TS Designs brings it home in final ‘Harvest’ journey
Posted June 10, 2021
By Devin Steele
In the last installment of TS Designs’ six-month journey through its Carolinas supply chain, the T-shirt printer and dyer finished at its home base in Burlington, N.C.
During the online jaunt through its entire supply chain – from “dirt to shirt,” as TS Designs founder and President Eric Henry calls it – the company went from its cotton farmer to most recently its dyeing facility, the final step in the seven-step process to produce a T-shirt.
Since November, TS Designs has hosted the web events, dubbed “The Harvest: A Gathering of Conversations for the Future of Cotton,” at the headquarters of each partner involved in its Solid State Clothing brand’s 10,000 Pound of Cotton project. Previous iterations included stops at cotton producer Burleson Farms, ginner Rolling Hills Gin, yarn spinner Parkdale, finisher Carolina Cotton Works, knitter Contempora Fabrics and cut-and-sew specialist The Industrial Commons. The goal is to pay farmers at above-market rate prices for cotton as “an experiment to see how flipping the power in the cotton supply chain can change the way farmers operate,” he said.
The 10,000 Pounds project is designed to educate the consumer about where their clothes come from and to issue a call to action for the brands to connect with the farmer in the field, Henry has said frequently.
As previously reported, TS Designs has launched a bold project with many of the foundational principles of its foundational three Ps – people, planet and profits – in mind. As such, the company has created the 10,000 Pounds of Cotton Project on their site, Solid State Clothing.
During the most recent web event, Henry and his team walked through the company’s dyeing facility, showing attendees from around the country its capabilities and differentiating factors.
“Most likely, the apparel you're wearing today was done by piece dyeing, fabric dyeing or some other way,” Henry said during the tour. “But they're dyeing big bulks of fabric. The industry did a big shift years ago. Why? Basically because they were chasing volume and lower price. We have gone in the complete opposite direction. We start off with a finished white T-shirt. About 15 years ago, we developed a process called REHANCE. And to my knowledge, there is nobody in the world who does T-shirts this way. We print, then garment dye. So TS Designs prints white T-shirts, then garment dyes them.”
Henry admitted that garment dyeing has gotten a bad rap for being inconsistent. But TS Designs, through years of experience has been able to control many of the variables, such as time, temperature and weight, by being “very attentive to detail,” he said.
“And we've also developed very sophisticated recipes,” he said. “So that assures us that every time we do it, it's done a specific way. I like to say you can't add the eggs after it's been baked. There are certain steps you have to take at certain times and certain temperatures and certain weights.”
Later, Henry added that when shirts leave the facility, they never shrink – an advantage of domestically produced apparel, he said.
He also pointed out that TS Designs was working on a natural dye system before COVID-19 hit, with the long-term goal to develop natural dyes from locally grown agricultural products, and the company is continuing on that journey. He pointed to the black walnut trees visible from his conference room.
“We have an opportunity to change the world we live in for the next generation,” he said. “Just because what we do now works doesn't mean it's right for the future. So this is why we're taking on this next difficult challenge. It's the right thing to do. We want to do it transparently, do it domestically and improve our environment. We want to harvest black walnuts outside of our conference room and dye from them.”
On June 18, TS Designs will be celebrating International T-Shirt Day at its headquarters from 4 p.m.-7 p.m. The event will include a tour of the facility and a crafting table, where you can do some T-shirt upcycling. Anyone with a COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card will receive a free T-shirt from the Breakroom Boutique. More information here.