Jennifer Sharpe wants to know where your clothes have been, even before they become “your clothes.” For her master’s thesis, the Parsons The New School for Design student looked to Sourcemap, a free online tool that traces supply chains across the globe, making it ideal for addressing the complexities of garment manufacturing. Because Sharpe wanted to test the platform in the real world, she approached John Patrick, the genius designer behind Organic. “I explained my work with Sourcemap, and my focus on clothing traceability, and John was completely receptive in allowing me to document and source-map his supply chain,” Sharpe tells Ecouterre.
As a fashion tool, Sourcemap is “quite revolutionary,” says Sharpe. Open-source and interactive, the site allows you to track the production of everyday products, from bubble tea to a pair of UGGs, to varying levels of specificity.
Sharpe collaborated with Patrick for a year to nail down the origin of every element in his Fall/Winter 2011 collection.
Sharpe collaborated with Patrick for a year to nail down the origin of every element in his Fall/Winter 2011 collection. From the interactive map, you can tell at a glance that the wool hailed from upstate New York, the recycled-polyester fabric originated in Canton, MA, and the sewing and finishing took place in New York City’s Garment District. Want to dive deeper? You can even track the wool to the farm where it was sheared. (Who knew they had sheep in Red Hook?)
Sharpe’s project, along with the video documenting it, turns an ordinary garment into an experience. You’re not only getting a cozy sweater but the knowledge of where the fibers come from and the people it took to create the final product. By purchasing these clothes, you’re buying into the idea that transparency is an essential part of the fashion industry. Sharpe wants to use Sourcemap to “build the story of where and how things are made, and the people throughout the supply chain.” We see tremendous potential teaching power here.
This map isn’t complete, however. Sharpe plans to document the carbon footprint of Patrick’s line and post-production aspects such as consumer use and care.
Sharpe plans to document the carbon footprint of Patrick’s line and post-production aspects such as consumer use.
Patrick sees the website as the beginning of a manufacturing revolution—the greater the number of mainstream brands in the system, the easier it’ll be to steer away from products we’re ethically at odds with. “Sourcemap is but a drop in the ocean,” he tells Ecouterre. “The big tool will be the global reaction to shortages of all types.”
Eventually, Patrick expects Sourcemap to either evolve or be supplanted by something else entirely, much in the way that Flip cameras have been rendered obsolete by smartphones. Patrick believes that eventually only “transparent merchandise” will be produced. We, for one, are looking forward to that day.