Earlier this week I spoke with Jason and Jeff, co-founders of PACT, the most socially and environmentally responsible underwear company on earth, as far as I know. Not only do they use organic cotton, GOTS compliant dyes and otherwise uber-responsible manufacturing, they also donate 10% of sales to charities. This is utterly astounding in an industry where even a 10% profit margin is a miracle. But then, most apparel companies weren’t founded by Haas MBA’s.
Cradle To Cradle For Everything?
Jason and I got to talking about Cradle to Cradle, as it’s an interesting topic, and well, they’re already doing everything else, why not take it a step further? Do I hear a protest? You don’t want someone’s underwear recycled into your t-shirt? But it’s for the cause, man… OK, jokes aside, and even if it wasn’t underwear being discussed, but some other form-fitting cotton garment, Jason did the research. Because he cares that much. The thing is, 100% cotton gets baggy and saggy. So it’s more likely to be thrown out soon. If it happens to be owned by someone who’s passionate enough to find a place to deliver their used cotton underwear, it can be recycled. Jason explained that less than 1% of all cotton is currently recycled, and Jeff pointed out that even pure cotton sometimes contains dyes and chemicals that make it impossible to recycle.
Sometimes, Spandex is the Sustainable Option
So, we must have spandex to make our underwear stay on and not bunch up in unsightly ways under our skintight organic cotton jeans. Spandex (aka elastane, aka Lycra brand) is one of my personal favorites. This miracle fiber that has given us everything from Baywatch swimsuits to business suits that actually don’t feel like a woolen prison. But it’s a petrochemical product, so mixing it with a biological product creates what William Mcdonough likes to call “a monstrous hybrid.” Jeff told me the chemical companies are all racing to be the first to introduce a bio-based substitute for spandex, but it hasn’t happened yet. He’s hopeful they’ll see something viable by 2011. Jeff just got back from the Organic Exchange conference in Seattle, so he’s definitely got the inside scoop.
Jason explained that it’s actually far more environmentally friendly to create a monstrous hybrid that people will actually wear, and much longer, than to create something that’s easy to get rid of, but nobody really wants. Provided, of course, they wash in cold water and drip dry as PACT recommends. And since the point of PACT is to get more people to switch to responsible underwear, they knew they needed to appeal to the masses, not just to the diehard environmentalists who probably eschew underwear anyway.
I really like PACT, and not just because they gave me a free pair of very comfy undies. The texture is actually lighter and silkier than the conventional cotton underwear I have, and the boy shorts fit me great. They’re clear about their mission, and what makes sense and what doesn’t for them. No business can hope to “do it all” but these guys are certainly trying hard to come close. Plus they have an awesome slogan: