A note from founder + Creative Director, Dee Clements
When I started Herron almost 5years ago
in the attic of my apartment building, I had one small loom, a home sewing machine and a big dream; to start a weaving company with a focus on high design, ethical production and supply chain transparency.
I founded this business on my own personal ethics and values; to engender care, nurturing and respect to our depleted environment, animals and people. After years of working in the textile industry in various forms, I saw a problem; people, land and animals were being used as a commodity to fuel a desire for increasing want. Over the past 20 years, a spike in demand for low cost apparel has caused 98% of American brands to push manufacturing overseas. In developing countries, factories compete for American business by offering the lowest bottom line but at a high cost; unethical and often illegal codes of conduct and operation that cause irrevocable damages. Many may remember hearing on the news about the horrors that occurred one morning in 2013 in Dhaka, Bangladesh; part of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed killing over 1,100 garment workers and injuring 2,515 more. Other catastrophes go largely under the radar and cause damage slowly over time. In India, scores of dye factories, often operating illegally, dump toxic chemical discharge from garment dyeing processes into natural water supplies used for drinking and crop irrigation. As a result, whole agricultural systems in the country have collapsed causing starvation and incurable sickness. Typically, garments are not made in one factory. In a country like India, a single t-shirt may get cut in one factory, sewn in in another, and dyed in a third location. With such fragmented manufacturing, regulation often goes unmonitored.
Here in America, the average person throws away 70lbs of clothing every single year. Clothing that is made for pennies the way I just described above. Nearly 20% of these garments will end up in a landfill. Knowing the environmental and human cost of a plain old t-shirt and the possibility of it's landfill fate, well, that laid out my destiny to become a textile suffragette.
Today, I am writing this blog post
from Herron Studios. It's a 400 square foot open loft space with 3 big floor looms all dressed with cotton warps waiting to make blankets. Blankets that would become 1 part of a new collection of home textiles that I have been trying, for the last year, to find the funding to bring to life. These blankets are woven here in this studio by hand, and by machine in a weaving mill across town, the same way blankets are in India and Bangladesh. The difference is that the weavers I hire are paid $35-$40/hour for their expertise and skill, not less than $1/hr. Working in the global textile market, I learned that a (woven) pillow that might retail for $30, would cost as low as $9 to produce in a developing country. That same pillow, produced here in America, costs $85 to manufacture and retails for $180. Taking into consideration the true cost of raw materials and labor alone, buying a pillow that costs $9 to manufacture means factory margins so incredibly low, that the probability of environmental and human abuse is high.
Only 10-15 years ago, fair trade, artisan coffee was just making an appearance in coffee houses, restaurant and markets. The cost of a cup of coffee went from $.85 to $2.00. But oh how it tasted--so good! Now-a-days coffee roasteries, and shops serving organic, fair trade coffee are everywhere. Foods of all types have made the artisinal jump. Organically farmed local produce and meats and their price difference are a choice people are making over factory farmed foods. I for one buy locally made coffee because I prefer the taste and the small business product.
It's going to take a lot of work
to revive our abused textile industry. For me, it's my life's work. The only way I know how to make change is to live it and create it. That's why Herron exists, it is my vision for sustainability, responsibility and art. Changing our standards doesn't mean we spend more and get less. It means we get more when we make thoughtful choices on how and what we buy. When you buy a pillow that costs $180, it's a purchase you can cherish and value. It might get passed down as an heirloom, not into a landfill. When you buy it, you will know about the sheep that provided the wool it was woven with, the weaver who made the cloth and the great city of Chicago it was made in. That is a feel good purchase. I'm an artist who started a business with my savings and the money in my retirement fund. I grew up with parents who were blue collar workers, my mom was a cleaning lady and a school bus driver. I know very well what it is like to not have extra income to spend on luxuries. Here is a perspective shift; luxuries are a state of mind. A luxury can be as small as a piece of fruit that costs $1 over candy that costs $.50. Even though I grew up poor, and by society's standards today I still am, to me luxuries are choices that are investments in quality. To me an investment in quality can be as small as choosing to buy an organic head of lettuce that i know does not have harmful pesticides sprayed on it, to as big as an American made material item.
Herron is working
toward a path to release a collection of hand and machine woven blankets for the Spring of 2016. Made and designed in Chicago with domestic fibers and hands on local production, I have spent the past year outlining a business plan, production model, financial statement and selling channels that could turn my one woman operation into an American brand. As I grow my business, each decision I make supports my vision to produce textile products with environmental and human awareness and responsibility, to build community and enrich the lives of both the people who are part of making these products come to life and the lives of the people who support and buy Herron goods.