this is our chain of value
“Where are these jeans made?”. For us the answer to this question is not just as simple as “Made in Portugal” or “Made in Norway”; exactly where and how a product is made is a question with a complicated answer.
Without undermining the great craftsmanship in constructing and sewing a pair of jeans, answering where a product is made is not just about where the different parts are sewed together into a final product. It’s also important to remember the long journey that has happened before that, all the way from the cotton field.
What amount of work and how many hands are generally involved in crafting a pair of jeans? Let’s have a look at what our chain of value looks like.
The picture above illustrates our complete chain of value. As complex as it may seem, this is a much simplified version of how everything is connected, considering all the people, time and processes involved in every single step of the production.
So what exactly does it entail to manufacture a pair of jeans? Let’s start from beginning.
Step 1: Raw Cotton Farming
The design of our products is largely driven and inspired by the fabric. What we mean by that is that we always start the development process by finding interesting fabrics, and then build the product from there.
So the first step for us when we want to produce a pair of jeans, is to find the denim we want to use from the denim mills. However, this is actually the third step in our full supply chain. To make the denim, the fabric weavers need cotton yarns, and in turn the cotton yarn spinners need cotton.
Hence, it all starts in the cotton fields. Cotton makes up 48% of the textile production today, and is the main ingredient used in traditional denim and most of our tops. The cotton plant requires a long growing season of 120 – 180 days, before it is harvested and cleaned. Then it goes through a ginning process, which is to separate the cotton fiber from the seed.
For fabric weavers there are a variety of factors to consider when deciding where to source the cotton from. For many, price is the deciding factor. Cotton is traded in an extremely price-sensitive market. The premium fabric mills are however less concerned with the price of the cotton, and pay more attention to the quality of the cotton. Raw cotton farming is actually quite technical, and the properties of the cotton can be classified under a variety of different parameters: Fiber length, strength, micronaire, color and cleanness. All depends on the skills of the farmers, and the climate in which the cotton grows. The fabric weavers and cotton yarn spinners consider all these aspects when deciding which type of cotton they want to use for a specific fabric.
The raw cotton used in the fabrics in our products are to date sourced from: the US, Australia, Mexico, Turkey, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Cameroon.
Cotton farmers usually sells the raw cotton to local merchants, who in turn sells the cotton further up the supply chain: the cotton yarn spinners.
Step 2: Cotton Yarn Spinning
The raw cotton is received by the yarn spinners, who thoroughly cleans the raw cotton, before it’s carded or combed to separate the tangled fibers. The fibers then goes through a series of processes before it’s ultimately turned into industrial size cotton yarns, ready to be used for fabric weaving.
The fabric mills either do the yarn spinning themselves through vertically integrated companies, or purchase the yarns from external spinners. Whichever the case, we strive to work with fabric mills that work closely with the yarn spinners, as it brings us closer to the raw cotton origin and makes the flow of information more accessible and reliable. When there are too many links involved in the supply chain, the process to obtain information regarding the origin of the cotton becomes challenging, slow and less reliable.
The cotton yarns that are used for the weaving of our fabrics are to date sourced from Japan, the US, Mexico, Pakistan, Turkey and Portugal.
The raw cotton has now been properly processed and prepared for it’s big transformation: Fabric weaving.
Step 3: Fabric Weaving
As in all other aspects of textile production, or any kind of production for that matter, the selecting of raw materials is directly linked to the quality of the end product. Fabric weaving makes no exception. The weavers need to cooperate closely with the yarn spinners to carefully select which type of cotton yarns they want to use for each weave. This is not only related to the raw quality and properties of the cotton, but equally important is how the cotton is spun. The cotton may either be combed or carded to obtain different properties for the yarn, and there are a large variety of different yarn counts possible which affects the weight and fineness of the yarn. The cotton may also be mixed with a certain amount of synthetic fibers, such as Polyester, if the yarns are to be used to weave elastic fabrics. However, this fiber mix can also occur in the fabric weaving itself, where the weavers mix different type of yarns in the process. This varies on a case to case basis by the preference of the weaver and the desired outcome.
The basic idea of weaving is to interlace two sets of yarns to form a fabric, by using a contraption called a loom. There are a wide range of looms and methods in which this can be done, to create different type of fabrics. There is usually also some sort of dyeing process involved as well, to give the fabric a specific color or quality. This dye can also occur at the cotton yarn spinning level.
When selecting our denims we use almost exclusively Japanese denim. The reason is quite simple: The denim is of superior quality in which we are not able to find anywhere else. The Japanese have strong roots in denim weaving, and we believe their respect for traditions and attention to detail is what sets them aside. This is not only true for denims. For our shirts we use fabrics from renowned mills like Nihon Menpu, who create unique fabrics we are unable to find anywhere else.
For our tops we also work a lot with weavers in Portugal. We really appreciate the opportunity to work as closely to all aspects of production as we can, and seeing how everything is connected first hand.
The fabric mills where we buy our fabrics are to dated located in Japan, the US, Portugal and the UK.
Step 4: Cut & Sew
The cotton has come a long way, and we finally get to the part that most associate with textile production: The Cut & Sew process.
The factories we work with are all specialized for specific product groups, which is quite normal as you require different machinery to construct different type of products. We work with seven factories in Portugal, and it’s part of my job to make sure that the fabric from the weavers arrive on time to the correct facility. This might sound easy, but working with ten different weavers in four different countries, more than thirty different fabric references per season, which may or may not be in stock at the weavers, and up to 70 days of transport to Portugal by boat can be very challenging. On top of that you have hardware and accessories like leather patches, buttons, washing labels and size tags. Working with production you really need to plan long ahead, as even a week of delay of a single component could be a very costly delay for all parties involved.
The title of this part of the textile production, Cut & Sew, is a simplified but self-explanatory description of what happens at this stage of production. The fabrics received are cut based on patterns previously designed and tested. Then the different parts are sewn together according to the design. Of course there are a lot of technical aspects involved here as well, for example which type of seams and machinery that should be used at different parts of the garment.
When the sewing process is completed, the garment may be sent to a laundry to wash the garments. Here there are a large range of possibilities. You can give the garment a light rinse to make them softer and pre-shrunk, or a heavy wash with bleach to give jeans a worn in look.
Finally the goods are attached labels and quality controlled, before packed up and sent to it’s final destination, our headquarter in Norway.
Our partner cut & sew factories are to date located in Portugal.
Step 5: The Brand
It has really been a long journey when we receive the final product in Norway. Up to this point there has been at least eight different companies involved in the production, including the suppliers of accessories, hardware and labels. All of these companies have employees to take care of and bills to pay. The product must also be transported throughout the whole supply chain, which typically means thousands of miles of freight in each step and a lot of manpower involved. On top of that there is often at least one import tax occurring on this journey.
The journey is not quite done yet however. Now that we have received the final products we do a final quality control check in Norway, before we send the products on through our distribution channels, which is mostly brick-and-mortar retailers.
Step 6: The Retailer
Our retailers are our customers, who offer the products to you, the end customer. This might seem obvious and unnecessary to mention, but it’s very important to include this link in the supply chain as it makes for a deciding factor for the final price. Adding another company into the supply chain means that the final price must account for the operation costs and economic health of an additional company. It’s also worth of mention that the government VAT is added on top of the final price as well, usually a surcharge of 19% - 25%.
Today, we currently sell Livid to 53 retailers in 10 countries.
We hope you appreciated the brief insight into our chain of value, and the work that lies behind making a pair of jeans. Our intention is to give you a better point of reference to the price of the clothes you buy, as it’s very complicated and the information is scarce. We also hope we have made you curious and that you will keep asking questions; not only to where the product is made in the conventional sense, but where and how all aspects of the production is done. Demand from the market is the most effective force to generate widespread changes.
In this section we have showed you the basic picture of how our supply chain is connected. Admittedly, our information is not complete. Traditionally, the tracking of raw material is not something the suppliers in the textile industry is used to provide, and accurate tracking is indeed costly and challenging. As a microscopic brand in the textile world, we have limited influence and opportunity to obtain the information we want.
To us, knowing where everything comes from is fundamentally important. By making our supply chain completely open and an integral part of our brand identity, we believe that our suppliers will follow and that the flow of information goes easier. This is an important first step, and we will keep working to fill in all of the gaps.
Thanks for reading.