On production & materials

In the context of our new collection, HERE COMES THE OCEAN, and our collaboration with Plastic Soup Foundation, we want to shed some light on our production process and the materials we use. We do thorough research to know why and how our factories are approved with quality marks, and we are always looking for additional improvements. Even though we are publishing this information now, this will be a work in progress. We want to always do better. 

Materials

We use recycled ripstop nylon and polyester because the thread is strong, lightweight and will last for a very long time. These characteristics are difficult to match with an alternative, natural material. With that in mind, we find that recycled nylon and polyester is the most sustainable option for our products right now. We are actively searching for a way to translate these qualities into another (new) material, and hopefully, in the near future, we can say goodbye to all plastics, even recycled ones. 

Our collections are produced in small amounts, calculated on what we will sell. Our timeless designs are reproduced for every collection, only in different colours. These designs will never go out of season or on sale. This way, we avoid overproducing.

Production Story

Our production takes place in China. Four manufacturers contribute to making our products, as well as a printing house. In 2019 we moved our production from Vietnam to China because they can supply completely recycled fabrics and more sustainable options. Asia is the world leader in producing (recycled) synthetic fabrics and delivering high-quality manufacturing. Our ultimate goal is to produce locally. The realisation of local production relies on our search for new materials and the possibilities that come with it. 

We are very happy with the relationship we have with our Chinese partners. We have been learning a lot from them on a professional level and appreciate the teamwork. We visited the dyeing mill and sewing factory in 2019 to see the working conditions and to build a relationship with our Chinese colleagues. We speak to our production manager daily and get frequent video tours to see where and how our bags are made. When travel limitations to China lift, we will visit in person again.  

Recycled fabrics - Zhejiang Province

The production of our bags starts in the recycling factory, where raw materials are processed into yarns. We make recycled nylon (40D and 70D) and recycled polyester (300D). Our recycled polyester thread is made from post-consumer waste, which mainly consists of plastic bottles but also other plastic waste parts from clothing and bedding. 

Our recycled nylon thread is made from pre-consumer waste. This waste comprises pieces from undyed and uncoated fabrics, and thread remnants left after weaving nylon fabric. 

The threads are woven into our ripstop cloths in the greige-making part of the factory. Greige is the name for the grey/beige-ish colour of the undyed fabric. Ripstop literally means to 'stop' a 'rip'; ripstop fabrics are made with a reinforcing technique that makes it more resistant to tearing and ripping. During weaving, stronger (and often thicker) reinforcement yarns are interwoven at regular intervals in a crosshatch pattern.

Our fabrics are certified with the Global Recycle Standard, an international standard that sets requirements for third-party certification of recycled input. The GRS is a complete product standard that dictates social and environmental best practices, chemical restrictions for fabrics and more. Regarding the recycled content of garments, which is 100% in our bags, the GRS confirms a responsible use of resources and processes that have the least possible impact on human health and the planet.

 

Dyeing - Quanzhou, Fujian Province

From the greige factory, the fabric goes to the dye house. This is where Susan's selected colours come to life. Our dye house is Bluesign© certified. The Bluesign© system aims to find solutions for sustainable textile production by eliminating harmful substances at each step of the supply chain and approving chemicals, processes, materials, and products that are safe for the environment, the workers and customers. For example, all the water used in the process will be cleaned entirely before it leaves the factory sewer.  

Colour is very important to our brand, and unfortunately, we would be compromised too much when using natural dyes. Natural dyes give very limited options in colouring. We work with the next best option, which gives us vibrant colours and is processed safely for humans and nature. 

 

Coating - Suzhou

After the fabrics are coloured, they are sent to the coating house. Coating is our least favourite part of the process because it is the most difficult to do environmentally friendly, and when done poorly, it has terrible quality failures. The coating makes our fabric crisp and improves its strength and durability. It also makes it water-resistant or waterproof.

We have been working with our current production partners since 2019. We started off with a water-based Bluesign© coating. Due to the unstable nature of this coating, it was impossible to guarantee the high quality we stand for. From certain batches, the coating became white and started to flake off, thus decreasing the strength and quality of the bag. Because we aim for sustainable, long-lasting quality, we decided to return to a PU oil-based coating for the time being.

We are now in the process of making our PU coating Bluesign© again. We’ve recently received positive tests from the 70D and 40D Bluesign© coating, a significant improvement that we will implement as soon as possible. 

For our polyester items in 300D, the Bluesign© certificate is more difficult to accomplish. For this fabric, we are now in the process of developing a recycled TPU coating. TPU stands for Thermoplastic Polyurethane and is a very flexible plastic made from recycled plastic bottles. A recycled TPU coating means there's no need to use new and raw materials. We are still aiming for a Bluesign-approved coating, but we are thrilled to make this first step.

 

Sewing - Quanzhou, Fujian Province

For the final stage, we arrive at the sewing factory, where the coloured and coated fabric is cut and sewed into bags. The factory uses energy from its own solar panels, which is more than enough to work continuously. Our patterns are cut with moulds, which makes it possible to cut the patterns very close together, resulting in very little fabric waste. Small parts like loops are made with the little leftovers they do have. Other elements like zippers and buttons are imported and set to a recycled and high-quality standard. 

We screen print our bags, if necessary, in the same area. We work with an environmentally friendly oil-based ink for our silkscreen prints. The ink base is polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH), a solvent-resistant polymer which is heavy metal-free and PVC free. We worked with an oil-based ink instead of a water-based ink because a water-based print would wear off nylon too quickly. 

The construction of our bags is a significant part of manufacturing a durable bag. We design simple yet complicated patterns, so your bag won't fall apart after a few years of usage. The people working in the sewing atelier are craftsmen that can deliver the quality we are looking for. 

The sewing factory is BSCI (Business Social Compliance Initiative) certified for social compliance, and the certificate is re-issued every year after the audit, including improvement points. BSCI aims to improve working conditions, such as the right to form a trade union, safe working conditions and no forced and child labour.  

Shipping

Lastly, our paper packaging and hangtags are attached with a cotton string, and the complete collection is shipped to the Netherlands. More on that later; in our next update, we will also go into more detail about our products' environmental impact.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at support@susanbijl.nl.