Toolbox / Materials
What we have learned is there is no “sustainable” material, instead there are some choices that are better than others.
Global Life Cycle data collated by World Resources Institute in November 2021 demonstrates that fashion’s biggest emissions (and other environmental impacts) are in the materials phase of the supply chain.
Every material requires the use of resources such as land, energy and water, and has an impact (both positive and negative) on the people that produce them.
The work we do to continuously improve the materials we use is a crucial part of our Toolbox for Change strategy. It is our goal to continue to make verifiably better choices, and to educate you about what we learn along the way.
The fabric production supply chain, a note...
It’s helpful to be clear about the different stages in the fabric production process we talk about in this section. There’s a lot of information in here, so please get in touch if you would like some help understanding it.
- Raw Material Production (Tier 4): The creation or collection of the raw material used to make a fabric. For example on farms, forests, plantations, recycling plants, petroleum extraction and polymerisation.
This stage may also include the processing of the raw material (for example ginning cotton, carding wool, scutching flax or extruding polyester), but may also fall under tier 3 yarn production (for example acetate and viscose, as the raw materials are processed in a factory that differs from the location of the forests where wood pulp comes from).
- Yarn Production (Tier 3): Spinning processed raw material into strands of yarn.
This may also include the processing of the raw material as mentioned above.
- Fabric Production (Tier 2): Weaving or knitting of yarn into fabric.
- Fabric Finishing (also Tier 2): Preparation for dyeing, printing, washing, drying and setting (which usually includes processes such as singeing, sizing, desizing, scouring, bleaching, mercerising).
- Fabric Supplier (Tier 1): The seller and exporter that trades with fabric mills, wholesale markets and buyers. In most cases, we work directly with them.
In the Fabric section of our Materials Index, we list as far back as we have traced or verified for each fabric. Because of the commodity nature of some raw materials (such as cotton or polyester) and the lack of technology, we are often only able to identify the region or country the raw material has come from, we can't always trace back to the precise farm or extraction plant.
We have developed a Materials Index detailing fabrics, trims and packaging for our design, development and production teams. Its purpose is to educate about the benefits and drawbacks of the materials we use.
We have shared the index here so you can see what we have learned. If you are a customer, it might help you to make more informed choices when buying clothes, regardless of whether they are from RUBY or elsewhere. And if you are a fellow designer, you can use what we have learned when making decisions about what to put into production.
We currently source materials from suppliers and mills across the globe, such as China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Mongolia, India, Italy, Turkey, Spain, and The Netherlands. We also use wholesale agents who are based in New Zealand but source from these places.
We define Better Practice Materials as ones that are produced in a way that minimises or mitigates the potential negative impacts of production. Some examples of this are fabrics that are:
- Rapidly renewable
- Able to be recycled, repurposed or composted
- Dyed or treated using safe chemicals
- Made from by-product materials
- Traceable back to the farm or raw material
- Produced keeping water & chemicals in a closed-loop, ensuring they are not polluting local ecosystems
- Produced using renewable energy, or using energy efficient processes
- Certified or audited by programmes that uphold safety, human rights and animal welfare values
Materials that we consider to be Better Practice are prioritised. In the "Improving Our Best Loved Fabrics" section below, you can see some examples of the work we have done to shift our commonly-used fabrics to be Better Practice.
- We have converted at least 90% of our conventional cotton (fabrics containing 98-100% cotton) to organic cotton, where we also have full supply chain visibility to the raw material region.
So far, we have converted all of our Mirella fabric, and our cotton gingham, poplin and voile fabrics to organic cotton.
- The acetate component of our ‘Firebird Crepe’ and ‘Weirder Satin’ fabrics are now made using Naia™ fibres and we have visibility of the supply chain. See more about this in the Materials Index.
- We have converted some of our popular, ready-made stock fabrics to traceable and recycled sources. For example, our Miami Crinkle and Cascade Crush polyester fabric.
- At least 90% of our 100% linen and 50%+ linen blends are now sourced directly from mills that hold a certification for the manufacturing of raw flax material in Europe. We have transparency of this supply chain to the regions where the raw material is grown.
- We have switched our 55% linen 45% viscose fabric to be milled using the above European farmed linen, blended with ECOVERO™ fibres instead of conventional viscose.
- We now use a 55% recycled polyester 45% viscose fabric for our jacket and coat linings. We have used this lining in 75% of Winter 2023 blazers and coats. The fabric dyeing and printing mill holds a certification to show no harmful chemicals are used in their facility.
In addition to our Best Practice definition and prioritisation, we have identified 5 classifications we want to highlight about the manufacturing of our materials and garments. On our website, we note when a product is manufactured in this way. If you only want to buy pieces that are Made in Aotearoa, or use Organic materials for example, you can filter your search by that classification tag.
Made in Aotearoa
Zero Production Waste
For more information on our classifications, click here.
As a member of Mindful Fashion New Zealand, we take part in the “Certifications & Standards” webinars they run in conjunction with Lenzing, Textile Exchange, Control Union, GOTS and Oeko-Tex to help us understand the complexities of Fabric Certifications.
Thousands of chemicals are used in the textile industry to process, dye and finish materials. Some of these chemicals have been linked to negative health impacts, and toxic pollution in our rivers and oceans. Our suppliers are required to sign and adhere to our RUBY supplier manual, which includes a list of restricted substances. We prioritise mills that hold certifications proving that they do not use these substances in their facilities.
Below is our list of restricted substances:
- Alkylphenol (APs) including Nonylphenol, Octylphenol & Ethoxylates (APEs)
- Azo dyes
- Chlorinated solvents
- Heavy metals including cadmium, lead, nickel and mercury
- Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAS) & Perfluorochemicals (PFCS)
- Short-chain chlorinated paraffins (SCCPs)
More detail on individual substances can be found in our glossary.
There may come a time when your garment is no longer fit for wear. In our Materials Index, we outline what happens at the end of life of each of the fibre types listed, so you can make informed decisions when buying something.
We are aware that some of these processes are likely not available to you in your own homes. This is why we will take our RUBY and Liam garments back (just drop into our IRL stores or send it back to RUBY online) and, depending on what the fabric type is, we will send it to one of our partners such as Upparel to be processed into something else of value.
For more information about what happens at the end of life of our pieces, take a look at the Waste section of our Toolbox.
Like most businesses in the clothing industry, we have a complex supply chain, from raw material extraction or farming, to the processing of fibres, spinning, weaving and dyeing, to the end supplier of the fabrics.
This complexity can make it extremely difficult to trace materials back to the raw material stage.
In addition, being a New Zealand-based company of our size, we purchase relatively small quantities of fabrics compared to larger, global brands, limiting our ability to demand greater transparency.
Minimum Order Quantities
We have found that many of what we define as Better Practice materials require a higher minimum order quantity than we might need. There is a balance between getting Better Practice materials while also being mindful of overproduction, and committing to materials that we may not need. This means that we are still reliant on using some ready-made or stock materials, and purchasing from agents or New Zealand wholesalers, which can add another layer of opacity to our already complex supply chain.
Some newer technologies, for example recycled knitwear yarns, have less stock availability, and they can also lead to quality issues as they are less developed and tested in the market.
A recent challenge has been over how we communicate the authenticity of our Better Practice materials to our customers. Some of the rules around fabric certifications are confusing and complex.
Without realising, we were in breach of an organisation's rules as we listed their certifications against the fabric on our garment product pages. We had certification for the fabric, but because the garment factories (both in New Zealand and in China) did not also hold the same certification, we were not allowed to do this.
What we know now is that in order to reference these certification brands and brand marks; we must have the entire supply chain of that particular product certified, along with our company.
We work with mills who hold these certifications (for example, organic cotton, recycled polyester, recycled nylon, responsible animal fibres, and traceable linen), and we request documentation to show proof of claims.
Currently, most of our CMT factories are not certified with these fabric-branded certifications. 50% of our product is made in New Zealand, and due to the small size of our New Zealand-based factories, it is not viable for them to get this certification.
We are working towards the China-based CMT factory we work most with achieving the fabric-branded certifications that is required.
In 2023 we will:
Continue to build on our understanding of Better Practice materials through scientific, validated data.
Continue to improve the materials we consistently use in production, for example:
1. Convert polyester bases to recycled polyester
2. Source traceable and organic for our cotton spandex, cotton polyester and cotton tencel blended fabric bases
3. Source organic and/or recycled content denim
4. Conventional viscose, lyocell and modal to traceable, closed-loop options eg LENZING™ ECOVERO™ and TENCEL™
5. Source a wider range of Better Practice, traceable knitwear yarns such as recycled, organic, LENZING™ and responsible animal fibres
6. Source alternative silk options
7. Use the 55% recycled polyester 45% viscose lining in 100% of our coats and jackets
8. Improve Better Practice materials for all our zips
Measure and report on our use of Better Practice materials.
Set Better Practice material goals for 2024 and 2025, and publish them by the end of 2023.
Increase the transparency of our materials supply chain. Currently we have traced back at least 65% of our products to mill stage (spinning, weaving and dyeing), and our goal is to increase this to 75%.
Below is a list of fibre types, and the fabrics that we use to make into garments. This is not a list of every fibre we use, but they are the main ones.
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Picture Terre de Lin / Sébastien Randé
Below is a list of trims that we use to make and finish garments. This is not a list of every trim we use, but they are the main ones.
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In 2019 we overhauled all of our packaging, which included banning plastic bags from stores, head office and our supply chains. As well as this, we relooked at the way stock was being packaged and delivered from factories overseas to ensure unnecessary packaging was removed completely. There’s an environmental cost to everything that’s accepted, from the smallest sticker to wrapping paper and garment packing bags. All existing packaging was scrutinised and better alternatives sourced where possible.
Ultimately, we believe that the packaging our customers can reuse many times over is superior to recycling after one use. When we favour packaging that is durable and has prolonged use, we help to lessen the impact of producing the item in the first place.
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The information listed on this page is based on data from April 2023
The work and care we put into our product so that each piece is loved for a long time and by many.
We believe in strengthening & educating our local community whether that be those in our team, Rubettes that frequent our stores or those we haven’t met yet.
Insights into our carbon footprint and the plan to reduce our emissions.