Business ethics isn’t new. Understanding ethical principles and the way in which moral problems are handled in the workplace is common practice. But while business ethics looks at the ways in which a business environment should operate with honesty, integrity, loyalty, fairness, and with concern and respect for others, a modern and growing consumer priority is the ethical treatment of humanity and our Earth.
The fashion industry is one of the top polluting industries in the world, and with abysmal laws and regulations in many countries that fail to protect and support factory workers, the industry is eroding and disrespecting the environment and its people. In fact, the term “fast fashion” was coined to describe the exact manufacturing process whereby styles go from the runway to the manufacturing floor in an expedited manner to quickly capture and capitalize on trends. In this process, the supply chain is often compromised in order to meet consumer demand while offering styles at a very low cost.
What does this mean in practical terms? Dangerous manufacturing infrastructure, poor working conditions and pay, and zero prioritization of environmental impact.
So, what can we do—never buy clothing again? Of course not. But we can make better and more informed decisions about the apparel companies we support, and in turn, the people and eco-initiatives we can help to uplift.
Taylor Stitch and The Root Collective are two brands that are getting it so right.
Taylor Stitch—a premium men’s apparel company with two San Francisco locations—designs and produces garments and footwear that are built to wear in not out. And while looking good and having the best stylishly rugged gear for all of life’s opportunities is important to them, protecting the Earth is even more critical. For Taylor Stitch, it’s about protecting our collective places, because no matter where you live, we only have one world to care for. That’s why they’re committed to using recycled and regenerative fibers wherever possible, lowering water usage, eliminating chemicals and pesticides that harm workers and leach into waterways, and helping to create a “cradle to cradle” supply chain.
Taylor Stitch recognizes that manufacturers are also responsible for making sure factory workers around the world are paid prevailing wages and have access to health care and clean water. They also ensure their workers can take maternity leave, have childcare, and enjoy vacation time. More workers can and deserve to be living in the middle class in their communities, and Taylor Stitch is working to build a development fund to be deployed to workers based on their needs. For instance, if someone needs a bike to get to work, Taylor Stitch will work with World Bicycle Relief to make that happen. (They also teach the fundamentals of maintenance, so the bicycles don’t become the next trash items in the landfill!)
The Root Collective is a women’s and men’s footwear and apparel company that offers beautiful boots, sandals, flats, clothing, and leather and fabric bags, and serves to ethically make all products while empowering communities and investing in much-needed industry change. All of the fabric used by The Root Collective is handwoven through one of two cooperatives with which they are partnered. By working very closely with these cooperatives, The Root Collective ensures that the women working within them are fairly paid. In addition, all shoes are made by shoemakers in several small workshops in Guatemala City and Pastores, Guatemala. Requiring full transparency throughout the manufacturing process ensures that the skilled workers are paid a fair wage. In fact, depending on their specific skill and job description, The Root Collective’s shoemakers earn anywhere from 50-400% above the Fair Wage minimum in Guatemala.
Ten years ago, Taylor Stitch set out to make a better fitting shirt and they certainly accomplished it. After turning to the country’s oldest family of shirtmakers to ensure they were learning from the very best, Taylor Stitch absorbed every critical lesson in quality construction. From fit and balance to the importance of French seams to why twenty-two stitches-per-inch matters on a shirt, Taylor Stitch took this technical DNA and made it central to every single product they now make. Always built for the long haul, Taylor Stitch designs products that wear in not out, using the best, most sustainable fabrics available. (Even if that means making them themselves!)
Responsibly built to go the distance, Taylor Stitch’s construction partners have joined them in their commitment to challenge the way the clothing industry operates. From sourcing to sewing, Taylor Stitch has found the best factory partners in the business in Goldenbear Sportswear, San Francisco; Friends in Woven Shirting, China; and Friends in Footwear, Mexico.
Now, on top of making high caliber clothing, Taylor Stitch is expanding their core calling to “protect wild, forever”. “Today we’re interested in building a better, more responsible company,” says Co-Founder, Michael Maher. Through a mission focused on education, Taylor Stitch created Wild Forever Days. Using a happy blend of education, volunteering, community building, and having fun, Taylor Stitch is partnering with other companies who have shared values, awesome customers, and work with local organizations. The mission? To never have bad days. By listening to what their community wants to learn about and participate in, Taylor Stitch is ready to blaze trails, clean up trash, help out on a farm—whatever they’re called to do! In fact, they encourage all ideas and welcome input on what they should organize in local communities. “This isn’t just about Taylor Stitch,” Maher explains, “it’s about all of us coming together to protect our people and places through education and responsibility. We believe business is the best vehicle for change and we can have a hell of a lot of fun while doing it.”
In a unique and modern approach to new product development, Taylor Stitch created The Workshop; a crowd funding platform used to assess demand for new products before production. Taylor Stitch designs a new collection of products and releases them in The Workshop at the beginning of each month. Customers then have four weeks to pre-order anything they’d like, and products that reach their set funding goal are then manufactured and delivered within six to eight weeks. (Products almost always reach their funding goal and are produced!) For customers, it’s a fantastic and connected opportunity to help bring Taylor Stitch’s designs to life while also guaranteeing sizeable pre-sale discounts. It’s not uncommon for products to completely sell out in the crowd funding period alone, so jumping in at this level guarantees stock of desired sizes before products reach regular retail.
When it comes to the fabrics that Taylor Stitch uses for its apparel, footwear, and accessories, quality matters. While traditional cotton uses twenty-five percent of the world’s pesticides, Taylor Stitch’s organic cotton doesn’t use a drop. This superior product is then used to make twill, sateen, waxed organic cotton canvas, and denim—all of which are skillfully and responsibly used to make beautiful and durable products. And, in an effort to keep manufacturing within the United States whenever possible, Taylor Stitch’s boat tote, face masks, and Cone Mills reserve selvage jeans are all made on American soil. (Cone Mills was the last remaining selvage denim mill in the U.S., having closed in 2017. Taylor Stitch located deadstock of the denim and is currently using it to make authentic and limited-edition American selvage denim products.) And just last year, Taylor Stitch also developed new gear alongside brands they have long held in high esteem including Stetson, Pendleton, Alpha Industries, Fourtillfour, Brother Moto, and Mission Workshop.
Most importantly for our planet, 2020 also saw Taylor Stitch make major strides toward their Responsibility initiative. They shifted toward ninety-nine percent organic cotton across their entire product range, and even launched their first ever collection of natural-dyed gear and also expanded their lineup of eco-friendly merino wool offerings including a supple tee-shirt, boxer, and sock selection. (While merino wool is known for its outstanding temperature-regulating and moisture managing abilities, Taylor Stitch takes theirs a step further with a unique mercerization process that improves the fabric’s texture and durability.) And, just like with the Cone Mills denim, they also introduced gear made with deadstock components to utilize materials already in existence. To take this recycling initiative a step further, Taylor Stitch’s Refurbished collection is a curated collection of “slightly bruised but not broken” boots and shoes that have been carefully refurbished to match the fit and function standards of their brand-new offerings. Whether the footwear was previously damaged in transit or didn’t meet quality standards on the factory floor, they are meticulously inspected and hand-repaired by the renowned experts at NuShoe. While it would be cheaper to send these boots and shoes to the landfill, Taylor Stitch once again demonstrates their dedication to our planet and to the redefinition of fashion production.
Since joining Flexport.org’s carbon offset program in 2018, Taylor Stitch has also offset the equivalent of 331.69 tons of carbon dioxide. (For perspective, it would take 430 acres of forest a full year to absorb that much!) They also donated tens of thousands of dollars in Dyneema® denim to recycling organizations to be used for future apparel projects. And last year alone, they saved 8.4 million gallons of water by using 100% organic denim, 7.9 million gallons of water by using recycled fabric in their heavy bag tee, and 33.6 million gallons of water from switching to 100% organic woven shirting!
Impressive isn’t a strong enough accolade—Taylor Stitch is showing the fashion industry and the world that creating well-built, versatile, hardworking, and contemporary men’s clothing and footwear doesn’t have to come at the expense of the Earth or its people. When it comes to people, The Root Collective proves that clothing manufacturing can serve as a positive catalyst for community change. Founder Bethany Tran’s mission is to put people first.
After working for a Fortune 500 company in downtown Philadelphia, Bethany knew she wanted more for herself and others. While in the beginning stages of making a career shift, the Rana Plaza clothing factory collapsed in Bangladesh and made worldwide news. The tragedy killed 1100 people and 2500 more were injured. Tran was overwhelmed with this devastating disaster and felt personally responsible. “It was my responsibility to do something to ease the hurt and pain that was all around me,” she said. She realized that she had been purchasing clothing from companies with no idea about the working conditions of the people that made them. Wanting to change the world with her purchases, Tran took to the internet and spent years researching. She wanted to know if workers are treated fairly, working in environments free from abuse, paid living wages, and able to easily provide for basic life necessities.
It seems simple, but these basic needs are often not met in manufacturing jobs around the world. “I realized then that business and consumers…were going to solve the world’s problems,” she recalled, “so I started The Root Collective.” The Root Collective was established to create safe jobs, directly partnering with small, independent workshops in Guatemala to generate much needed jobs. “We are literally a company that exists to bring people together,” Tran explains. “This has never been as important as it is now.” Even the company name carries that same message. “When I spent months trying to come up with a company name, I finally landed on The Root Collective for a simple reason: it is literally designed with intention to bring people together,” notes Tran.
The Root Collective is about the way in which we all have our own individuality, but what an incredible thing it is to bring our personal gifts and talents together to create something beautiful. We all have our own roots, but that collective means so much more.
“Small business has the power to create incredible change in communities through jobs, and we want to support and empower those local leaders to continue to see change through employment,” Tran explains. With the goal of supporting existing workshops already run by locals, all producers for The Root Collective receive beyond fair trade wages. And as the business started to grow and create more jobs, Tran saw the real potential and impact for the local communities. Amidst the current division in the world around us, The Root Collective stands for unity. “We still want to bring people together,” declares Tran. “We still want to remind each other of our own individual importance while recognizing how much better we are together.”
And that collective strength comes from empowering women in rural communities. Not only are The Root Collective’s shoemakers paid a fair wage, but the fabric on the shoes and bags is handwoven by women in Mayan communities. Oftentimes, these Mayan women do not speak Spanish since they are not provided the opportunity to go to school, and because of this, their regional Mayan dialect prevents them from getting a job in the formal economy. However, they are highly skilled weavers and through fair employment at The Root Collective, they work with dignity and passion to provide for their families.
To further spread the word about her passion for ethical fashion and help consumers find tangible ways to get started on revolutionizing the way they shop, Tran wrote a book entitled Five Steps to Changing the World with How You Shop. When we look at a price tag in store or online, we’re seeing what that item costs the consumer. But, do we really know how much it cost the person who made it? The answer is usually always, “Absolutely not.” Cheap clothing is often kept cheap because people along the supply chain are not treated fairly. However, like anything in the free market, consumer demand drives production. So, it’s up to us to quell the constant call for more temporary clothing, and instead replace it with thoughtful quality purchases that put kindness and humanity first.
“How you spend your money determines the kind of world that you want to live in,” Tran reminds us.
So, how can we accomplish this in our regular lives? Start by taking baby steps with purchases in one area of your life. Do your research, find brands that care about people and produce quality products, and make a change. “The world needs more people…who are willing to recognize the need for change and then actually do something about it,” says Tran. Next, create your personal style. Don’t cave to all the latest trends if they make you uncomfortable in your own skin. Find that which makes you feel confident and use it to develop your own unique wardrobe. Remember: you don’t have to be trendy to be cool! Then, build a capsule wardrobe.
This is a collection of thirty to fifty pieces that is flexible and easily mixed and matched. A capsule wardrobe can evolve with the seasons and prevents fashion fatigue by presenting new options every few months. Then, make your purchases—and your dollars—count. Make thoughtful decisions and buy less! Ethical purchases will cost a bit more, but that’s okay! Upholding ethical standards means that the price point can’t compete with the fast fashion industry. However, ethically produced goods are typically higher quality and will outlast their cheaper counterparts. And finally, shop with intention. Eliminate impulse buys and make a habit out of brand-research before purchase.
While shifting to ethical shopping won’t happen overnight, the point is to change, step-by-step, purchase by purchase, and hopefully become a living example of what change can look like as fashion culture shifts to one of kindness. “You are equipped to begin changing the way you shop,” Tran proclaims. “These simple steps can start you on an amazing journey of changing the world…each and every time you pull out your wallet.”
Demand for ethical fashion is on the rise and the market is reflecting this as people are becoming more aware and educated about the impact their dollars have on workers and the planet. With every purchase, we have the opportunity to better the lives of our fellow man and ensure our environment isn’t damaged by any manufacturing process. Taylor Stitch and The Root Collective are doing right by their people, the planet, and beautiful fashion. Choose kindness, choose to keep our planet wild, and shop Taylor Stitch and The Root Collective to look as good as you’re going to feel.