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

The New Atayne.com

The Story of a Red Shirt has been a bit quiet lately, and I think I have a pretty good excuse.  The last week+ I have my head in my computer and fingers on my keyboard loading content into our new website.  This afternoon, we went live!

Take a look around.  I would love to hear people’s thoughts – www.atayne.com.

atayne, atayne.com, atayne website

Fall 2009 Atayne POV Graphics: A Sneak Peak

I thought I would piggyback on last week’s post/rant about jumping on the bandwagon by providing a sneak peak at some of our soon-to-be launched Point of View (POV) graphics.  The best part about our new graphics is the medium continues to match the message.  In addition to more messages, we are offering more mediums.

Not only will you be able to express your POV while getting active in our 100% recycled polyester performance top, you will be able to do the same while “trashing” around in our new lifestyle top – the Trash T (65% recycled cotton/35% recycled polyester).

Below is just a small sampling of some of the graphics we will be launching this fall.  Be sure to check us out as we launch our fall line and new website the week of September 14th.

Bio-FueledRider

RecycledHiker

Bio-FueledRunner

RecycledYoga

Re-Cycler

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.

Welcome to Our Youngest Fan!

KaidinOn July 24th, we welcomed a new Atayne fan into the world – Kaidin.  While I did not make it down to Massachusetts to immediately greet my new nephew, Atayne was absolutely present.  Understanding the true performance of our gear, my brother-in-law Erik sported his long-sleeve top in the delivery room.  Kaidin joins his big sister Kayley as some of the youngest Atayne fans out there.

Kayley in atayneWhile I do not have my own kids yet, I think a lot about the future of Kayley and now Kaidin.  After spending some quality time with them this past weekend, I have started to think about how time flies by.  Before I know it, Kayley will be going into high school and Kaidin into kindergarten.

As I look ahead to when they will take those big steps, I can’t help but think about where Atayne will be.  Especially: what type of impact will we have created? What changes might we inspire?

The answer to those questions is anybody’s guess.  The only thing I can really do is set goals and work to achieve them.  Five years from now, when Kaidin walks into school for the first time and Kayley opens her first high school locker, I can only hope that Atayne has helped to make the world a better place.  These are the gifts I hope to give to Kayley, Kaidin, and all the other little Atayners out there.

  1. Our trash running initiative has helped to change the social norm that it is OK to walk or run past a stray piece of trash.  [As of today, we have progressed beyond the social acceptance of littering.  Now it is time to take the next step.  Everyone can start by picking up the next piece they walk by.  Who knows, you might inspire someone else to do the same.]
  2. Our commitment to using 100% recycled materials has encouraged companies like Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour to up their commitment to using more recycled material.  [While many of these companies today use recycled fabric, in this case, more is definitely better.  Based upon my napkin math, if Atayne and our competitor friends can sell 10 million tops made of 100% recycled fabric (as opposed to virgin polyester) we can prevent nearly 4 million pounds of waste from going into landfills and save the energy equivalent of removing nearly 6,000 cars from the road.]
  3. Atayne is recognized globally as one of the best places to work.  Acknowledgment from Fortune Small Business, Outside Magazine, etc. would be a great way to substantiate the claim.
  4. We will have set-up our own zero waste cutting & sewing facility in Maine bringing much needed jobs to old mill towns like Lewiston and Biddeford.  And by zero-waste we mean every bit of fabric that enters the facility gets used or recycled.
  5. I will have my own son, daughter, or both, for whom I can make new goals.

These are definitely ambitious goals, and many people may not think they are possible.  But as Dr. Seuss told us, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself, any direction you choose.”