A New Look and Home for The Story of a Red Shirt

The story of a Red Shirt has remodeled and we are moving.  Check us out at our new digs – http://www.atayne.com/red-shirt-blog/.  We still have some more design work to do, but we would love to hear your initial thoughts.

The New Red Shirt Blog

Sustainable Design: A Tale of Two Tea Bags Part I

I recently caught my first cold of the season.  I guess most people do not think that is a big deal, but I was on a rally of nearly three years without a cold.  The good news is it was not too bad.  It slowed me down for a day or two, but then I was back at it full steam.

While nursing my cold, I drank a lot of tea.  It was very comforting and felt great on my raw, sore throat.  I tried many different brands (Traditional Medicinal, Numi, Good Earth, Trader Joe’s, Bigelow, and Organic India) as well as many different varieties (Sweet Lemon, Moroccan Mint, Echinacea Plus, Sweet & Spicy, Chamomile and Relax).  If you know anything about me, you can guess that almost all of them were organic.

Although I am mostly recovered, I am continuing the practice of drinking tea.  I have become a big fan of an afternoon and evening herbal tea.  It does not compare to my morning coffee (for all you coffee aficionados I highly recommend Matt’s wood roasted organic coffee), but I think tea will become part of my daily routine, at least while it is chilly outside.

If I have been able to keep your attention this far, you are likely wondering, “Where is he going with this?”  The good news is I do have a point beyond “I heart herbal tea.”

As I have been drinking all this tea, I have started to examine the different designs of the tea bags.  (Yes, yes, I know that loose-leaf tea is better than tea in bags.) I am a bit of a nerd for design.  Especially design that is done is a sustainable way.  You may be asking, how different can the bags be?  Well, as I am about to illustrate, the design does not have to be considerably different to be, in my opinion, much more sustainable.

Consider the picture of the two tea bags below.  At a quick glance (even a long stare) the two products from two different companies appear to be nearly identical:

  • Both are Moroccan Mint
  • Both are organic
  • Both bags are made from paper
  • Both strings are made of cotton
  • Both tags are made from paper

tea bags, sustainable design

However, there is one slight difference between the two bags that makes the design of one much more sustainable.

Instead of immediately letting the cat out of the bag, I want to see if anyone else can spot the difference(s).  (Remember that child’s activity: name all the little things that are different between two nearly identical scenes?)

  • How are these two tea bags different?
  • Why does this difference make one bag much more sustainable than the other?

Stay tuned for a Tale of Two Tea Bags Part II, when I reveal my thoughts (as profound or menial as they might be).

What Would Your Day Look Like with Super Powered Glasses?

x-ray glassesTo kick off the New Year at the Story of a Red Shirt, I am featuring another great guest blog from Rebecca.  I hope she is not trying to take my job!

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Elyse Chen, one of CSR Asia’s Beijing staffers, recently shared some of her thoughts on food safety in the CSR Asia weekly newsletter.  She comments, “The basic responsibility of the food industry is to produce good quality and safe food. To fulfill this responsibility doesn’t require high technology, nor does it rely on advanced equipment. The key point is whether the owners and managers of the food companies have business ethics.”

Elyse goes onto to provide an excerpt written by a popular blogger that describes one day’s happy life of a Chinese person (and yes, the sarcasm is intentional).

In the morning, I woke up with a quilt made of shoddy cotton, brushed my teeth with carcinogenic toothpaste, drank up a cup of milk with melamine and excessive amount of iodine. Then I ate a fried bread stick fried in diesel oil and washing powder and a salty egg with Sudan Red G (a yellowish red lysochrome azo dye) inside, and I hurried to the office. At noon, I ordered a plate of finless eel fed with contraceptive pills and cooked with waste oil, a plate of cabbage sprayed with Dichlorovos, and two bowls of poisonous rice. In the evening I cooked cured meat made of pork from dead pigs fed with Clenbuterol; Spiropent, dressed it with soy bean which contained some hair. I also prepared cold jellyfish, which is soaked in formalin, grabbed a steamed bun containing bleaching powder and Sodium formaldehyde sulfoxylate, drank up two glasses of wine with great amount of methyl alcohol. Oh, what a happy life it is.” (As sourced from CSR Asia’s 6 January 2010 newsletter)

What if we were to each write a version of our day? One that took place in our own city and country that focused on not just what we ate, but also what we wore, inhaled, and absorbed?  What might it look like if we had some super power glasses that could see all that was invisible to the naked eye?  Those super power glasses would reveal a scary alphabet soup of chemicals, toxic materials, and unexpected foreign substances that we are coming into contact with everyday.

Globalization and international supply chains mean that the melamine that ends up in one’s milk in China is also ending up in milk in New Zealand or New York.  And it’s not just China that we have to worry about.  Manufacturers everywhere in the world are allowed to have micro amounts of toxic materials in their products and their waste streams (solid, water, or airborne).

In my humble opinion, businesses that use and release toxic materials shouldn’t be the norm.  It will take some creativity and perhaps some new technology, but it is possible to make a change.  Ray Anderson shares what Interface has done and continues to do as it climbs Mt. Sustainability in his latest book.

And for the record, Atayne doesn’t accept the status quo. As we continue to learn more, we are seeking alternate ways of doing things.  For more insight into our journey, check out the Naked Truth Part I and II.

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What do you think about Rebecca’s thought-provoking post?  Here is my thought.  Capital One asked everyone, “What’s in your wallet?”  But they probably should have asked, “What’s in your milk, t-shirt, shampoo, toothpaste…”

Would You Change?

I was recently forwarded an email written by a woman shortly after losing her husband to a long battle with esophageal cancer.  The man at the center of the email was Forrest Church, the former Senior Minister of All Souls Church in New York City.  While I never met Forrest, judging by the email, he was an incredible man.

What has really stuck with me from the email is the description of his final moments.

We were able to get Forrest home five hours before he died. We had celebrated his birthday the night before. Forrest had been very quiet, conserving his strength as he knew the end was near. He listened to the sound of our laughter; we sang him many of his favorite songs. When I told him the kids were leaving for the night, he slowly raised his hand and gave them a salute. When we got him home and settled, we gathered around him, held him close, put on his favorite music and told him it was time. We were ready for him to go. I was playing Tracy Chapman’s song, “Change”:

If you knew that you would die today
Saw the face of god and love
Would you change?
Would you change?

If you knew that love can break your heart
When you’re down so low that you cannot fail
Would you change?
Would you change?

Forrest shed some tears, and then was gone. He wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Hindsight is 20/20.  It is easy to look back and see all the big and little things you might have changed.

While most of us are not facing our own death, we are all facing a new year and decade.  For many, 2009 was a difficult year, and I am sure most of us would like to have a few “do-overs”.

However, at this time meant for reflection (which coincides here in the northern hemisphere with the winter solstice), I hope we can all look back and see the good, big or small, that happened in 2009. Let’s be grateful for that good and seek to learn from the rest.  And in closing, I thought it appropriate to end this blog with a quote from Reverend Church, which I’ve been told was a refrain often repeated to his congregation:

“Do what you can.  Want what you have.  And be who you are.”

–Forrest Church

The Not so Great Waste Making Machine

Every once in a while, I give the readers of the Story of a Red Shirt a break from my ramblings and rants by featuring a guest blog writer.  You are all in for a treat and a early holiday present!  My life and business partner in crime, Rebecca, was recently inspired to write the following while reading Ray Anderson’s new book.  Enjoy!

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I stand convicted by me, myself, alone, and not by anyone else, as a plunderer of the earth….By our civilization’s definition, I am a captain of industry…. It (the market) will allow the externalization of any cost that an unwary, uncaring, or gullible public will permit to be externalized–caveat emptor in a perverse kind of way.  My God! Am I thief, too?

–Ray Anderson, 1998

Eleven years ago Ray Anderson, then CEO of Interface, Inc. published these surprisingly emotional words (pg 5-6) in his first book, Mid-Course Correction.  It was part of my required reading in the University of Michigan’s first strategic corporate responsibility business school class taught by Professor Kellie McElhaney (now at Berkley).

In the past year, I shared Mid-Course Correction with my virtual book club, a group of girlfriends (doctor, lawyer, consultant, and engineer now risk guru) who are book lovers from my undergrad alma mater.  I worried a bit about my choice given the range of our professions.  However, I knew it was not the typical business book and felt everyone would find it as engaging as I did.  The comments I received from my fellow book lovers verified my belief.

Stated my consultant friend after reading; “I have already recommended this book to 3 people. I found it really interesting and tangible re: what companies can do to be sustainable….The next question is, how to get companies to change even when their leadership lacks the personal vision/ motivation to do so?”

Another wrote (on the back of her child’s daycare notes), “I was not super-psyched initially b/c it looked all B-schooled out, but I found that part of it pretty interesting, though not as interesting as all of the environmental info.  I would like to know how his company has fared in the years since he wrote the book.  Have they met their goals?”

Well my friends, Mr. Anderson is back out on bookshelves with Confessions of A Radical Industrialist: Profits, People, Purpose – Doing Business by Respecting the Earth, which serves as an update on Interface’s progress to the summit of “Mount Sustainability” and a continued call to others to join him.

After all, don’t we industrialized countries (Americans, in particular) pride ourselves on our productivity and efficiency?  Then try this stunning fact on for size, shared by Anderson in chapter 4 of his new book: “Ninety-seven percent of all the energy and material that goes into manufacturing our society’s products is wasted….Only about 3 percent ends up as a finished product that has any value 6 months later.  Three percent.  We are operating an industrial system that is, in fact, first and foremost, a waste-making machine.

Anderson goes on to wryly observe, “If you had a division in your company that wasted nearly everything it got its hands on, how long would you allow it to continue?…And yet this is happening throughout industry, and is seen not only as normal, but successful.”

Hmmm….

I believe it is time for us to change our definitions of normal business practice, as well as what it means to be a business leader, a “captain of industry.”   This won’t happen overnight.

What can be done today?

First, if you work in business and have not read Anderson’s latest book, go read it and be inspired to take action, one step at a time!

Second, as customers, we can support companies that are hiking “Mount Sustainability” in a meaningful way.  Remember, talk is cheap.  Support the companies blazing the trails.

Finally, as fellow humans sharing this Earth, we can do our own part to reduce the amount of wasted materials and energy in our lives (see resources below).

Other ideas? Please share!

Resources:

http://bubbler.wordpress.com/2007/07/31/a-list-of-ways-to-reduce-your-waste/

http://www.ecomii.com/healthy-home/reduce-personal-waste

For our British friends: http://www.sean.co.uk/a/science/save_the_planet.shtm

For our Kiwi friends: http://www.tdc.govt.nz/pdfs/WasteReductionGuide_WEB.pdf

For our NYC friends, a room-by-room guide: http://www.nyc.gov/html/nycwasteless/html/at_home/tips_home.shtml

This Holiday Season, Practice Responsible Consumption

Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives today are expressed in consumptive terms. The greater the pressures upon the individual to conform to safe and accepted social standards, the more does he tend to express his aspirations and his individuality in terms of what he wears, drives, eats, his home, his car, his pattern of food serving, his hobbies.

These commodities and services must be offered to the consumer with a special urgency. We require not only “forced draft” consumption, but “expensive” consumption as well. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace. We need to have people eat, drink, dress, ride, live, with ever more complicated and, therefore, constantly more expensive consumption.

Victor Lebow circa 1955

While it is still debated whether Victor Lebow was encouraging conspicuous consumption or acknowledging its presence among U.S. consumers, I think everyone agrees this quote rings true for our society today.  It is scary that this is what the holidays and our lives in general have become for most of us, consuming more to get social acceptance and prestige.

I am a big believer in buying what you need, not want you want; but I am also a realist.  People love to buy and receive over the holiday season.  While I encourage everyone to think creatively about how they can give without giving more stuff, if you are going to buy, please support companies that are doing more than just trying to pad the wallets of wealthy individuals.  Think about spending your dollars with companies that not only want to make a profit, but also help the environment and society.

Atayne has partnered with 20 other B Corps to offer some great products from some great companies at great discounts!  I invite you to explore our fellow B Corp friends and check out all the special offers.  If you see the perfect gift for that special someone, please lend your support.

Yes, it is still consuming, but at least you are promoting your values and not your need for prestige.

B Corp Season of Chance

“But if less is more, how you keepin’ score?”

“There’s those thinkin’ more or less, less is more,
but if less is more, how you keepin’ score?
It means for every point you make, your level drops.
Kinda like you’re startin’ from the top…
and you can’t do that.”

Society, Performed by Eddie Vedder, Into the Wild Soundtrack

-Written by Jerry Hannan

For the last week I have been haunted by those words.  While I have had the Into the Wild Soundtrack for over 2 years now, I have more recently been listening to it a lot.  I guess is comes with the excitement I have for Pearl Jam’s newest album Backspacer.

I find great meaning in the lyrics I quoted above and the lyrics to the entire song.  Since most of my posts convey strong opinions that I have, you might expect I would share my thoughts.  Not this time, at least not yet.  First, I want to hear what those words mean to everyone else.  Specifically, how do you answer the question, “But is less if more, how you keepin’ score?”

For a little inspiration, check out the video below.

What is a green/sustainable product?

Unless you live under a rock, it is hard to avoid the barrage of “green” and “sustainable” products that are flooding the market.  A lot of companies behind these products are truly dedicated to reducing their impact on the environment.  Unfortunately, there are just as many who are trying to ride the “green” wave to a “greener” bank account.  These companies tend to not tell the whole story of their product.  They might say it is made from recycled content, but they hide the fact that it is only 10% recycled content.  They might say it is recyclable, but that is only good if there is actually the infrastructure to recycle it.  If there is not, it will just end up in a landfill.  At that point, does it matter if it is recyclable?

Last week I received an email from someone asking where we make our products.  I responded by telling him that our fabrics are made in North Carolina and Tennessee and we do our cutting & sewing in Utah and Scarborough, Ontario.  He quickly called to talk about using our tops for a marathon he works on.  He proceeded to tell me that for this year’s race they thought they had bought a “green” technical top.  When they received it, they quickly learned that the top was only partially recycled and was made overseas.  Not green in his book, or in mine.

I am all in favor of companies taking steps to reduce their impact on the environment, even if they are small steps. Ten percent-recycled content is better than 0%.  But, I strongly believe companies need to be fully transparent in how they talk about their green product. Don’t try to hide the imperfections: tell people what they are and improve them (See Atayne: The Naked Truth Part I and II).  While I do not agree with all their practices, Patagonia has truly been a leader in transparency.  I just wish they would do more production closer to where they are selling their products.

As with everything else, I have an opinion on what constitutes a sustainable product. At Atayne, we look at it in several dimensions.  Here are our 4Ms of product sustainability.

Materials – Our goal is to stay at the cutting edge of the highest performing and safest materials and textile technologies available.  We are currently focusing on 100% recycled materials and natural technologies such as recycled polyester, recycled cotton, Cocona (from coconut shells), and Chitosan (from crab shells).  However, we know there will be advancements and we will continue to evolve our fabric and material composition with new developments in the sustainable textile industry.  Additionally, we will look to drive innovation by researching and developing new, high performing people- and planet-safe materials.

Manufacturing – Atayne is dedicated to a localized production model, that is, making our products as close as possible to where we sell them.  This is done to minimize the emissions from our supply chain and to support local jobs.  Our current production partners are located in:

  • Tennessee and North Carolina for fabric development
  • Utah and Ontario, Canada for cut & sew (Currently talking to additional facilities in Allentown, PA and Fall River, MA)
  • New Hampshire for product embellishment, warehousing, and order fulfillment

Additionally, we are striving to create a paradigm shift for the industry in the manufacture of our products.  We are developing an innovative just-in-time manufacturing process.  By delaying the manufacture of goods until they are actually purchased, the process not only promises to be more environmentally sustainable but also more economically sustainable than current methods.

Minimalist Design – We design our products to have a lower impact on the environment beyond our materials selection.  An example of this design technique is the loop that we incorporated into our Grind T.  The loop serves to encourage hang drying to help minimize the amount of energy used in consumer care.  Additionally, we are currently working on a new short design enabling multi-activity use.  The short would allow users to do more with less, ultimately leading to a less resource-intensive product.

Messaging – All of our products come with point of view graphics on them. This allows our customer athletes to promote their values and not just another corporate logo of a billion-dollar brand.  The idea is to create mobile billboards for important environmental and social messages. Our newest line includes 16 different men’s and women’s eco-graphics for running, cycling, hiking, climbing, paddling, yoga, and triathlon.

I also know these 4Ms are not the destination.  Sustainability is a continuous journey and next year we may have 2 more Ms and a couple Xs, Ys, and Zs.  If you have something to add, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Quiet on the Red Shirt Blog…

…but loud as could be in the house of Atayne.

I have not posted in a while, but there is a good reason for that.  The last 2 weeks my nose has been in my computer working on our new web store.  It has been a very time consuming and frustrating process that included inputting nearly 800 individual items by hand.  As much as technology has advanced, there was no automation to this process.

And as I was doing this, I had to pay very close attention to not making errors.  (A tough job especially for someone who thinks of himself as a big picture/idea guy.) One simple mistake could have a ripple effect throughout the entire functionality of the site.

While there was lots of grumbling and complaining while this was in process, the new web store has officially been launched!

The new website and web store is a project that has been in the works for almost a year.  Most web projects do not take that long, but when you are an under-capitalized start-up (that means no money), you have to take small steps forward and get creative with how you are paying your partners.

I would like to invite you to test out the store, maybe even buy something (that is if you need it).  I would love to  hear your thoughts especially on the overall usability and layout.  Feel free to post your ideas, comments, etc. or you can always email me at jeremy@atayne.com.

The New Atayne Web Store

Buy What You Need, Not What You Want

Rather interesting title for a blog posting by the founder of a fledgling company.  Wouldn’t you expect to see something like:  BUY NOW, BUY OFTEN, BUY A LOT?  Anyone who knows me at all probably knows the BUY, BUY, BUY approach is not in my personality (unless it’s for a beer or tickets to one of  my favorite bands). I think there are two reasons for this.

First, I am a strong believer in a soft sales approach.  I will introduce the value proposition of a product/service to people and let them make the decision as to whether they need or want what I am selling.  Second, buying things that you do not need or will not use is wasteful, especially if you already own something that will do the job.

When Atayne is out on the event circuit, we hear this comment a lot, “I love your stuff, but I just don’t need a new running, cycling, hiking, yoga, etc. top right now.”

Our reaction to that comment, “Great, don’t buy one.  But when you are in the market for a new top, please look us up.”

We get a lot of shocked looks when we make that statement.  I think people are straight up surprised we are almost discouraging them from buying something from us.  But I strongly believe that people appreciate our values and honesty.  And I think, when the need arises, they will be back. (Or will remember us when they want to give a gift to a loved one.)

This whole buy what you need, not what you want philosophy not only applies to consumers.  There is a business model version of it: make what you need to sell, not what you want to sell.  To explain what I mean, let’s first take a look at the apparel industry.

Consider one of the most ubiquitous apparel items, jeans.  I would go out on a limb and say that 99.9% of Americans own jeans.  In fact, I have seen numbers that estimate 450 million new pairs of jeans are sold in the US each year.  That is about 1.5 pairs of jeans per year for every man, woman, child, and baby in the US.

While we may meet these jeans for the first time at our favorite retailers, their life began many months earlier.  The planning process to get a new apparel item on the market can be upwards of 2 years!  Kind of crazy for something as simple as a pair of jeans.  But here is the thing.  There is a lot of “guess” work that goes into creating these jeans.

  • What will be in style when they hit the market?
  • What colors will people want?
  • What cut and fit will people want?
  • What sizes will sell best?
  • How many people will buy these jeans?

These questions just scratch the product development and planning surface, but I use them to illustrate a point. There is a lot of guesswork that goes into making a product.  And as much as fashion and apparel experts would like to think otherwise, it is very hard to predict the future.

You may have never considered how this current system creates a lot of problems. (I hadn’t until I started Atayne.) One of the problem I am personally most concerned with is waste.  Regardless of how good your planning is you will end up creating products that people do not need or want.  This is not only a waste of money for the company, but also a waste of energy and resources that impacts all of us.  These are costs we can’t continue to afford; experts say we would need 3 planet earths to keep up with our current consumption rate.  That figure could like change if we got more efficient or responsible with our consumption habits.

So how do we create a less wasteful product development and manufacturing system?  The answer is simple, though the application is hard.  Don’t make something until someone has bought it. Other industries do it to some degree (made to order food, Dell computers in the early days, etc.), but the concept has not taken off with apparel.

As a new entrant into the apparel space, the one thing I have learned is the current system is far from capable of elegantly handling a “just in time” solution.  I plan on changing this fact.  As we continue to grow at Atayne, our goal is to move toward a just in time manufacturing process.  The end goal might look something like this:

  • A customer places an order through our web store
  • The product is manufactured using a small supply of materials on hand
  • Customer receives the product about a week later
  • Atayne re-orders fabric and other production supplies as needed

It is about as close as you can get to zero waste manufacturing.

As you can (or maybe can’t) imagine, this is no easy task and it will take us a while to get there.  But we are continually working to delay steps in our production process until something is ordered.  Here are a couple things we are working on:

With the launch of our fall line and new graphics we are moving to a just in time printing process.  This has many benefits to us as a small company beyond eliminating waste by avoiding printing graphics on shirts that people may not buy.  It also allows us to offer a variety of graphics while keeping our inventory low.  This is important in helping us manage our cash flow but still be able to offer a wide selection.  When our web store launches in just a few short days, we will offer over 800 gender/ style/ size/ color/ graphic combinations.  Not bad for an under-capitalized start-up in its second year of production!!!

The next step we are working on is to delay the color dyeing of garments until as close to the point of ordering as possible.  Right now when we buy our fabrics, we have to decide what colors we want to sell 6 months beforehand.  This not only takes some guess work, but also limits our ability to offer a variety of colors because there are minimum fabric quantities by each color.  We are working toward a system where we can buy un-dyed fabric, cut and sew our garments, and later dye them in small batches.  This will enable us to be more efficient in how we purchase fabric and offer more colors.  As an added bonus, the dye house we are talking with offers a procedure that will enable us to avoid using dye carriers.  Those are nasty chemicals that are often used to dye synthetic yarns.  By eliminating these, we will make our apparel even safer for people and the planet.

When I talk to investors and others in the industry about my plans to transform the current model, I get a lot of eye rolling and often hear the question, “What makes you think a pipsqueak like Atayne can solve this problem when the giants of the industry have hundreds of millions to throw at the problem?”

My answer is the same every time:

“You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it.”

-Albert Einstein