OUR BUSINESS MODEL
This section provides a deep dive into the complexities and nuances of Untold Unknown’s business model. The information shared here intentionally delves into various ‘untold’ and ‘unknown’ aspects of our operations. For many of these questions, there may be no absolutely correct or perfect answer – so we are openly sharing our values, rationale and the thought process behind our decision making.
Untold Unknown amplifies social and environmental issues that affect Toronto and Ontario. Central to our model is supporting local community organizations working on these issues, as well as local artists who illustrate these issues. We have structured our business model in a manner where our success directly corelates to:
- greater amplification of important social and environmental issues (the "Untold and Unknown");
- creating a larger and meaningful platform for emerging artists; and,
- providing more support to local community organizations, especially those that may find it difficult to secure traditional funding.
Our support of artists and community organizations is not contingent on sales.
Our first line, the Summer 2022 collection, is designed and illustrated in Toronto and the garment itself is made in India (where we also have a local presence). While we could have qualified as a “Made in Canada” brand, even though we manufacture in India, we decided not to use this label for the following reasons:
Firstly, each of our current Untold Unknown themes speak directly or indirectly to the global interconnectedness of our societies:
- The “locally grown” food on our tables is dependent on the unrecognized labour of migrant farmers, who are flown in every year from across the world...Is this food ‘Made in Canada’?
- The historical and ongoing impacts of Canadian energy choices, usage, consumerism and the consequences of climate change are in no way limited to Canada.
- The same is true for our “recycled” waste, which often ends up in landfills in other parts of the world.
In short, we are comfortable embracing the complexities of our globalized world, especially since we live in a global city: almost 50% of Toronto’s population was born outside of Canada. Untold Unknown is in some ways, a product of this community and we have a high degree of comfort with acknowledging and celebrating Canada’s interconnectedness with the rest of the world.
Secondly, while a large majority of Canadians seem to prefer items that are “Made in Canada”, the spectrum of what "Made in Canada" truly means, varies greatly.
To qualify as ‘Made in Canada’, only the “last substantial transformation” of items must occur in Canada and 51% of direct costs of manufacturing have to be in Canada.
For example, a brand could source a t-shirt from abroad and then add a screen-print and a label in Canada. From an accounting perspective, design and some labour costs could be shown as Canadian and this would then meet the ‘Made in Canada’ requirements. It is fairly easy for brands to qualify as being ‘Made in Canada’ while continuing to have a substantial amount of labour and sourcing from abroad. And this does not even factor for the need to source fabrics (like cotton) and other materials from abroad, let alone the usage of tools/machinery that are usually imported. In a survey that Untold Unknown conducted, we found that 74% of respondents were unaware of these nuances about ‘Made in Canada’.
While we were tempted to brand ourselves as ‘Made in Canada’, being transparent about the nuances of local issues and the interconnectedness of our world is more in spirit with the underpinnings of our brand.
Our approach to sustainability balances environmental perspectives with social and economic considerations. We look beyond the product/manufacturing process to ensure that sustainability is embedded in our entire value chain.
Art & Design:
Our designs are created by local artists and textile designers based in Toronto. The artists’ work amplifies local environmental and social themes that are often Untold/Unknown.
Untold Unknown has a local presence in India where we are able to personally oversee manufacturing. Our tops are manufactured at Assisi Garments Pvt. Ltd. In Avinashi, Tamil Nadu. Assisi Garments is a women-led social-enterprise. In order to support the values of Assisi, Untold Unknown pays 50% of the manufacturing fees up-front. This practice allows the manufacturer to steadily support both its employees and social initiatives. Their manufacturing facilities have the following quality/manufacturing certifications: The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Indian Register Quality Systems (IQRS) and Fairtrade/Flocert.
The list of partners used by Assisi Garments includes the following:
- Shiva TexYarn Ltd in Tirupur, Tamil Nadu - This mill procures cotton from farms across India including those in the regions of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. The mill then creates the yarn.
- Classic Clothing (A unit Royal Classic Mills Pvt Ltd), Tirupur, Tamil Nadu - This clothing unit is responsible for knitting and creating the fabric.
- Kinsey Knit International, Tirupur, Tamil Nadu - Printing for the tops is done using a rotary-style, digital direct-to-garment printer. The printing process uses pigment ink, which minimizes the use of water and harmful chemicals.
Our catalogue is intentionally small to ensure we produce a limited number of high-quality, thoughtfully designed garments. In our Summer 2022 collection, all tops were manufactured using 100% GOTS certified organic cotton. Typically, organic cotton uses fewer chemicals and produces less greenhouse gas emissions across the farming process. It also uses less water than conventional cotton. The fabric used for our tops is unbleached and undyed, leading to an exceptionally soft, natural cotton fibre. This also means that our manufacturing process is less water/energy intensive compared to traditional cotton garments.
We have attempted to minimize the use of plastics in the garment. The wash-care label is 100% organic cotton and we have not added any additional hang-tags or plastic neck-labels. We have also focused on making our garments durable by focusing on high-quality seams and stitching.
Our beautiful packaging is reusable, made from 100% recycled content and is naturally biodegradable. We have consciously made choices to reduce the use of plastic shipping bags and beautiful (but landfill bound) packaging frills like ribbons and tissue paper.
We have deliberately focused on partnering with local organizations and groups for our marketing efforts. Our hope is to channel our marketing dollars towards community groups and organizations that have networks with audiences like yourself, rather than prioritizing our budget on the void of social media. For example, we advertise with The Walrus – an independent, non-profit Canadian media organization.
For deliveries in the GTA, we have partnered with Good Foot Delivery. Good Foot provides meaningful employment for the neuro-diverse community through a reliable, professional courier service delivered via public transit and on foot.
We focus on ensuring that all of our business costs are associated with engaging a diverse group of talented local artists, designers and other contractors. Details of our team for the Summer 2022 collection can be found here.
No, not yet. While there are studies that speak to the benefits of various sustainability focused standards, it can be challenging to objectively say how truly beneficial and ironically, sustainable at scale, some of these practices are.
Since our Summer 2022 line is manufactured in India, there are some additional complexities for us to consider: many certifications are created by High-Income Countries (HICs) to require standards to be met by manufacturers in Low & Middle-Income Countries (LMICs). Often these certifications are financially out-of-reach for most small-to-medium sized farmers and manufacturers, meaning sustainability becomes exclusive. Even for people participating in the sustainability supply chain, the income they earn is often only one aspect of their livelihood. For example, a farmer who produces sustainable cotton in India will also work multiple other farming and non-farming jobs to make ends meet (often depending on the season). Their lives also include other complexities related to high unemployment, rising costs and inflation, competing corporate interests and unjust access to water and other resources. In many cases, farmers may not even be aware that one component of their labour is going towards sustainably produced cotton. Unfortunately, the feel-good benefits of buying certified products are often misunderstood and/or overstated and exaggerated to consumers.
We would like to remain cognizant of these realities, while framing the benefits of our model of sustainability. We understand that no model is perfect (including ours). From our perspective, we are consciously focusing on every aspect of our supply chain and being transparent about this information. We hope to speak to these complexities in much more detail through our newsletters. Please subscribe below.