If you ask Daniel and Tiffany Andrew — the husband-and-wife team behind Canadian men’s fashion brand Two Birds Apparel — what sustainability means to them, they’d say local, ethical supply chains and environmentally friendly materials, which is exactly what their brand encapsulates.
Launched in 2013 in Toronto, Ontario, and now headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, Two Birds is fairly new to the stage, but is trying to diverge from the status quo by sourcing, manufacturing and distributing all of their clothing domestically.
The company has tried to put sustainability at the core of its business model by sourcing its material from certified organic and eco suppliers; supporting the once-prominent Canadian textile industry and ensuring ethical supply chain management through local sourcing; and recycling waste initiatives. Two Birds offer customers a discount on their next purchase if they return their garment at the end of its use to remanufacture into a new item or donate to someone in need.
The company is also trying to support diversity and conservation beyond its own boundaries by donating 1 percent of its sales to the David Suzuki Foundation, which works with government, business and individuals in providing environmental science-based research, education and policy work.
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We recently caught up with the young company to delve a little deeper into their sustainability model.
Two Birds prides itself on sourcing eco-friendly materials — specifically bamboo, organic cotton, tencel and hemp — which are certified and considered ethically produced. It’s widely known that cotton (even organic) is an inherently high-impact crop in terms of water and land use. I’m curious as to why you choose to combine cotton with significantly lower-impact and stronger fibers such as tencel and hemp, rather than switching to them completely? Is there a need to use cotton at all?
There are a number of reasons why we use blended fabrics with organic cotton. The first is the feel of the fabric — adding cotton can help make a more consistent yarn, and we are all about soft fabrics that feel great against the skin. Hemp is a very stiff fiber, so cotton helps to add flexibility and softness. Second, cotton is a very pesticide-heavy crop, disproportionate to the amount of land area it covers. We believe that supporting the organic cotton industry is one way for us to encourage cotton farmers to use organic agriculture methods and reduce global reliance on pesticides. The third reason is that we want to provide options to our sustainable-minded customers to help them reduce their environmental impact, however that looks for them. Some of our customers won’t buy bamboo fabrics because there is a chemical process required to break the hard plant into pliable fibers. We work with suppliers that process materials in a closed-loop system, but some people still prefer the less processed organic cotton, even knowing that it requires more water in its cultivation.
What are the hurdles to substituting alternative fibers for the more resource-intense conventional ones (such as cotton)?
There are certainly some hurdles for substituting. These fibers aren’t always readily available, which can make it difficult for small businesses like ours to source a variety of eco fabrics, especially when our production runs are on the small side.
Consumer research has shown that women tend to consider sustainability in their purchases more often than men — have you found that sustainability has been the selling point for your target market over style, price, etc?
We’ve had a pretty broad response from our customers as to their reasons for purchasing our eco apparel. What we hear most is how much they love the quality and feel of the fabric we knit. We hear lots of comments about the softness of our fabrics. Many people enjoy our more tailored fit, which is quite flattering. We find the fact that we’re a Canadian company and our fabric is sustainable seems to be a bonus in the eyes of our customers.
Keeping the majority of your manufacturing and sourcing within the country improves traceability and social and environmental standards, and reduces shipping emissions/costs. Do you feel that “re-shoring” supply chains to local economies is the only way to achieve better standards?
While all of our clothing is manufactured in Canada and most of our fabric is also knit locally, there are other ways to achieve high environmental and ethical standards. However, we decided this was the best practice for us to keep our carbon impact low and keep a pulse on the labor standards we’re building our brand on. It allows our small company to oversee the end-to-end production of our clothing, something that would be more challenging from a cost and logistics perspective if we sourced everything offshore. It’s not without its challenges, though. With the decline in the Canadian textile industry over the past 20 or so years, there are fewer suppliers to work with, who in turn have fewer accounts and less supply of qualified labor to keep their costs down. Sourcing fabrics that are made in Canada is also significantly more difficult than finding someone to manufacture the finished goods.
Do you see more companies moving towards bringing their manufacturing and supply chains closer to home?
We have seen a number of companies pop up over the past few years that market their goods as being made in Canada or made in the USA. We’re optimistic that it will actually become cost-effective to manufacture locally as the standard of living increases in Asia and we see big fluctuations in the price of oil, and therefore shipping costs, to move these materials and clothes around the world. It can be frustrating to hear people suggest we move our production overseas to lower our costs, but we have a vision and we believe that what we’re doing is the best solution in the long-term.
A big sustainability flag for the fashion industry is the issue of waste — fashion trends are generally seasonal and the turnover of consumer products is high. You’ve tried to address this by providing a recycling service through which customers can get a discount on future purchases by sending their used garments back to you. How responsive have customers been to the scheme? What do you do with the garments that are returned to you?
Some of our customers have been pretty excited about our garment recycling program. We established the recycle program for our products as a way to claim responsibility for any impact they have on the planet. I think it’s a good message to send customers; to know there’s an alternative to creating waste from something they had once enjoyed. Our products are well made, so they are expected to last longer than most clothing you find on the market. However, when they do wear out, we’ll collect the materials and salvage what we can overtime until we can create upcycled apparel and blankets to be donated to local charities.
You state that you have ambitions to become a carbon-neutral company in the future — how do you think you’re going to get there?
We’re looking at ways to minimize the carbon footprint of our supply chain, possibly by sourcing fabrics made from raw materials that are grown in North America. We also have our sights set on offsetting emissions from moving our product into our warehouse and shipping out to customers.
What’s next for Two Birds?
This year is going to be an exciting time for the Birds. We’re developing some new products and looking to partner up with some great environmental and social initiatives in Vancouver.