The Original Red Shirt

“I’m just writing a story that I want to read.”

-Jean M. Auel

I find it very interesting how one seemingly meaningless experience can have such a significant impact on a person’s life. My experience with a shirt that cost $19.99 was the event that prompted me to write the story that I want to read.

In the summer of 2007, I bought a few pieces of new performance apparel as part of my preparation for the fall marathon season. One of the things I bought was this red shirt. The Original Red ShirtIt was nothing fancy, just a simple COOLMAX® shirt. It was actually the COOLMAX® Extreme Fabric, which according to their website would give me “Cool Comfort for Extreme Performance.” The product hangtag told me the shirt would reduce skin temperature and dry faster (3 minutes faster) than the competition. There was no doubt in my mind that this shirt was just what I needed to run a Boston qualifying time in my next marathon.

The first time I used the shirt for a workout, it was a typical Washington, DC summer morning – hot and humid. Within a few minutes of starting my run, I had begun to sweat heavily, and I soon noticed that red dye from the shirt was starting to trickle down my legs. By the time I was done with my workout, the trickle had turned into more of a gusher, and my legs were now covered in red dye. Adding insult to injury, my shorts were stained, my socks were stained, and my shoes were stained.

The experience left me with an uneasy feeling: what nasty chemicals were being absorbed into my body as I was trying to make myself healthier by running? I decided I would research what performance apparel really is, and I found out some remarkable things.

While I thought I had just bought a red performance shirt, I also got:What I Really Got

  • About one-tenth of a gallon of petroleum
  • Antimony
  • Dioxins
  • Heavy Metals
  • Azo Dyes
  • An unpronounceable chemical finish

Not only are the above environmental pollutants, they are known carcinogens. These carcinogenic substances are what I put on my body every morning when I workout in hopes of preventing things like cancer.

On top of that, of the $6 billion worth of performance apparel that is sold in the US each year, 85% of that will end up in a landfill where it will sit for thousands of years. If enough light reaches it, it will photo-degrade into its harmful chemical compounds that will leach into the water stream. Or the apparel might be incinerated. In that case its harmful chemicals and pollutants would be released directly into the air. Why die a slow death, right?

Instead of running, why don’t I just sit on my couch, eat a Big Mac, smoke a pack of cigarettes, and throw some more toxic waste in the Potomac River? It seemed like either path was going to result in the same ending.

You can look at this as a problem or an opportunity for change. I could continue to be frustrated with how the apparel industry’s status quo sacrifices the safety of their customers, workers, and the planet to make products. Or I could write a new story for the industry. The red shirt has become the first chapter in this story. I am not quite sure where this story will go, but I can be certain of one thing – Atayne will never make a red shirt.

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2 responses to “The Original Red Shirt

  1. Great Stuff.
    Looking forward to the journey.

  2. Pingback: Reflections and Lessons from Two Years as an Entrepreneur « The Story of a Red Shirt

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