Dawn Pickering, founder of San Francisco-based Pickering International, Inc. opened the doors of her fabric import and wholesale company in the early 90s.
Since then Pickering’s offerings have expanded into nine distinct fabric categories specializing in textiles made from sustainable and organic fibers and certified by recognized green standards like GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard).
I caught up with Dawn recently.
What fabrics do you currently offer and who are your customers?
We currently offer hemp, soy, bamboo, organic cotton, organic linen, silk, wool, tencel blends and recycled fiber blends. Our customers come from the apparel, footwear, accessory, baby and children’s and home fashions/home furnishing industries.
Where are your fabrics sourced?
Our fabrics are all milled in China. The raw materials also come from China, with the exception of the organic cotton which is Turkish, and the wool which is Australian.
What’s the biggest misconception regarding manufacturing in China?
China has been known as a very polluted country due to its speedy industrial growth. How is it possible for it to produce certified organic and eco friendly textiles in the meantime? Well, the truth is that the government has implemented strict environmental protection laws in the recent years. All the textile mills and dyeing houses must meet the set standards or face severe penalties. The eco movement has taken root steadily in China as consumers are more informed on environmental issues than before. With a growing demand from both domestic and international markets, China is producing a commendable amount of eco textiles because all the natural resources are readily available right there.
How do you stay true to your fair trade practices?
Our management team visits our manufacturers at least twice a year to verify that they are continuing to adhere to our company’s Manufacturing Inspection Guidelines. These guidelines are in line with the principles described by the Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production website. We personally check and confirm that workers operate in a well-maintained, healthy and safe environment; that they are well-trained for their jobs; that they are treated with respect; that they are paid fairly and have health insurance, sick leave and maternity leave; that there is no child labor and more.
Have you considered working more with U.S. mills for organic cotton or Canada for hemp?
We have not considered working with U.S. mills for organic cotton because the price point makes it unappealing to our customer base. Canadian hemp has traditionally been geared toward oil production so the hemp is harvested at a later stage of its life cycle. Though there have been discussions about growing hemp for fabric there, and some funding provided for development of that industry we have yet to see Canadian hemp fabrics appear on the market. We would certainly be open to sourcing there if and when that happens.
Do you support research for alternative fabrics?
Talk about Patagonia and Nike and how they’re implementing eco-fabrics slowly. Looking at the future, what will the impact of large corporations like Target, Payless, Kohls and Wal-Mart (in addition to Patagonia and Nike) investing in sustainable fabrics be?
As a small business owner this is a hard question to answer. These companies tend to have very tight margins and a price-sensitive customer base so they may be limited in how much of their product lines they can convert to sustainable fabrics. There was some concern that the needs of companies like these would outstrip worldwide organic cotton production but according to recent information from Organic Exchange the opposite is true.
In your opinion, can the U.S ever be a leader in sustainable fabrics?
We aren’t as familiar with the U.S. market. It makes sense that each region should focus on producing fabrics from the raw materials that come from that region. One of the benefits of working with China is the range of raw materials to choose from. The most readily available raw material here in the U.S. is probably plastic, so a good place to start might be recycled PET & recycled poly.