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As a finalist in the "ethical apparel" category of Green America's People & Planet Award, activewear retailer Atayne impressed voters with a strong commitment to responsible sourcing, recycled fabrics, and made-in-the-USA manufacturing.
"Atayne is a certified B Corporation, a rigorous third-party certification awarded only to companies that meet the highest standards of environmental and social responsibility," says owner Jeremy Litchfield. "Recently, Atayne was recognized as one of the 'Best for the World' businesses by scoring in the top 10 percent of all B Corps for overall social and environmental impact. Additionally, Atayne was recognized as Best for the World in the Environmental Category, scoring second overall."
We asked Jeremy to tell us more about running an ethical apparel company...
Green America: What does your business do and what are your most popular products?
Jeremy Litchfield: Atayne makes progressive outdoor and active apparel that drives positive environmental and social change. Most of our products are performance oriented and designed for endurance sports like running and cycling. Our most popular item is our short-sleeve REC T that we sell to a lot of running and cycling events across the country.
What were you doing before you started your green business?
Jeremy: Before starting Atayne I did brand strategy work for a variety of marketing agencies. And then I had my a-ha moment thanks to a red shirt. About six years ago, I went for a run while wearing a new red performance top. Upon finishing, I found myself covered in red dye. That was after washing it twice before wearing. Disturbed by the experience, I decided to do some research and quickly realized that there are many problems in the apparel industry.
When people buy performance apparel, they are getting more than they bargained for, and not in a good way. Included in the high-tech, moisture wicking gear are a lot of harmful chemicals. Many of these are known carcinogens and hormone disruptors that people are putting directly on their bodies, during exercise when their skin is most susceptible to absorbing toxins. Additionally, the way all this gear is made is very destructive to the environment. It is damaging the places where active people love to play.
Realizing there were not products on the market that met mine and other runners’ needs for human safety and environmental sensitivity, I launched Atayne with a simple goal: provide endurance athletes with high-performing products that are safe for people and the planet. A friend came up with the phrase, “Compromise nothing, attain anything” which provided inspiration for our name, Atayne.
What makes Atayne green?
Jeremy: We don’t just focus on being “green”; we’re progressive in the way we approach nearly everything we do!
• Progressive Materials
o All of our products (not just a few) are made using 100% recycled or organic fabrics. By using 100% recycled polyester, derived from plastic bottles, in all our performance garments, we prevent usable materials from going into landfills and save considerable energy and water compared to virgin polyester. In 2012, Atayne’s operations prevented nearly 6.5 metric tons of plastic bottles from going into landfills, conserved over 94,000 kilowatt hours of energy, saved 25 metric tons of CO2 from being emitted, and conserved 56,000 liters of drinking water.
All the materials Atayne uses are third-party-certified for safety, eliminating toxic chemicals and known carcinogens from our production process and products.
o All our printing is done with inks free of hormone-disrupting phthalates.
• Progressive Manufacturing
• Progressive Giving
o Atayne employs an innovative localized, Just-In-Time (JIT) production process. This process is beneficial in a variety of ways.
Since our primary market is the US, that is where we make our products, from start to finish. Not only does this support American jobs, it reduces harmful pollutants and emissions from extra "product miles." The average shirt travels over 8,000 miles during its production. An Atayne garment travels under 600 miles.
This model is also better for the environment since it eliminates the use of resources and energy on products that are not wanted in the market. We make a sale and then make the product. We then deliver to our customer straight from the factory.
o Atayne donates at least 2 percent of revenues to organizations that support the dignity of people and the planet. Additionally, we are in the process of developing a platform that will allow the Atayne community to help direct our giving through voting.
What have been the biggest challenges to social and environmental responsibility?
Jeremy: Maintaining higher standards often means a company internalizes many social and environmental costs that other companies “externalize” in pursuit of maximizing financial profits. Atayne’s higher standards gives us a higher cost structure. Meanwhile, competitors can make all sorts of green claims around just one of their products; this can give a halo effect to all their products when most are not green in any way -- resulting in a lot of consumer confusion. Overall, we have tried to be as cost-competitive as possible. To do so, we have had to look outside the apparel industry to adopt practices that enable us to be much more operationally and economically efficient than our competitors.
What advice would you give to other green entrepreneurs just starting out?
Jeremy: Being an entrepreneur is hard, but not for the reasons you would expect. The work is not necessarily hard, but mentally and emotionally it is very trying. You can feel super isolated as most people, including family and friends, will have no idea what you are going through. In hindsight, I should have found a regular entrepreneurs’ network to be part of to find a crowd of fellow travelers. That being said, you may also experience some of the greatest joys in your life. It is truly a roller coaster. If you are passionate about what you are doing beyond the money, it makes the journey much easier.
What's the most hopeful sign you've seen recently from the green economy?
Jeremy: What is inspiring for me to see in the green economy is that green products and services are starting to be viewed as the best quality. There has been long held perceptions that buying green means sacrificing quality or performance. The tides are starting to turn. For example, a couple of my friends have a Tesla Model S. Assuming the car is being charged using renewable energy, it is very “green.” But when they talk about their car, they are not raving about the enviro credentials. They are raving about how it is the most incredible driving experience out there.
What's the next green step you're working on right now?
Jeremy: Our “Cause Collections” (re-launching in a few weeks) are lines of apparel designed to promote specific issues and causes, and not be just another corporate logo. Our goal is to get millions of active people out there doing what they love (running, cycling, hiking, etc.) while supporting causes they are passionate about. Atayne Athletes can be mobile billboards for important issues around human rights and the environment. We have some great designs that promote marriage equality, one of the main human rights issues of our generation. Why speak out? As Abraham Lincoln said, “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.”
What green product (besides your own!) can you not live without?
Jeremy: Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap. As a guy who runs and sweats a lot, it is nice to be clean and green.