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Spotlight: Heather Williams, Founder of Sourcing Playground

by Katie McCourt |

Fashion Manufacturing

One thing we have discovered very early on into our journey with Pantee is - sourcing materials is no easy task. Perhaps we have become so used to finding products through a quick and easy Google search that anything beyond this level of simplicity is intimidating?

Searching for sustainably sourced, ethical materials adds an extra layer of complexity and, to be honest, it has at times left us feeling quite frustrated. Luckily, we came across Sourcing Playground, an online platform reducing the worlds’ fashion brands, social and environmental impact by connecting them with verified and more sustainable manufacturers. They work with internationally recognised standards including World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO), Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP), Social Accountability International (SAI) and Textile Exchange, (among others).

Sourcing Playground is able to cross-reference data on manufacturers to ensure they have legitimate certification in the most important areas of textile manufacturing (labour, environmental, raw materials, transparency etc). This enables brands to feel confident whilst easily connecting with verified, more sustainable manufacturers that have genuine compliance.

When exploring it as an option for our own sourcing needs, we had the pleasure of connecting with their founder, Heather Williams.

Image of Heather Williams, Founder of Sourcing Playground 

Closing the gap between brands and suppliers

Before founding Sourcing Playground, Heather was a buyer herself and experienced first-hand the difficulties and headaches associated with sourcing.

“One of the biggest problems in my job was just the amount of time it would take to find a factory, and how hard it was to find good factories,” said Heather. “It baffled me that everything was done through your own network, or through word of mouth.”

In the hopes of making her own job easier, Heather began seeking out online platforms that could help. That is when she noticed a gap in the market, one she has since filled by launching Sourcing Playground. In just two years, the platform has grown to have over 6,000 users across 40 countries.

Prioritising ‘good’ factories

When speaking to Heather about the growth of the platform, she explained that it quickly became evident that connecting buyers with ‘good’ factories was a priority.

“When talking about good factories, I mean certified factories. Factories that have been audited, and have passed X, Y & Z -- whether that’s labour conditions, working conditions or health and safety.”

At the moment, buzz words like ‘sustainability’ are thrown around by brands left, right and centre. Certification is one of the best ways to see what claims are true and backed up by action. It’s a tangible thing -- a promise of standards that are regulated, assessed and verified. 

By connecting brands with certified factories, Sourcing Playground makes it a lot easier for brands to deliver on their promises of sustainability and ethics. 

The current state of sustainability within the fashion industry

In a time where brands are under immense pressure to up their game, it’s more important now than ever that we understand what ‘sustainability’ means. 

“End consumers shouldn’t have to have a degree in sustainability to figure out a good brand from a bad brand. But, at the moment, a good brand is one with a better PR and marketing department. That’s the reality.”

There is a lot more to sustainability than just releasing a range of products made from organic cotton, for example. Of course, you have to start somewhere, and a lot of brands are doing amazing things to become more sustainable. But, we still have a long way to go. 

Having been built upon trade secrets, fashion has grown into an industry that doesn’t want to open up. Opening up and providing transparency goes completely against the grain.

But, to be able to truly make good decisions as consumers, there needs to be more transparency.

Brands working with certified factories is definitely a start, and publicly listing the factories they manufacture in is even better. However, it needs to go further than this. Brands need to get better at saying what they are good at, but also what they are bad at, and what they are actively doing to improve their standards.

“Saying who their factories are is one thing, but transparency goes much further than that. Big companies need to at least have the factory names, but then also the areas they are working on. For example, are they trying to reduce the water usage at the factory, or can they confirm if all the workers within the factory are paid the living wage.”

Heather made a great comparison to the term Organic, as you can’t just say your product is Organic. You have to meet certain standards, you have to be checked and you have to be verified.

That should be the same with sustainability. You shouldn’t be able to just throw the word around. You should have to meet or even surpass certain standards to associate it with your brand or products.

It needs to be easier for consumers to make good choices 

Whether it comes from the government, a private organisation or an independent regulator, standardisation across what ‘sustainability’ means needs to happen. Hopefully, it’ll be something that we will look back on in a few years time and think, ‘Wow! I can’t believe we never had that’.

It wasn’t too long ago that in the UK, the traffic light system was introduced to food products. This system clearly shows in one glance how good or how bad that product is for you. A simple system, it helps buyers decide whether they want to consume a product based on its impact on their body.

If there was a system like this in place for products, not just in the fashion industry but across all goods classes, then it’d be much easier for consumers to make the right decisions. 

After all, our planet is our home. We should do our best to protect it in the same way we do our own bodies.

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Pantee is a circular intimates brand giving dead and rejected stock a new lease of life by upcycling t-shirts destined for landfill into comfortable and stylish lingerie. Designed by women, for women & the planet.

Transparency is at the heart of what we are setting out to do. We believe that when you buy clothes you should be able to easily find out where they are made, who made them, and the environmental impact they have.

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