Monthly Archives: June 2009

I Think this Means We’ve Arrived

Last week, I went into a running store and something instantly caught my eye.  Hanging from the ceiling was a large poster promoting Brook’s BioMoGo, with the tagline “Run Hard, Tread Lightly.”  The poster is part of a whole POS (Point of Sale) package that was shipped to retailers in the last couple weeks.

June 2009 vs June 2008

June 2009 vs June 2008

About a year ago, we (Atayne) designed our first POV (Point of View) top with the graphic “Run Hard, Tread Lightly” (4Rs was soon to follow).  When I saw Brooks using this line, you might imagine this filled my head with thoughts–thoughts of frustration, anger, or disappointment.  Well, it didn’t.

I smiled, and I continue to smile.  As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  Thank you Brooks!

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The Naked Truth 2009 Part II

The Naked Truth Part IILast week in the Naked Truth Part I, I took an under the clothes look at our products – the good, the bad, and the ugly.  As promised, I am now going to give an insider view of Atayne’s operations.  Let’s kick things off with the pretty side of things.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, Atayne is a certified B Corporation.  Unlike many other programs out there, this is not just a simple certification.  To be certified, not only do you need to complete an extensive survey and interview, you must legally commit to operating at a higher environmental and social standard than ordinary companies.  Within 1 year of completing the survey and interview process, B Corps must amend their operating agreement or corporate charter with language that requires them to consider much more than the financial aspects of a decision.  Atayne must also consider:

  • The social, economic, legal, or other effects of any action on current and retired employees
  • Our suppliers and customers, and the communities and society in which we operate
  • The effect of our operations on the environment and the economy of the state, the region and the nation

When we became certified, we joined a long list of highly respected organizations including:  Dankso, King Arthur Flour, Method, and Seventh Generation.

Beyond being a B Corp there are many things we do as an organization to continually reduce our impact on the environment and maximize our benefit to society.  Here are a few of my favorites.

  • We are always looking to reduce our material use.  One area we have been very successful is with paper.  I think most people would agree that it is the #1 waste item generated in an office.  We have done as much as possible to reduce our requirement for paper.  Simple steps such as double sided printing and reusing the blank side of junk mail has nearly eliminated the need for us to buy paper.  In our 2 years of operation we have bought one 500 sheet ream of paper and we are not even a quarter of the way through it.  Who says environmentalism is not good for the bottom line?
  • All of our production is done in facilities in the US and Canada where workers are provided great conditions, benefits, and paid above the minimum wage.  I’ve visited the factories where we our cutting & sewing is done and have witnessed first hand the great environment in which our products are made.
  • We ship all of our products using the US Postal Service.  The environmental benefit to this is two-fold.  First, residential postal routes are set while the usual routes of UPS and FedEx might not bring a driver into a residential neighborhood.  As a result, we are delivering our product on a route that will be driven regardless of whether we ship a product or not.  It’s the delivery equivalent of public transportation.  Second, the packaging for Priority Mail is Cradle-to-Cradle certified.  This means it can be infinitely recycled. And for those who have received an international Atayne shipment, you can attest that the packaging has been well-used before, assuming we have something on hand. (Becca wonders what foreign customs officers might be thinking when they see our packaging, so she draws the recycle symbol on the outside of the mailer to indicate it’s nothing dodgy.)
  • Through our trash running activities, not only do we provide an environmental benefit, we also provide a great community service. Litter is not just an eyesore; it is an environmental and community hazard. It kills land and marine animals who mistakenly ingest it; it serves as breeding grounds for disease-causing bugs and rodents; and it provides a subtle signal that a community does not care.
  • Despite being a start-up and still not making a profit, we think it is important to give back as we can.  In addition to volunteering our time for community and event clean-up activities, we have made small financial contributions to a variety of organizations including: Back on My Feet, the Catamount Institute, Girls on the Run, Keep California Beautiful, Kennedy’s Cord Foundation, Maine Children’s Cancer Program, and the Ronald McDonald House.

With the pretty comes the ugly, or at least the stuff we are looking to improve.  Here are some of our bigger scars, and the steps we are taking to heal them.

  • We like to get out and meet people at events.  What better way to make friends than to get out to shake hands and kiss babies.  (Naked truth: no babies kissed yet in the official course of business.)  While some of our events are local, many require significant travel.  We often wonder if the emissions from a cross-country flight or 1,000-mile roundtrip drive offset the benefit of a trash run at a race.  We have taken a couple steps to minimize our need for travel.  First, we are establishing a network of trash running groups and community organizers across the country.  This allows us to continue this great activity without distant travel from Atayne HQ.  Second, we are shifting our primary sales channel from events to our website.  This will greatly lessen our dependence on travel to sell our products.
  • Along the same vein, I really do prefer to meet people face-to-face (and am a less than enthusiastic phone talker) during the course of business.  So I personally do more driving to meetings than I probably should.  How I’m working on this? I drive a Honda Civic hybrid. And when I can, I will bike, walk, or take public transportation.  And at some point, I would love to start doing more video meetings, when more people get the tools (like a Skype-cam).
  • While the cutting and sewing of our garments occurs at a manufacturer in Canada (fabrics are produced in US), it does not meet our definition of localized manufacturing.  We are now talking with a manufacturer in Allentown, PA that is providing jobs in an area that desperately needs them.  Not only has the Lehigh Valley been devastated by the loss of steel related jobs, the region has lost thousands of garment industry jobs as other companies moved production overseas.  We’ll continue to explore manufacturing options to reduce the miles that Atayne products tread before getting to your door.

Once again this is just a brief look at something that should be more of a conversation than a report. If you think I missed something or there are other burning questions, please feel free to comment or ask.  As we continue to grow we will expand the Naked Truth to a more comprehensive discussion.  Until then, we will take one step at a time in this long, naked journey we call thrive-ability (sustainability is too boring, plus do you want a relationship to be sustainable or thriving?).

The Naked Truth Part I

The Naked Truth Part I

The Naked Truth Part I

Since we launched sales 9 months ago, we have gotten some great coverage in the media and on blogs.  A lot of these have focused on the “greenness” of our tops.  One of our more recent mentions came from Treehugger, a well-known environmental blog and newsletter.  While we love to get positive reviews and are very proud of some of our accomplishments, I have to agree with my good friend John Rooks.  John argues that sustainability is not a color, it is transparent.  In an article he wrote for Environmental Leader, John concludes with, “Sustainability is transparent, void of obscuring color.  It is clear, open, and visible.  Sustainability is naked.”

In light of all the positive press we have received, we decided it was time for Atayne’s first Naked Truth report.  Just like it sounds, we are going to bear all – the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Below is Part I of The Naked Truth 2009 in which we address the positive and negative environmental story of our products.  In Part II we will address the operations of our company at large including our social impact.  It is important to remember sustainability is three-fold:  environmental, social, and financial.

To start off, I do have to agree with our positive press.  There are many good environmental attributes of our product.  Here are a few of our favorites:

  • It takes considerably less energy (about 70% less) to make recycled polyester than virgin polyester.
  • We use a material that would otherwise go into a landfill (over 70% of all plastic bottles do).
  • We have minimized “product miles” and the resulting emissions by consolidating our production in the US and Canada, the countries where we sell 99.5% of our product.
  • We design our products to minimize laundering to help save a considerable amount of energy (80% of a garment’s impact on the environment comes from consumer care).  The most recent design improvement to do this is the loop.  We also try to educate people on the best way to care for their Atayne tops: Play Hard.  Rinse Top in the Shower.  Hang to Dry.  Repeat.

That being said, our products are FAR from perfect. Whether it is carbon emissions, industrial waste, or post-consumer waste, our products and operations negatively impact the environment, as does EVERY manufacturing operation.  Here are some of these “bodily imperfections.”

The dyeing of our fabric is something we are not satisfied with yet.  The dyeing process for most apparel is chemically and water intensive.  While we strive to select colors that are less chemically intensive, there is still no great solution when using synthetic fabrics (with natural fabrics there are some better options).

The graphics on our current tops were applied using the “conventional” screen printing process.  This included the use of plastisol, which contains PVC.  Thankfully we have found a local artist who does screen printing the old fashioned way.  We will now be applying our graphics using water-based inks in v2.0 of our tops.  This is still not perfect, but it is a major step in the right direction by avoiding the use of plastisol.

Our current tops contain activated carbon, which is derived from coconut shells.  The mixing of the synthetic fibers (recycled polyester) and natural fibers (activated carbon) makes it tough to recycle the fabrics, although research is currently being conducted to address this issue.  That is why we have made the decision to move away from the activated carbon for another natural fabric enhancer, Chitosan.  This will keep the polyester in a more pure form allowing it to be more readily recycled.  We are also developing prototypes to turn old tops of all brands into bags.  This will provide a use for fabrics that have a mix of synthetic and natural fibers, e.g. polyester/activated carbon, polyester/cotton.

That is a brief look at the good, bad, and ugly in regards to our products.  If you think I missed something or there are other burning questions, please feel free to comment or ask.  This should be less of a report and more of a conversation.  I hope you join us next week for The Naked Truth Part II.

The Key to Success

There is a long held belief that 50% of new businesses fail in the first year and 95% fail within 5 years.  While new data from the SBA tells a different story (two-thirds of new businesses survive at least 2 years, and 44 percent survive at least 4 years), chances are still pushing 50% that starting a new business is a road to failure.

While there are countless (translation: millions upon millions) of resources, tips, and recommendations to help lead you to business success, I have to say I agree mostly with Burt’s Bees founder Roxanne Quimby who has remarked, “I had some midnight-of-your-soul type times. Once, I came home from a fair (in the very early days of Burt’s Bees) and found the window in my cabin blown in.  Snow was all over.  It was 20 below and 3 in the morning.  I hadn’t made any money and the car had just barely made it there. I really believe that success is just getting up one more time than you fall.

There is one certainty when starting a company.  Not only will you will fall, you will fall often and hard.  Just ask Becca who has been with me for nearly every up and down over the last two years on this emotional roller coaster ride called entrepreneurship.

Sometimes the fall will be rejection by potential investors and other times it will be failing to meet an event sales goal.  Sometimes the fall will be a shipment of poorly manufactured products (they got returned) and other times it will be an unexpectedly large doctor’s bill.  As Roxanne Quimby and I both agree, the key is to keep getting up.  Eventually you just might find your balance.

I spend a lot of time talking about the successes Atayne has had as a young company.  But there is no doubt that I have fallen many times.  Here is one of our more recent tumbles. We had applied for a seed grant for a program that we call Trash 2 Treasure. The initiative aims to collect old athletic gear and re-manufacture it into innovative materials for new products.  An example of something we proposed is to use the materials in athletic shoes to make yoga mats.  Unfortunately, we were not one of the lucky 12 recipients.  One of the things we got negative marks for is they considered the pay rate for the Principal (that would be me) too high.  I found that slightly humorous since I have not collected a paycheck in almost 2 years.  I wonder how many of the reviewers are in that situation.

Anyway, as with any fall the key is to get back up, brush yourself off, and try again.  A friend of mine alerted me of a National Geographic/Sun Chips contest called the Green Effect.  It aims to inspire individuals to spark a green movement in their communities with five winners being awarded $20,000 to put their idea into action.  We had a couple ideas in our backpocket and decided to give it a whirl.  If you are a regular visitor to The Red Shirt Blog, the ideas may sound familiar.

Trash Runners Unite
Butts 4 Benefit

We would love your help by viewing the ideas and giving us your rating.  Who knows, this just might be the start of a nice period of balance.  Once again, thanks for the ongoing support.  In the words of Dr Seuss, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”