If streetwear waved a flag, it would be a graphic T-shirt.
Many of the trailblazing streetwear brands, like Supreme, BAPE, Stüssy, Freshjive and countless more, began by selling screen-printed T-shirts and hoodies. While it was, and is, the easiest and cheapest way to make clothing, it may also be the purest and simplest form of self expression. A tee with a brand graphic gives context to who you are, what you do, who you do it with, and where you do it.
Streetwear has since evolved, and the lines between it and high fashion have never been more blurred. Yet still, the box-logo tees are often the most coveted items from Supreme’s seasonal collections. Even today, T-shirts are the launchpad for many brands and collectives alike.
The problem however is that streetwear hasn’t fully caught up with the times and the evolving values of its consumers. For a culture with foundations in protest and social awareness, it is still largely environmentally irresponsible. Blanks — the blank tees and hoodies that are used for printing by brands who can’t afford to develop their own — are generally manufactured by large corporations that deplete natural resources and take advantage of low-cost labor. These blanks are typically low in quality and made with virgin cotton and/or polyester blends, that are neither recyclable or biodegradable.
This is a real problem that has been brewing in streetwear for some time now, and any brand that doesn’t embrace environmental responsibility going forward will surely get left behind.
With the hopes of speeding up this change and challenging streetwear brands to commit to better blanks, FUTUREVVORLD has partnered with sustainable basics platform Version Tomorrow on a collaborative T-shirt.
Version Tomorrow is the first of its kind ultra-premium blanks platform that makes high quality, sustainable basics using a proprietary blend of recycled and organic cotton that enables creators of all kinds to make eco-friendly merch.
The company was born out of the CFDA award winning brand Public School, who, like many other streetwear brands, was using blanks for various promotional programs and collections. However, as the brand began progressing down its own path towards becoming more environmentally conscious, it realized it couldn’t continue to use those conventional blanks.
“It was at this time that we set forth to create a better blank for ourselves – better quality and better for the environment,” says Alan Mak, Managing Partner at Public School, and CEO and co-founder of Version Tomorrow.
Right around that same time, Public School was invited to be a part of the CFDA + Lexus Fashion* Initiative 3.0, where five American designers were challenged to transform a part of their business into something that created sustainable innovation and positive change. It was here where Public School was able to scale and showcase its better blanks, earning them the competition’s grand prize.
Now, having fully realized their vision for more sustainable blanks, Mak and Public School’s co-founders, Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne, turned their sights to the greater streetwear community. “If we wanted to truly have an impact on the industry, we needed to not just utilize Version Tomorrow for ourselves, but rather, we needed to open it up as a brand agnostic platform so that every streetwear and fashion brand, along with creators of all kinds, could easily make sustainable merch in a turnkey way,” said Mak. “We purposely chose basics as our core product because this was the lowest hanging fruit where we could make the greatest immediate impact.”
According to Mak, every year, over 2 billion T-shirts are produced, and of that 2 billion, only 1% are made from organic cotton, and even less out of recycled cotton. What’s more is that it takes about 2,700 liters of water to make just one conventional cotton tee, equal to about 3.5 years worth of drinking water for the average human.
“The apparel industry is highly fragmented, having tens of thousands of smaller brands who don’t have the resources nor knowhow to develop sustainable supply chains or products,” explains Mak. “By opening Version Tomorrow up as a platform, we are enabling these smaller brands to make environmentally responsible goods in a turnkey way, without any R&D or heavy lifting.”
Mak likens Version Tomorrow to the launch of Shopify, which aided small businesses in creating e-commerce sites that had the same features, functionality and security that the big brands like Amazon have.
Version Tomorrow, under the leadership of Chow, Osborne and Mak, spent two-plus years researching and developing its line of eco-friendly basics. Each piece is made with VT’s very own blend of recycled and organic ring spun cotton.
The result is a blank, tee or hoodie, that is far more premium than traditional options. They are said to fit better and last longer, thanks in part to subtle details like heavier weight fabrications, higher stitch counts, and taped interiors.
Of course, VT did all of this without the use of any polyester, rPET or synthetics. “We did this because it was critical for us to not just think about the inputs for the current life of our garments, but also the afterlife,” says Mak. “Our garments are circular by design.” Not only do they feel and fit better, but they’re also 100% biodegradable and 100% recyclable.
Version Tomorrow was, and is, not without its challenges however. In the development process, finding the right mix of recycled and organic cotton that didn’t compromise quality proved to be the most difficult. “We knew we wanted to maximize the amount of recycled cotton in our fabrication, but one of the things we found was that the more recycled content that went into the fabric, the less stable and the rougher the hand,” describes Mak.
Nowadays, the challenges are in pricing and industry-wide greenwashing. The former is clear, at a higher quality that’s better for the environment, VT’s basics are priced more than the existing market of cheap, inferior blanks. Brands who are not prioritizing their carbon footprint, are likely not willing to spend more to just pass the cost onto their consumers.
For those who do care about environmental responsibility, “the market is murky and confusing at best,” says Mak. “Vendors across the spectrum call their goods ‘sustainable,’ ‘eco,’ ‘green,’ but what defines any of this? What are the standards?”
Mak went even further, explaining that partial commitments to sustainable practices tend to leave brands fearing criticism that they’re not doing enough.
“Incumbents are caught in a state of paralysis where there is a genuine fear that if they switch a portion of their supply chain, say 10%, to more environmentally responsible sourcing, that they will get called out for the 90% that is still dirty. So instead of making that switch to 10% and then charting a path toward 100%, those brands are paralyzed and would rather be at zero out of fear of being called out. Unfortunately, it’s easier to maintain the status quo rather than rocking the boat.”
We at FUTUREVVORLD share these same sentiments and concerns. While the fashion industry is indeed shifting towards building a more sustainable future, we still have a long way to go. This is why we decided to partner with Version Tomorrow to give away a selection of collaborative tees that challenge the streetwear community, brands and consumers alike, to be better.
“We wanted to partner with Version Tomorrow because there’s an urgent need for streetwear brands to make meaningful environmental considerations in regards to what kind of blanks they print on,” says FUTUREVVORLD co-founder and Editor-in-Chief Daniel Navetta.
“In recent years, consumers have become more enthusiastic about transparency and their willingness to pay for higher quality garments. Certain brands will claim that they don’t want to pass additional costs onto their consumers, but we’ve repeatedly seen those same consumers pay higher prices for the same shirts via the resale market,” explains Navetta.
The FUTUREVVORLD x Version Tomorrow tee was printed by New York City-based PRINT POSITIV using a water-based ink. Founded by Thomas Burt, PRINT POSITIV is a screen printing studio in NYC’s garment district that specializes in high-quality eco-conscious print and embellishment practices. It is one of the few companies in NYC that prints water-based inks onto light and dark garments.
These shirts have a clear message: “we made this shirt because nobody else would.” We made it because many streetwear brands don’t care enough about their environmental impact to spend a few more dollars for a more Earth-friendlier blank. We hope that you, a fellow lover of streetwear, will join us in challenging our favorite brands to commit to a more environmentally responsible future.
We’ve made just 10 FVV x VT tees for this year’s Earth Day, and are giving them away to select subscribers of our newsletter and Instagram followers. You can enter the giveaway on the Instagram post below or subscribe to our newsletter here.
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