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STAY VOCAL was founded by Alex Eaves, a Boston-area zero-waste expert whose "reuse" bona fides shape every aspect of his business -- the products themselves, how they're made, and how they get to you.
What's more, Alex shares his expertise on radical reuse strategies with others, via his blog, consulting, speaking events, and coming soon, an exciting new project that will carry his radical reuse message from coast to coast.
We asked Alex to tell us more about STAY VOCAL's innovative brand, and his upcoming projects...
Green America: What does your business do and what is your most popular products?
Alex Eaves: STAY VOCAL is a reuse apparel brand. Instead of printing on new garments, we rescue T-Shirts and give them a second life. About half of our apparel line is made from brand-new garments that were going to be destroyed. The balance comes from thrift stores and other sources, allowing us to offer more unique items.
Currently, our most popular shirt is the “Equali-Tee” series. It pretty much speaks for itself.
The "Equali-Tee," currently STAY VOCAL's most popular design.
STAY VOCAL only ships in reused boxes (mostly cereal boxes). Click for a larger view.
What aspects of STAY VOCAL are green?
Alex: Using garments that are already here is probably the “greenest” thing you can do as an apparel brand. Our main products are T-Shirts, but we also offer hoodies, jackets, patches, pins, posters, etc. All of our products are 100% remade in the USA. We use a local printer for most of our stock T-Shirts, but many of the more unique, wearable art are shirts that I print myself.
As far as our workplace, we reuse every step of the way. Orders and labels are printed on blank sides of scrap paper from local businesses and shipped in used boxes (mostly cereal boxes). All of our computers, equipment, displays, and other materials are pre-owned. I even print my business cards on rescued T-Shirts.
To further our commitment to zero waste, T-Shirt scraps are made into bandanas, patches, “Weeusable Wipes,” and more. Instead of discarding it, leftover silk-screen ink is used to create one-of-a-kind apparel. And with limited edition designs and on-demand shirts, we eliminate waste and overproduction.
In addition, we use green web hosting for our web site, all of our pre-owned shirts are washed with eco-friendly detergents and hang-dried, and of course we do recycle if it’s something that we simply can’t reuse.
What did you do before you started your green business?
Alex: Before I started STAY VOCAL, I was selling merchandise for positive change non-profit organizations and touring rock bands around the world. It was inevitable that I became inspired to do something more. During that time, I had my second skateboard related surgery and wanted to do something in the skateboard world that wouldn’t literally hurt so much.
So, in 2003, I decided to create a skateboard and apparel brand that promoted positive change. I decided on the name “VOCAL” because too many people sit back and let things happen, instead of using their most powerful tool to create change: their voice. (The STAY was later added.) I wanted the products to help be that voice.
Strangely enough, the first items I ever created to promote the brand were T-Shirts using garments from thrift stores. At that point, it was because skateboards and new shirts were so expensive. After dabbling in reuse for a few years, I decided to convert the brand to strictly reuse apparel in 2008. After really taking notice of the mass amounts of waste in the T-Shirt industry, I knew I could do more. If you’d like to read the whole STAY VOCAL story, check it out here.
How do you find the T-shirts that are set to be destroyed?
Alex: Fortunately, through my years of working in the band merchandise world, I made many connections with merchandisers and merchandise companies all over the U.S. and abroad. In addition, I seek out brands who have gone out of business and would otherwise be bringing all of their garments to a thrift store.
What has been your proudest moment as a green business owner?
Alex: When I won the Best Small Business Idea Award in 2008 for my reuse apparel idea, that was pretty dang exciting! I knew I was on to something. But honestly, every time someone purchases a STAY VOCAL T-Shirt, instead of a new one, I feel a major sense of accomplishment. Choosing to reuse over buying new is creating instant positive change and helping better the planet. Together, that customer and I help save 400 gallons of water, keep something out of the landfill, and begin to further promote that change.
It takes 400 gallons of water to grow the cotton for 1 new T-Shirt. Every STAY VOCAL Water Saver shirt has a hand written number on it that represents the new total gallons of water saved with this logo alone.
What advice would you give to other green entrepreneurs just starting out?
Alex: Your idea doesn’t have to be perfect to start it. We’re all going to stumble and fall, but if we never start, we can’t fall or stand tall.
After a few mishaps along the way, I’d say it’s the best idea not to go 100-percent full force without disposable income. It’s definitely helpful to have something on the side to keep yourself afloat, so you don’t have to bother the banks too much – or mom and dad (ha ha).
What's the most hopeful sign you've seen recently from the green economy?
Alex: With all of the recent storms around the country, especially around here in the northeast, I think the majority of people are accepting that climate change is real. Phew! And people are finally realizing that making more eco-friendly choices will prolong their lives, their children’s lives and the planet’s life. It’s also really cool to see so many hybrids available. But hopefully the car companies will soon realize they don’t actually need to make more vehicles and just figure out a plan to upgrade the millions and millions of cars already here.
An example of zero waste. Instead of discarding test print shirts, patches are cut out of them to make for a unique T-Shirt.
What's the next green step you're working on right now?
Alex: A documentary! Yep, at the end of May/early June, I’m going to be hitting the road to make a documentary about reuse. The documentary will be a compilation of a nationwide tour with stops in all 48 contiguous states. In each state, I'll visit with people and organizations who are reusing in original ways. In addition, I’ll be visiting various events and shops along the way to showcase how STAY VOCAL is reusing through its apparel, shipping, and everyday business methods. By sharing these ideas, both business owners and customers will be able to see how bringing more reuse into their life can be that win-win-win scenario for people, planet, and wallet.
I’m so ready to start, but I’ve got to raise the funds through Kickstarter first. So, if any of my fellow Green Americans want to get the ball rolling, they can head to my my documentary project page and contribute as little as $1. Every cent can help make this a reality!
What green product (besides your own!) can you not live without?
Alex: Another aspect of my personal life is that I try to live as minimally as possible, so here’s a quick list of what I really need to keep me going: Used jeans (I’m not too picky on brand), used Converse Chuck Taylors, my stainless steel travel mug/French press, and an empty glass bottle for water. And I can’t forget about Cinnaholic – vegan cinnamon rolls in Berkeley, CA. Now I want one.
Alex with his One-Of-A-Kind STAY VOCAL T-Shirt art display at a local coffee shop.