wide black lace hem, poses an interesting contrast to the foundation fabric, which is in the popular salmon pink color. The bold palette of pink and black accentuates a mysterious feminine beauty. While hemming with lace, the maker of this gown carefully pleated the lace tapes when necessary to make it more adaptive to the curvy edge of the bottom lap, collar and cuff. The noticeable black piping together with the” 一”-shaped frogs on the right-side slit serves as a bridge between the decorative elements on the upper half with those on the lower.