On its first anniversary, Outerknown is letting the world in on a secret: where it makes its clothes.
The Los Angeles-based men’s clothing brand, which was started by pro surfer Kelly Slater and is backed by Kering, has released the names of eight companies that manufacture its $95 recycled nylon swim trunks, $128 pocket T-shirts, $165 organic cotton twill chinos and other items around the world. The suppliers include Bergman Rivera and World Textile Sourcing in Peru, Chen Feng Apparel and Chuang Sheng Knitting in China, Hong Ho Mexico in Mexico, Smart Shirts Limited in Sri Lanka, South Island Garments in Malaysia and SoCal Garment in Vernon, Calif.
“It really starts with Kelly,” said Shelly Gottschamer, Outerknown’s chief supply chain and sustainability officer. “Kelly asked: ‘What am I wearing and where does it come from?’”
Outerknown’s move to disclose its list of factories isn’t exactly new. Back in 1996, Patagonia began opening access to its organic cotton farmers to rivals in hope of broadening the use of the environmentally friendly fiber. The Ventura, Calif.-based company is adopting the same strategy this year with fair trade factories that make its yoga clothing, sportswear and swimsuits.
Gottschamer is familiar with this tactic of transparency. About 18 months ago, she joined Outerknown from Patagonia, where she had managed the sourcing for its sportswear business. Still, Outerknown stops short of revealing the names of all its textile mills. Gottschamer said it could potentially release that information in the future.
The full disclosure is intended to benefit Outerknown’s customers as well as its competitors. For starters, it’s a marketing opportunity. Outerknown’s Web site lists the history of each supplier, its address and number of employees. A “shop factory” link directs visitors on the site to the pieces made by each supplier that are for sale.
“It’s important to connect the worker with the consumer,” Gottschamer said. “More and more customers are starting to expect it and look for it.”
On the flip side, eco-entrepreneurs can use that same information to hire the factory, thus dispersing responsible business practices across the industry. “Sustainability starts with transparency,” she said. “Other brands can look at this as an inspiration and also publish their suppliers.”
As for concerns of being pushed out by bigger, richer companies that now know where Outerknown manufactures its clothes, Gottschamer isn’t worried. Even though it produces small runs numbering less than 300 units of each style in accordance with fair labor standards, she is confident the factories will continue to do business with Outerknown.
“We hope to grow into a much larger organization,” she said. “The partners that we’re publishing are strategic partners that are helping us to grow this brand. I look at them as long-term suppliers and we intend to stay with them.”