Keep Plastic Out of the Ocean And in Your Pajamas: The Majamas Earth Review

Germaine Caprio, the founder of Majamas Earth, describes her ideal fabric this way: “Soft, comfortable, from a sustainable source, doesn’t disintegrate after use.“ Since starting Majamas Earth in 1999, she has worked with suppliers to change her materials from rayon to more sustainable organic cotton and modal. Little Bamboo is used because of the questionable land use, pesticides, and chemical treatment in the fiber’s production.

So far, the company has not used hemp or recycled cotton because customers tend to have difficulty in caring for those fabrics. On the other hand, recycled polyester is key to the signature contrast fabrics in Majamas Earth’s designs, though Caprio is aware of the challenges of this material, too.

Polyester Pollutes The Ocean

Polyester is plastic. No matter its shade, weight, or purpose, polyester is made by melting plastic, spinning it into fibers, then weaving or knitting it into fabric. The material is used in clothing from luxury fashion to athletic apparel and everything in between.

Any time polyester clothes are washed, more plastic ends up in rivers and oceans. Most wastewater treatment plants cannot filter out the filaments released when synthetic clothing is washed. A single garment can lose almost 2,000 fibers. These are more numerous and longer-lasting than other sources of polluting microplastics: microbeads in personal care products and degradation of larger disposed plastics. Consequently, plankton die and algae suffer at the bottom of the food chain while fish, seals, and non-marine creatures exhibit low energy levels and organ damage from the absorption of plastic and the toxins used in its manufacturing.

Fashion Innovation

One fashion industry innovation for reducing the amount of plastics in waterways is to use polyester made from recycled plastic bottles. B Corporations such as Athleta, Patagonia, tentree, United by Blue, and others produce apparel and accessories from recycled polyester.

Want to learn more about B-Corporations? Listen to Change Creator’s interview with Rick Alexander, their head legal advisor here.

Caprio describes the process for Majamas Earth products:

“The majority of recycled [polyester] comes from recycled water bottles and milk jugs. It takes some of those items out of the landfill, and it makes polyester. It doesn’t use a lot of water to make. When we print on it, we use a heat-transfer process: take the print off a roll of paper, like an iron-transfer. Paper is recycled, cardboard tube composted.”

Majamas Earth

When Caprio started her company, she was searching for comfortable pajamas for herself after giving birth in 1996. Finding nothing, she designed a nursing tank which was ultimately merchandised at Nordstrom. When the recession hit the maternity garment business, she diversified her product line to include all women and began selling items in Whole Foods Market.

This year, Majamas Earth will present its first offerings for men. Throughout its history, the company has manufactured garments and sourced fabric and trims only in the United States. In addition to a Shopify website, Caprio uses YouTube videos and a blog to face the challenge of educating consumers about the value of buying sustainable products:

“Americans demand a low price now. If I’m gonna make a profit, I have to make sure its a sustainable product, that it’s going to last, making a product that people can wear forever. It’s not about the quantity people buy, it’s about the quality people buy.”

Read more about Majamas Earth here.

Caprio describes herself as “on a mission to change the clothing industry.” She is encouraged by Closed-loop processes encourage her as well as new garment industry standards in Europe and Australia. American designer and company founder Eileen Fisher’s policy of reselling used clothing and remaking new pieces inspires her.

Caprio has this advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: “No matter what you’re going into–app or a product or whatever it might be–make sure that you’re not leaving that product for future generations to clean up. Whatever you’re starting, make sure it’s not going to a landfill. See if your product is going to be hanging around for 50 years…. Look at every facet of your business, and look at what your trash is going to be doing after you’re done. It’s more costly to do business dirty. I’m hoping that the clothing industry is going to go on the same path that organic food does.”

“It’s so exciting to see so many people who want to change their industry. It gives me hope.” ~Germaine Caprio, Founder, Owner, and Designer of Majamas Earth

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East and Market Founder Renee Jones: How to Create a Side Sustainable Clothing Gig

A bright green polyester jacket dropped as I watched a garbage truck stop at each house across the street from the train platform. The workers picked it up and threw it in the back of the truck. I must have sighed or winced because I found myself explaining to my fellow commuters,

“Fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world, second to oil.”

How does fashion pollute?

Pesticides used in growing crops can poison farmers and harvesters and can seep into water supplies. Transporting raw materials long distances to factories by planes, automobiles, and boats can create environmental hazards. Further emissions and waste come from processing raw material into textiles. Petroleum is required to make the synthetic fibers nylon and polyester. Waste from fabric dyes and chemicals for tanning leather can become pollutants in water systems. Unless patterns are precisely designed not to, the cutting floor leaves tons of remnant fabric. Once a garment or accessory is made, transit from factory to distribution center to store adds to the environmental cost. If an item does not sell, is not durable, or goes out of style, it is often trashed like the jacket I saw from the train platform.

(More details on fashion industry-wide sustainability and social responsibility challenges are available in the 2015 White Paper from Fashion Revolution)

What can a consumer do?

While some large and small companies are reckoning with environmental responsibility at every stage of sourcing and production, what can a consumer do to avoid throwing away clothing? Charity thrift stores can be a beneficial option, but excess donations sent overseas can disrupt local markets in already strained economies. Some consumers have the skills to refashion their unusable apparel, but there is also a niche of entrepreneurs who will do this for them. Renee Jones, the founder of East and Market, is making a living through upcycled textiles and the added value created by customers’ memories of the materials they send — visit them at their website.

Launched in April 2016, East and Market sells one-of-a-kind accessories and home decor made from recycled materials. Custom orders are welcome and have included materials ranging from a leather camel saddle to cotton baby clothes. I sent her two suede skirts I hadn’t worn in three years and a couple of unneeded t-shirts: she turned them into zipper pouches I gave to my family at Christmas. I recently interviewed Renee to find out more about her business.

What were you doing before you started East and Market?

I received my BFA from University of the Arts in Philadelphia with a concentration in metalsmithing in 2005. After college, I worked for a jeweler, and after some time feeling unfulfilled and overworked, I decided to go back to school to get my masters in occupational therapy. Since graduating, I’ve worked as a pediatric occupational therapist full-time. I continue to work full-time in home health with children with disabilities in Colorado.

I was drawn to occupational therapy because of the fine motor aspects of it. I was intrigued when I found out that the origins of occupational therapy began with therapists teaching crafts to soldiers as a therapeutic and healing intervention. I know that for myself, the craft has allowed me to express myself and heal, so I didn’t question the power it has for most people. It brought my art degree, my need for making, and my yearning to help people full circle.

Since high school, I have always made things, from jewelry to painting to weaving to knitting to gardening to cooking… I love it all!

Why did you start your business?

I started East and Market as a way to express myself and remain grounded in my making while working a full-time at a job that sometimes (but not always) includes a creative element. And since starting, I have made so many changes to my mission and making!

At first, East and Market was going to be a fashion truck which provided clothing that I was sourcing from wholesalers. It only took me a few months to realize how wasteful this process was. I also found that some of the clothing that I was sourcing was poorly made and I couldn’t even sell it. This was when I began using those clothes as liners in some of my bags.

At the same time, I was listening to an amazing podcast called The Spirit of 608 by Lorraine Sanders. She interviews and speaks about women who are forging the way in sustainable fashion and technology. Through listening to her, I took a hard look at my business and the waste I was producing. It was a shock! After about 2-3 months in business, I made some huge shifts and continue to learn and change to become as sustainable as possible. One such way was using second-hand materials to create handbags, which then led to me inviting people to send me their sentimental materials to have made into something special.

What are your top design principles?

As a business owner, I am very interested in using my brand in a thoughtful way to reduce my carbon footprint on the environment. East and Market specialize in creating beautiful handmade accessories and home decor. It is my mission to create handcrafted items using sustainable methods.

I promote sustainability by sewing with minimal to zero waste, reusing materials when possible, upcycling with second-hand materials and using remnant fabrics or cut-offs.

I enjoy creating handmade items from sentimental fabrics (pillows, bags, blankets, shirts….you name it!). I encourage customers to send me materials they have in their homes so I can incorporate it into their custom orders. I see this as a way to carry your fondest memories everywhere you go. It is a way to restore materials that are otherwise unused! It reminds us to treasure what we have and forces us to be mindful of our impact on the environment.

How do you balance the responsibilities of making your product and managing your business?

I find that making the product feels like a break from all of the other business responsibilities! Being a one-woman show means I am sourcing materials, making the product, testing products, managing social media, answering emails, doing some accounting work (yuck), networking, and being a photographer. It can feel overwhelming at times, but I have learned to slow down and only do what I can handle.

Where do you hope your business will be in 5 years? In 10 years?

In five years I hope to have hired a professional photographer! That would be a huge milestone! I also hope that my business will grow in the next 5 to 10 years so I can work the business primarily and occupational therapy part-time.

How do you define success?

My definition of success has definitely changed since starting East and Market. In the beginning, I thought that success meant sales, being busy, and getting a lot of social media followers. What I have realized is that success for me is being able to maintain my business to the best of my ability and increasing my skills to create products that people want and enjoy. It also means that I can have a great work-life balance. Success to me at this time in my life is happiness. Happiness in myself, my family and my work.

What would you say to a company that does not track the environmental cost of its production?

I guess what I would say would depend on their feelings and considerations about incorporating sustainable processes into their business.

If it was a business that was interested in sustainability I would say start with achievable goals. Small changes that can be maintained over time will go a long way. It may also help to list out daily/weekly/monthly/yearly waste. Make a sustainability plan, just like you would a business plan.

If a business voiced minimal or no interest in changes I may just suggest that they consider giving certain types of reusable wastes to companies or students that could reuse the material. A lot of people are willing to pick up materials.

What would you say to a person considering starting their own social enterprise?

The first thing I would say is: Just go for it!!! Start as soon as possible because if you wait until you’re “ready” you will never be ready. I have made so many mistakes and have learned immensely from all of those mistakes. They haven’t broken me, they have made me more knowledgeable, more socially conscious, and ultimately happier with my business and my designs.

I would also say you need to go into it being flexible and open-minded. Embrace the positivity given to you but be especially open to the criticism. Embrace the criticism and find out everything you can about it; it will make you stronger as a business person and designer.

That Green Jacket in the Trash

I also asked Renee what she would do with the green jacket I saw in the trash. She answered with enthusiasm:

“Sounds like it would make a great tote because the material is durable and bright! I may also be interested in pairing it with some leather to see how the difference in color and texture would mix to make a cool clutch! I love creating new textiles!”

Follow them on Instagram:

Saving Women’s Lives: How Nomi Network is Taking on Modern-Day Slavery

I found out about Nomi Network because I lived a block away from co-founder Alissa Ayako Williams from 2011 to 2013. She shared with me and other neighbors ways we could be abolitionists in the fight against modern-day slavery: purchasing slave-free goods, donating to organizations working against slavery and raising awareness about human trafficking. I visited the Nomi Network pop-up holiday shop at Union Square in Manhattan then and have since collected an array of their products made by women who have survived or are at risk for human trafficking.

Why I Choose Nomi Network

I am also adding items from Nomi Network to my merch table when I have solo music gigs. By connecting workers, designers, retailers, and consumers, Nomi Network is chipping away at the problem of the horrific $150 billion illegal industry of trafficking 46 million people through their presence in urban Cambodia, in rural India, and at conferences concerned with the impact of the global fashion industry.

“You have all heard that it takes a village to raise a child, I believe it takes a network to end modern-day slavery.” Diana Mao, Co-Founder and President.

Having sourced recycled materials from its beginnings, one of Nomi Network’s newest product lines features accessories made from upcycled tires in Cambodia.  Although the country has more of the natural resource rubber than it has tire manufacturing facilities, scrap tires can serve as breeding grounds for disease-causing mosquitoes and present a risk of long-burning fires that pollute the air, soil, and water.

Each item in the collection is handmade and preserves the grooves and unique patterns of wear from the tires. According to Princy Prasad, Nomi Network’s sales manager,

“My personal favorite aspect of the collection is that we do not alter it at all…. An item once discarded, but suddenly [it] gets a second life. That is the best kind of recycling.”

Rubber is part of Cambodia’s long history of agricultural trade. The first centuries of Cambodia’s history included irrigated rice-growing, rule by Buddhist or Hindu kings, and commerce and power struggles with China, Thailand, and Vietnam.  The country was a French protectorate from 1863-1953. France established rubber plantations in eastern Cambodia in the 1920s. Similar to Cambodia’s ancient regional commercial relationship, policies and investment from China, Thailand, and Vietnam significantly impact the contemporary rubber industry.

My Nomi Traction Zip Pouch

Although rubber continues to be the country’s second-biggest export (after rice), fluctuating prices in recent years have led to clearing land for new rubber plantations in areas previously used for growing food and ecological conservation. Creating plantations and processing the rubber increase the amount of carbon and nitrous oxide in the air. This dramatic change in land use has led to disagreements between villagers living in or near potential sites for new plantations, foreign and domestic business owners, and government authorities.

As of 2011, rubber maintained a consistent place among Cambodia’s industries, while textile, wearing apparel, and footwear manufacturing had overtaken all sectors except agriculture. There are currently 600,000 Cambodian workers in the garment industry.  The government and the International Labour Organization are collaborating to improve wages and working conditions. Yet, some of these workers are victims of human trafficking.

Human Trafficking in Cambodia: A Short History

The poverty that causes human trafficking in Cambodia dates back to 1970s. After gaining peaceful independence from France in 1953, Cambodia became entrenched in the Cold War, climaxing during the Vietnam War with violence between the government’s Khmer Republic and the communist Khmer Rouge. When the Khmer Rouge took power, they killed 1.7 million people and expelled city residents to rural agricultural work.

Although the Khmer Rouge was overthrown in 1979, the 1980s were filled with guerilla warfare between opposing factions as human and economic systems languished. Through U.N. support starting in 1991, a three-party coalition government was established in 1993. The new millennium began with tensions continuing among the political parties as Khmer Rouge leaders were tried for genocide and crimes against humanity. Although the government passed a series of initiatives for labor, industrial development, women’s empowerment, and social protections by 2015, executing them all is a complex and long-term process.

Meanwhile, every stage of human trafficking happens in Cambodia: victims are taken from, taken through, and taken to the country. 201,000 Cambodians are in forced labor, predominantly as fishermen, garment workers, domestic workers, and sex workers. While policies exist to reduce trafficking, local enforcement varies, and the majority of work for survivors is done by NGOs.  Nomi Network is one of them.

Nomi Network

Co-Founders Diana Mao, Alissa Ayako Williams, and Supei Liu named Nomi Network after an eight-year-old survivor of sex trafficking they met in Cambodia. The non-profit launched in 2009 to provide training and job opportunities for survivors and women at risk of trafficking.

Their first partnership with an organization serving these women employed 23 in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. By 2012, they grew to support 80 women and established a product line with tote bags and electronics cases made from recycled rice sacks.

Their model continued to partner with shelters for survivors and social enterprises, employing 400 in Phnom Penh in 2014 as they provided training in design, quality control, and marketing. The next year, they assisted more organizations in developing product lines and investing in equipment.

Some of my favorite Nomi products.

In 2016, their offices in Cambodia began to include a comprehensive in-house education program: Nomi International Fashion Training Program. It helps workers refine their skills in reading and executing spec sheets as well as providing classes for entrepreneurs in market access, logistics, and personal development. The program also hosts networking events between U.S. retailers and Cambodian social enterprises. Nomi Network is positioning themselves to foster Cambodians not only as well-paid and well-treated producers of garments but as fashion industry leaders.

Since 2012, Nomi Network has also worked extensively in Bihar, India, a state where the caste system has significantly contributed to the 70% poverty rate.

“When a woman leaves our programs, we want them to be able to stand on their own two feet, with the tools and resources we provide. The same goes for how we work…because we hope that instead of adding to the carbon footprint, greenhouse gases, or negative impact…we change it with the positive and support a business that ushers in that change.” Princy Prasad, Sales Manager.

Helping to raise awareness and make money.

In addition to their job training, the online marketplace, and pop-up shops, Nomi Network raises awareness and advocates for ending modern-day slavery and for making supply chains sustainable. They present about forced labor, child labor, and supply chain transparency to major retailers and brands. They have sponsored a design competition at Parsons School of Design in which students design products using recycled materials and ethical production methods. They have led discussions at the UN, the White House, and the Concordia Summit.

Although less than 10 years old, Nomi is stopping generational cycles of poverty. Women whose families once sold or threatened to sell them are able to earn a living and keep their children in school. Workers have consistent livelihoods and a few have earned enough to attend college. Thousands of people have been impacted by their training and advocacy.

A few more of my personal favorite Nomi products.

If you want to buy one of their products, check out this beautiful pillow now!

How to Support Conservation Efforts and Keep Your Feet Warm: Bartrams Socks Review

I smile when I see the United by Blue catalog in my mailbox because I know it will take me on an adventure. National Parks are frequently the backdrop for their clothing, accessories, and home and camping gear. For summer 2017, they photographed Ph.D. marine biologists with Bonefish & Tarpon Trust at a conservation fishing tournament who measured and tagged fish to investigate declining fish populations in Key West. They do so many good things as a company and when I went through their catalog, I couldn’t help but stop at the socks. Here is my full Bartram Socks review that you and the environment will love. 

Bartrams Socks by United by Blue Review: Catching Fish Shooting Clothes

In the fall, UBB followed volunteers for Conservation Northwest who documented the crossings of bears, wolverines, and other wildlife by placing cameras triggered by motion sensors near I-90 in Seattle. Their goal, to build a sustainable solution to help conservation efforts and a company that sells ethical clothing. One of their initiatives, Tracking Bears & Wolverines With Conservation Northwest, is to help create a more suitable habitat for all sorts of animals in the Northwest:

“What’s easy for us to move on is easy for animals to move on,” explains Chase Gunnell, Conservation Northwest’s Director of Communications, as he unpacks his supplies. Chase and three of his coworkers, Laurel Baum, Alaina Kowitz, and Jason McCue, have led us down a regrown stretch of road to unearth which animals have moved through the area, some only hours before we arrived.

As a B Corp, United by Blue (UBB) not only removes one pound of trash from waterways for every product sold: the company supports conservation by telling these stories, hosting clean-ups, and making goods from long-lasting and sustainable materials.

Related podcast: How Rachel Faller is Disrupting the Clothing Industry

I had admired the evergreen design and cross pattern in two styles of UBB’s Bartram’s socks online for several weeks before the fall catalog arrived. There, the array of sock colors was creatively featured.

(photo courtesy of UBB)

Reading the fine print excited me: 65% recycled cotton. The Fairtrade Foundation’s 2015 Cotton Commodity Briefing details the human, economic, and environmental challenges of cotton production.  With 2,720 liters of water per cotton t-shirt and 10,850 liters per pair of jeans, conventional cotton production can easily deplete and pollute local water sources. The briefing also cites the World Health Organization’s classification as hazardous $819 million of the $2 billion spent annually on chemical pesticides for cotton. Since its start in 2010, United by Blue has used organic cotton, which does not involve chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Recycling cotton prevents further waste and damage from cotton production.

Related article: The Top 7 Socially Aware Clothing Companies to Watch Out For

I hadn’t known how much UBB used recycled materials in their products, and I contacted them to find out more about Bartram’s socks. Here is my interview:

About Bartrams Socks

KJFG: Why are these socks named Bartrams?

UBB: Bartrams Garden is a beautiful botanic garden in our hometown of Philadelphia; it is also the site of our very first clean-up in 2010. It is still a spot that we visit often and have removed over 40K pounds of waste. The Bartram’s Sock Collection is a homage to one of our favorite places in Philly.

KJFG: Which came first: the design or the material?

UBB: Sustainability is at the core of our business so the material came first but the designs weren’t far behind.

KJFG: How is this cotton recycled? Where does it come from? What is the process for recycling it?

UBB: The yarn is sourced domestically from a company that uses a unique process of recycling textile waste. This company brings in cut scraps/textile waste from a variety of manufacturers, the material is then sorted by fiber content and color, and reclaimed into a fiber that can be spun with staple fibers to become yarn.

KJFG: What are the other materials in the socks?

UBB: The other materials are simply added for function or design aesthetics.

KJFG: Why did you choose the manufacturer in North Carolina?

UBB: When developing this collection, we had US manufacturing in mind and found a great partner in our manufacturer in NC.

Where You Can Find United by Blue Clothing for Yourself

Many of UBB’s other products feature responsible sourcing and North American production. In addition to the Bartrams socks, a beach blanket is made from recycled cotton. Recycled polyester pervades their products, being used in several styles of their beanies, jackets, bags, shirts, board shorts, and throw blankets.

Boots, tees, and fedoras are among many items made in the USA. UBB also recently shared the details of how they created an original supply chain for bison fiber, a by-product of the livestock industry that would otherwise be wasted. Journeying from Alberta and Ontario to Texas, the bison fiber is combined with recycled polyester and low-melt polyester to be used as insulation in outerwear.

Check out the Bison Sport Jacket, a beautiful and function piece.

The UBB headquarters and flagship store are in Philadelphia, 35 miles from where I live. I would buy from them if they were 3500 miles away because they built a conscious company and a community of consumer-volunteers to face the issue of water conservation.

Since 2010, they and more than 7500 volunteers have removed over 1 million pounds of garbage from waterways in 27 states. After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, they canvassed affected residents, distributed donations, and removed debris in Ocean City, NJ and Staten Island, NY.

In one of several collaborations with Subaru of America, Inc.—whose corporate offices and operations are nearby in New Jersey—they removed a sum of 37,000 pounds of trash from the Trinity River in Dallas, TX between 2013 and 2014. In 2017, UBB joined like-minded co-op REI for two road trips of cleanups: one on the West Coast in Southern California and one on the East Coast from Pennsylvania to Connecticut. They have also organized events in Canada and Taiwan.

See the next UBB water conservation project at their website