By the Editors
There are 80 billion pieces of clothing purchased worldwide each year but rarely do consumers consider the true cost of this. From negative environmental impacts to poor factory labor practices in the developing world and growing landfills containing discarded textiles, the fast fashion industry is in need of a serious makeover. Tom Chappell, the founder of Tom’s of Maine, is part of a new way of thinking about fashion with his sustainable clothing company, Ramblers Way. A serial entrepreneur, Chappell uses his businesses as a vessel to create change that aligns with his values of caring for people, community and nature.
An “ah-ha” moment came to Chappell in 2008 while hiking through the rolling pastures and steep hills of Wales with his son. The struggle to find a warm, dry and soft shirt put the wheels in motion. He embarked on his next business venture to create responsibly and skillfully crafted, American-made clothing.
Founded on a bedrock of social and environmental responsibility, Ramblers Way is committed to a high standard of ethics in every aspect of the business. In order to make the clothing in America from start to finish, Chappell created the supply chain with a set of high standards, piecing together humane ranchers in the West, spinners and dyers in the South, and small factories close to his family’s roots in New England.
He checks on suppliers to make sure they are adhering to sustainable rules and regulations. “We’re confident that the people in our American supply chain have good working conditions because we visit the ranches and factories where they work,” he Chappell says. “When we source Merino wool from outside the U.S.—for example, from Argentina—or woven cotton from Italy, it’s more difficult to make regular visits to the ranches, farms and factories, of course, but we’re still extremely careful in the vetting process.”
The clothing line is primarily crafted from natural fibers, including Rambouillet Merino wool and Pima cotton, both chosen for their long staple fibers. Rambouillet Merino wool comes from Rambouillet sheep, an American cousin of the Merino breed. Ramblers Way utilizes long-lasting worsted yarn to produce a soft and comfortable wool fabric. The Rambouillet Merino wool is sourced from ethical ranchers in Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada and Texas. Due to supply, they sometimes source fabrics from outside the U.S., most recently seeking Merino “organic” wool from Argentina.
In keeping with standard of high quality, Ramblers Way is committed to sharing the importance of organic wool and cotton. One of the key steps for managing environmental integrity is to certify Ramblers Way manufacturing processes, including some clothing, as organic under the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), a rigorous system that uses independent bodies to verify compliance at each step of the supply chain. Third party organic certification means the consumer can have peace of mind that environmental, social and animal welfare standards are met throughout the supply chain.
Ramblers Way obtained GOTS certification in December 2016, both as a company and for a select number of items, including 100 percent organic wool men’s and women’s shirts and women’s camisole. Currently, the company is in the process of increasing the number of GOTS certified organic wool and cotton items for its upcoming Spring/Summer 2017 collection. It also purchases remnant or excess fabrics, helping to reduce waste in the industry. Looking to the future of environmental integrity, Ramblers Way is exploring ways to address the end-of-life for clothing by obtaining Cradle to Cradle Certification for select products.
So what does sustainability mean to Chappell?
“Working with natural materials is the foundation of our whole concept of sustainability,” he says. “I think anything to bring attention to the importance of sustainability in the clothing industry is necessary, whether that comes from the media; working with collaborative industry efforts like Textile Exchange, which founded Responsible Wool Standard (RWS); or from government attention that are able to create change on a bigger scale.”
“Sustainable clothing is all about changing nearly everything the industry does; we have to realize the textile and apparel industries are large polluters of our planet and also create a huge amount of waste post-consumer, not to mention the industry’s often harmful impact on people in the developing world,” he says.” It is vital that clothing companies stop using harmful chemicals and stop paying insufficient wages.”
Looking at the industry as a whole, other clothing businesses can also ensure they are operating sustainably. “It’s about recognizing you’re on a journey; that there are no easy answers,” Chappell says. “We also find transparency and traceability to be important. Being able to trace the sources of raw materials back to the source is important, but can be challenging. We all have a big opportunity to figure out how to work in harmony with the natural world and ensure safe working conditions throughout supply chains,” he continues. “We work to achieve both whenever possible. Our listing in the GOTS database is just one example. From farm to fabric to fashion, each component and each step of the process meets environmental, social and animal welfare standards.”
Through embedding an ethos of sustainable production into every aspect of operations, Chappell has created a framework for an environmental and socially responsible lifestyle for conscious consumers.