Product, Service & Design Innovation
Shirts, Shoes and Umbrellas with Purpose

Looking for some ethical fashion options for your holiday shopping, or even your daily life?

If you can’t wear a T-shirt to work, you may have the same frustrations that lead Yale School of Management grads Amanda Rinderle and Jonas Clark to co-found Tuckerman & Co..

"We'd get dressed for work in the morning, and be frustrated that there weren't great sustainable alternatives we could wear Monday to Friday to the office," Rinderle told Fast Co.Exist. “We had Patagonia on the weekend, and not much in similar options for during the week.”

The clothing startup uses 100 percent organic, premium Egyptian cotton (saving nearly a full pound in pesticides per shirt, according to their website) to produce premium fabrics in Italy.

"The quality of the fabric was a really big selling point," said Clark. "If it's poor quality and starts to fall apart in a couple years, there's nothing really sustainable about that."

In Fall River, Massachusetts, the fabrics are cut and sewn into dress shirts that use buttons made of nuts instead of plastic. The co-founders say the labor costs them about five times more than it would if the shirts were sewn in Asia.

"The factory pays above minimum wage; it's a union shop, they pay health care for their workers,” Clark explained. “It's more expensive for a reason, and a lot of the reasons are really good ones. It's not like you're paying a higher premium just because.”

Each men’s shirt costs $145. Other products, including women’s clothing, are soon to come. Tuckerman & Co. launched in 2014 on Kickstarter, raising over $10,000 beyond its $20,000 goal.

Another ethically made cotton dress shirt is now trying to do the same. Germany-based VIRTŪ is trying to raise €50,000 (about $55,000) on Kickstarter to fund a production site in Guachupita, Dominican Republic — an impoverished community that lacks employment opportunities.

The startup will work with local NGO FURJUG to establish the production site and development opportunities. In fact, 50 percent of the company’s profit will be invested in mid- to long-term development projects within the communities that support VIRTŪ’s supply chain, through mechanisms such as microfinance. Directly within its supply chain, the startup claims its workers will receive a 300 percent salary increase compared to the industry minimum. Each garment will include a tag indicating the person that led the manufacturing process.

The shirts will be made with 100 percent cotton, imported from the U.S. and Canada and produced under ethical conditions in the Dominican Republic. The buttons are made from coconut shells. As an added bonus, the shirt’s Jute yarn packaging doubles as a laptop sleeve or book bag – the size can be selected when a shirt order is placed. The early bird pricing for one shirt is about $65, but the price will increase to about $110 over the course of the campaign. A bundle of 3 shirts is available for about $175.

Jonas Umbrellas is a small umbrella company that puts 75 percent of its profits to clean water well projects in Africa; the first 500 units sold will fund a well at a school in Uganda.

Unfortunately, the Jonas Umbrellas website does not have information on how the umbrellas are made. It is composed of fabric, wood, and fiberglass, but there are no details on how these materials were sourced nor whether the labor is subject to ethical conditions. However, the company does state its “promise as an organization to always keep corporate responsibility at the core of [its] business,” and the umbrella’s $60 price tag would likely cover fair wages and sustainably sourced materials. Sustainable Brands reached out to the company to clarify and is awaiting a response.

VEJA, on the other hand, provides plenty of detail on the fair trade materials that make up its sneakers in the project section of its website. The French sneaker company provides overviews of its cotton, rubber, and leather sourcing, as well as information on its organic and fair trade certifications and the shoes’ fabrication process. The products are made in Brazil and are now available in the U.S.

The shoes range in price from about $55 to over $200 and are made with a variety of materials — from conventional fabrics such as fair trade, organic cotton canvas, to rather unconventional options, including fish farmed tilapia skin, recycled rubber, and “B-Mesh,” made from about three plastic bottles per shoe. The B-Mesh shoes were released around COP21 in partnership with French actress Melanie Laurent, who is featured in the launch video.


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