Source4Style Simplifies Sourcing, Naturally

Summer Rayne Oakes and Benita Singh launched Source4Style, an online marketplace for independent fashion designers, in October 2010 (see Kimberly Burgas’ August 2010 post). They launched version 2.0 this past week. If the original website proved that sustainable sourcing is possible, the new version does so with style and ease. It’s slick and sumptuous and features an expanded selection of materials (fabric, yarn, buttons, zippers, lace, and trim), ample editorial content, and a robust trends section.

Oakes and Singh founded the website in response to what they saw as the “acute issue” of sourcing sustainable materials. Sustainable sourcing means weighing particulars like color, hand, and drape against social and environmental considerations like wealth distribution and the carbon footprint. These broad considerations require careful vetting and substantial investment, especially when designers source globally, as most do. It’s a rewarding process, but it’s also high risk, meaning that costs are high and returns aren’t guaranteed. Often, sustainability comes at a price.

“For too long,” Singh explained, “designers have had the limited and arduous option of trade shows for sourcing.” Trade shows are multi-day events that take place in cities around the world. Las Vegas. Paris. Tashkent. They’re intense and exciting, but require huge investments of time and money for everyone involved. Oakes cites the statistics: designers spend on average 84% of their time sourcing, and suppliers spend 43% of their marketing budgets on trade shows. These costs trickle down and subtract from resources invested in other aspects of building a collection, like design.

For Oakes and Singh, technology is the obvious solution. On Source4Style, users browse materials and order swatches without spending a cent and members connect directly to suppliers around the world. The site isn’t angling to replace the trade show experience. It simply provides an opportunity for designers and suppliers to re-allocate their time and money, investing in sustainability rather than the status quo.

Sustainability is what counts for Oakes and Singh. “We feel that’s where the industry is trending, and quite personally, that’s what matters to us,” explained Oakes. The pair has been careful to tailor the site accordingly. Designers can perform what Oakes calls “meaningful searches,” based on color, fiber, fabric type, and worldview. One designer might focus on vertical integration. Another might promote women’s cooperatives. A third might advocate for craft preservation, and a forth might champion fair trade. As Oakes explains, the site allows designers to “decide which aspect of sustainability is important to them and what kind of story they’re going to share with their consumer.”

Source4Style doesn’t cheapen sustainability. It simply cuts costs associated with sourcing sustainable material. It supports a production process in which materials and information flow hand-in-hand. It advances a transparent system in which tangible products are imbued with intangible values. And most importantly, it inspires a climate in which fashion becomes an expression of ‘we’ rather than an ‘I.’

“Trends happen every season,” Oakes explained, “but movements are something more systemic.” As the first trends-driven platform for sustainable sourcing, Source4Style ensures that sustainability will remain relevant with every changing season.  It strikes a balance between seasonal and systemic change, and achieves both, naturally.

Summer Rayne Oakes and Benita Singh have been close friends and collaborators since 2004.  They launched Source4Style in 2010 and have remained invested in the project ever since.

Mae Colburn is a freelance textile researcher based in New York City.