I quit my job to start the greenest fashion factory in the world
Jul 2020

Joey Pringle
Founder of Veshin Factory in Guangdong, China.

The problem

Having spent close to a decade designing accessories for some of the biggest emerging brands in the fashion industry, I have seen the sustainability issue slowly rise to the top of the agenda.

I’ve seen brands make both steady positive change and I’ve also seen many fall victim to greenwashing PR nightmares.

Fundamentally, however, the biggest problem for me has always been at the base of the pyramid… manufacturing.

Whilst working with factories throughout Asia, I would frequently come across operations employing a superficial tick box system in order to meet the expectations of the brands they worked with. That was the unfortunate ugly truth. If a process or system was not explicitly required in order to get the work done, then it quite simply wouldn’t be implemented. Frequently, I would find my factories (nearly all approved and audited) wasting leftover product, discarding material waste found on the factory floor or not carefully considering their energy usage.

Of course, when confronted, owners and management would stress that they were operating ethically and sustainably in the context of the guidelines they had been asked to follow. I would sit down with them over dinner and try to encourage them to scrutinise every process, but these efforts were always largely futile, primarily because they simply did not feel the brand requirements could possibly be insufficient! There was a frustrating lack of critical thinking and it was rife across nearly all the factories I worked with.

I pondered the question, “how do I get these guys to go above and beyond in all aspects of sustainable manufacturing?” and the answer I eventually arrived at was a simple one…culture.

Of course, the problem with meaningful culture is that it cannot be taught, it can only be learnt. So, in one swift move I decided to cut short my career as a designer and look to set up a factory with a sustainable culture at its core to serve as a model for manufacturing.

The solution

A serendipitous conversation took place on a visit to China with Hongliang, a factory owner in Guangzhou who shared similar ideas. He was excited by the prospect and in a series of events over 12months, had me back out to China and convinced me to launch the factory there.

I was hesitant initially. The factories I previously worked with in China had frequently demonstrated a lack of appetite for meaningful sustainable practice, let alone the high expectations I had. But Hongliang was different. A converted Buddhist from Yan Shan, he was eager to integrate his philosophies into a new operation and drive systemic change.

We both agreed that this new factory needed to go above and beyond. From the way it uses energy, to the utilisation of only the most established sustainable materials in manufacture, to delivering net zero in waste and most importantly, be totally and utterly transparent in every aspect of its existence.

As opposed to being removed/distant owners, we would both live alongside the physical factory itself and be ever present in its day to day operations. The factory would be us and we would be it simultaneously.

The future

But big change doesn’t happen overnight.

Whilst up and running in name and spirit, our current initial set up involves Hongliang’s existing factory Hermia and it will take another year before we have the resources in place to build our dream facility on our chosen site in Guangzhou.

Nevertheless and in the meantime, we are fuelled by a number of brands and clients that share our passion and vision. Collaboration is key and we need their orders and projects to drive our mission and in turn we fuel their story by providing the transparent green case study their customers crave.

Our ultimate goal is a heady one and won’t be possible without continued collaboration with more brands and partners that share our appetite to drive the revolution our industry so desperately needs. But it’s a plausible one and we are already feeling the love from the culture we breath in our day to day conversations.

As a designer I always hungered for genuine lasting change, but it was clear that fashion had no future if it could not solve this manufacturing problem. I’m proud to say that Veshin already stands as a testament that seismic change is possible and be achieved through culture, lived and breathed through ever paw.

Here’s to our industry’s sustainable future…

To find out more about Veshin Factory, go to www.veshinfactory.com .

The Imperfect Blog

Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to have it all figured out in order to lead a sustainable lifestyle. In fact, it's better to make small conscious choices when possible, than none at all. We explore every topic under the sun around kindness to our environment, wildlife, other people and ourselves.

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