Jumping on the Bandwagon

Last week I was in Northern Virginia meeting with one of our retail partners, Potomac River Running (PRR).  For all you Atayners in the DC area, stay tuned for the launch of our fall line at PRR in mid-September.  We have some great new features and many new POV graphics for our tops.

Running Is RenewableAfter meeting with Jeanette, their apparel buyer and a running friend of mine, I browsed through the store to see the latest and greatest in running gear.  As I looked around, something immediately caught my eye in the women’s apparel section.  It was a ladies green running top with the statement “running is renewable.”  The quote was accompanied by a recycling symbol on the upper left chest.  After I got through a brief moment of jealousy (why didn’t I think of that graphic), questions started to race through my head.

  • “What company makes it?”
  • “What is the fabric composition?”
  • “How much does it cost?”
  • “Where is it made?”

I immediately scuttled over there to check it out.  I touched the fabric and it had a nice, soft feel.  I could tell it was a cotton/polyester blend.  Not necessarily designed for hard-core runners.  I looked at the content label and saw 50% polyester/50% cotton.  I continued onto the hangtag to see if there was any recycled material to support this bold environmental message.  Nothing.

At this point, I started to get disappointed, mad, and I might even say, a little irate.  In my mind this was clearly another case of greenwashing, the practice of companies disingenuously spinning their products and policies as environmentally friendly.

Since then, I have decided to take a step back.  Maybe I am too close to the situation.  Maybe my standards for a “green” or “sustainable” product are too high.  Maybe I should ask others what they think.  So here it goes.  I have asked myself the following questions over and over again and would love to hear your thoughts.

  • What classifies a product—apparel in particular—as “green” or “sustainable”?  Any percentage of recycled or organic content?  Over 50% recycled or organic content? 100% recycled or organic content?
  • Is a product made in the USA considered sustainable?  I was glad to see the above top was.
  • Should an item that has a recycling symbol on it have recycled content or be recyclable?
  • Do products like this create confusion among consumers?  If you saw this shirt in a store, would you assume it was made from recycled materials?
  • Is this a case of greenwashing?

Of course, I have an opinion and a very strong one.  To quote Marshall McLuhan, “The medium is the message.”  Translation: the material an environmental message is printed on is just as important as the message itself.

I see this as a perfect example of comedian Stephen Colbert’s poke at greenwashers, ”I believe in climate change for a very important reason: so I can market the new Colbert Report Green. It’s just like regular Colbert Report, except we reduce emissions by jumping on the bandwagon.”

As always, I would love to hear what others think– the good, the bad, or the ugly.

18 responses to “Jumping on the Bandwagon

  1. Sadly, I’ve got to say that I don’t expect an apparel item with an recycling symbol on it to have recycled or low-impact source materials. There is no message and medium unity.

  2. This type of crap drives me personally nuts. Of course, I experience this everyday at my current job as well in the household cleaning category. Palmolive Eco-Plus Auto Dish Detergent is derived from petroleum and has chlorine, Palmolive Pure & Clear Hand Dish Detergent is derived from petroleum…it’s just made clear (but it has a scent). Simple Green household cleaners…the list goes on. For me, I don’t think they are tricking consumers, because the consumer who buys that crap is doing it for the wrong reason (to be cool) and if they knew anything, they would check the label OR they would buy it thinking it was made by an authentic company later to find out it was not, and NEVER buy from them again (hurting the brand).

    Green is a way of life; it extends beyond both message AND product and involves thinking systemically about ALL areas your company touches both directly and indirectly. Which you do and will be rewarded for.

    Rock on Jeremy – that shirt is stupid…as is Brooks for stealing our Run Hard. Tread Lightly message. Personally, I will no longer be buying my trail shoes from Brooks – which is a shame b/c I love them. I just can’t support an unoriginal company :)

    • I love it when you get all fired up Mike! The thing is, we can’t even blame the companies, we can only blame ourselves as consumers. For to long we put blind faith in the companies we bought products from. How many more BPA and lead toy incidences do we need before we wake up. As Rage Against the Machine said, “We Gotta Take the Power Back!”

  3. Perhaps I’ve been overly influenced by your beliefs, Jeremy, but if I were to see that shirt in a store, I would have done the exact same thing you did…gone straight for the tag to see if they lived up to their ‘message’!

    If I see a three R’s symbol or any mention of a product being ‘green’ I read the label and see how much they are lying. I laugh at those Palmolive and Clorox commercials, claiming their cleaning product is green, because it’s ridiculous! What’s worse is that people buy into it. I had a heated discussion with a co-worker last week about the new “eco-friendly” Clorox bleach…I told her to go back to the store and read the label of the “green” Clorox and the label of the other Clorox. The next day she told me that I was right, but that she still felt better buying the “green” Clorox because the pretty label on the front called it that. Fine.

    I feel like this kind of thing should be classified under false advertising, or at least some level of bait-and-switch (a stretch perhaps). I bet one day, once this stuff gets regulated somehow, that this will be considered false advertising. But until companies are required to be transparent I think this kind of thing will be the norm. Our job is to continue to be conscious consumers, buying only when necessary and buying only products that are in line with our beliefs…and just hope that others catch on sooner rather than later.

    Great post, Jeremy :) Not only will Atayne’s new graphics be cooler than the one above, but your medium will match the message. Rock on.

  4. Just to clarify… I wish there was more often a unity of message and medium… I’ve just become so skeptical of greenwashing that I don’t expect it. It’s a nice treat when the two go together, such as with Atayne! :-)

  5. I get what you are saying, but……
    Do you wear garments that are “official team” shirts? you know, the ones that have some sports icon’s name on the back or such nonesense? If so, then you, too (and i am not pointing fingers, i am using ‘you’ in the broad sense of the word), are guilty of falsely promoting something.

    For example, here in New England, the Red Sox are all the rage. On any given summer’s day, you can spot 3 people claiming to be “Matsuzuke” or “Ramirez” or “Papplebon”. But they are not. They wear the shirts for the implied coolness factor.

    Same goes for ‘green’ tees, etc. Coolness (in the fashion sense, not the climate sense).

    I check labels, too, mostly to LAUGH. “eco-friendly” luxury products (i.e. not food, or water, or shelter) that have to take a boat or plane to get to me are, almost by definition, NOT ‘eco friendly’. But that can be a topic of a whole different post.

    Keep fighting the good fight. Peace, yo!
    Geno

  6. Pingback: Fall 2009 Atayne POV Graphics: A Sneak Peak « The Story of a Red Shirt

  7. Mike/Paige – I hear what you are saying re. household products. Even the Sierra Club has sacrificed their principles a bit. Have you read the description on their website of why they allow their endorsement of Clorox Greenworks? http://www.sierraclub.org/greenworks/

  8. I have one point to add. I always carefully read labels to ensure that I’m getting what I think I’m getting when I buy a product. I tend to buy my everyday clothes at thrift stores, which makes that part easy, but the exercise clothing can be harder. I ordered a Cannondale bike jersey this summer because the REI website stated that it was made of recycled polyester. When it arrived, the tag only said polyester. I went online to research this, and it took a while, but I figured out that it was, in fact, made from PET-recycled polyester. Even if you go to Cannondale’s website and type in “recylced,” nothing turns up. However, if you click on the right jerseys, the product specs describe their “Re-spun” fabric: Our Re-Spun fabric is made from recycled polyester (PET) that’s super soft with great wicking, too! Talk about confusing. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t just put it on the label. Of course, the internet helps, but if you’re in the store, all you’ve got to go on is the label….

    • Thanks for the comment Lisa. You are right, many companies do not make it easy. Unfortunately, sometimes that is due to the fact that they are hiding something. Most commonly that it is the amount of recycled polyester that is actually in the garment. I am not saying this is the case with Cannondale, but the amount of recycled fabric can be as low as 5 to 10% of the total. Many companies do not want to put 90% polyester/10% recycled polyester on their garments. I think they fear it appears half-hearted.

  9. Jeremy, I agree about that. But what blew my mind about the jersey I got is that it turns out to be 100% recycled polyester. Why wouldn’t you advertise that? Not all of their jerseys are made of this stuff, but some is. As far as I can tell, there aren’t a heck of a lot of companies (I can think of Novara, Teko, Zoic, REI OXT, Patagonia, GoLite… and that’s about it) making athletic clothing from recycled materials/bamboo/organic wool, so you’d think that if your company is doing it, advertising that fact would be a good thing…
    Rant done.
    PS When does the fall line come out? I am waiting with bated breath!

    • It is odd and I have not idea why companies do not promote their environmental stewardship. The only think I can think of is they are concerned that it may turn people off from a performance standpoint. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of consumers who think that a green/recycled product does not perform as well.

      Our new web store should be launching next week. It is has taken it bit longer than anticipated. The joys of being an underfunded start-up…

      I hope you and everyone else will like what we have.

  10. Okay, and since I’ve got you, Jeremy, one more question. Well, more of a bug to put in your head. Any thoughts about sports bras? I like my Spun Bamboo bra, but it’s not as supportive as it could be. Patagonia’s looks like a joke, good perhaps for yoga. And the only other eco-responsible one I can find is by GoLite (Sis Boom Bra – catchy little name), of recycled polyester. As far as I can tell, the dearth in this market that you could fill….

  11. We absolutely have one in the plans. I don’t want to give too much away, but in addition to great performance and low impact, it will be rather edgy.

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