Going local has been the trend for many companies looking to create a more sustainable supply chain. Chipotle, Stop & Shop and even JetBlue have sought out local options to heed consumer demands. And although it's not often we think of local beyond what we eat, that all changed when one major apparel company worked to create a product entirely from its own backyard.
When The North Face, a major U.S. apparel company, was introduced to a nonprofit promoting locally made textiles near its headquarters in the San Francisco Bay Area, the brand decided to see just how close to home it could produce a product. This was the foundation for the Backyard Project, an initiative to examine the efficacy of a local supply chain and determine if the brand could find everything it needed to produce a hooded sweatshirt within 150 miles of the company headquarters. The process required The North Face to not only work closely with local suppliers, including heirloom cotton farmers and sewing teams, but also explore ways to reduce waste to maximize the small batch fabric.
The result was a $125 hooded sweatshirt which hit shelves in limited quantities last December. Although the brand fell short of its 150 mile radius goal, having to export the cotton to North Carolina and South Carolina to blend into fabric, the hoodies sold out within a month and started a conversation about the possibilities of a major apparel brand seeking out local options. The initiative also helped educate consumers about the clothing they buy. "We hope this is not just a brown hoodie on a rack but a story behind it that drives interest and demand," says Adam Mott, director of sustainability at The North Face.
Although the Backyard Project was not a 100 percent success, the brand believes "the result is still something worth celebrating." Indeed, the project pushed The North Face to think differently about its own supply chain and also educated consumers along the way, not only on where their clothing comes from, but also how major brands can push the envelope of what's possible to achieve a more community-oriented and responsible product.