We are excited to have our very own, Mel Lay share with us what makes her Sustainably Happy!
Hello! I’m Mel Lay, Allmade's Marketing Director and one of Allmade's co-founders. I'm excited to share with you my story and how I became sustainably happy.
In 2014 I went all in on screen printing kid’s shirts in my garage and selling them on Etsy. I just wanted tees for my two girls that didn't have sparkles and princesses on them. What started as a simple personal need, rapidly grew into a brand that became pretty popular! As I grew, I realized I needed to make some changes to be a little friendlier on our planet. So let's get to talking about my journey on becoming sustainably happy.
So just like many of you, I turned my garage into a dark room while making screens, and I literally switched out the bulbs every time. I washed screens in my driveway, used plastisol ink and a conveyor belt dryer that I found on Craigslist. Sustainability wasn’t a thought on my mind at this point. The only thing that mattered was getting every order out fast and with a print that wouldn't wash out.
But as the brand grew, I got better at printing, and I hired team members to help print, package, and fulfill orders. I had the ability to take a step back, look at our business and pinpoint where we can create change for more growth. When I did this, I realized that I didn’t like the products I was printing on. As most of you know, there aren’t many options for child blanks in the industry…So I went looking to make my own.
That’s where Allmade came in. I was approached by some like-minded screen printers to make a shirt that would be not only great to print on, and super soft, but sustainably made. Caring about not just the planet, but the people that make them.
As I’m sure you know, the words eco-friendly and sustainable are thrown around quite a lot these days. At that point in time, all I knew was how to recycle my husband’s beer cans and separate my glass from the rest of my trash! I had a lot to learn.
In 2016, I went to Haiti to help create this new brand: Allmade. I met real apparel makers, and saw deeper into their economic struggles. I learned how fibers turn to thread, and the never-ending list of chemicals used to get your favorite color of blue. It was eye-opening to say the least.
I came home and took a holistic look at our shop and the massive footprint we were making. I had boxes filled with ink-stained t-shirts, paper towels soaked in chemicals that cleaned screens full of plastisol, and t-shirts made with who knows what chemicals that eventually went on new born babies that I was selling too! I felt like I had a LOT of work to do if I was going to claim the title as one of the Allmade Founders. It was my duty to commit my shop to using sustainable products.
In an evolving world that’s demanding sustainable practices in business, it can be daunting and seemingly impossible to acclimate. I am going to walk you through some simple steps to easily become “sustainably happy."
Step One: Take Baby Steps
First things first, take baby steps. You don’t have to change every practice you have at once. I surely did not. It starts with learning how to use eco-friendly inks; there are a plethora of them on the market now. Making simple decisions to produce less waste, and above else, choosing the right blanks.
I love the term “Making it Better” because becoming more sustainable is an evolving practice.
Step 2: Sustainable Products
Whether you have a brand, a print shop, or a promo company… The biggest footprint you make is with the products you are selling and printing on.
We all know there is a rising demand for eco-friendly products from our end customers. The most sustainable product is the one that never dies or gets tossed out, so a quality garment + a quality print + on sustainable materials is the ultimate product. I want to help you navigate these products a bit: My first suggestion in choosing the right product comes down to authenticity and transparency. Make sure you can clearly find information on where this product was made, and what it’s made of. Greenwashing is still a very real thing, and you need to be ready to ask questions and dive deeper. Is this “eco” company giving you enough information to see where the product is made? Are they using renewable energy, solar, and paying their workers a fair wage?
Now, I know what you are thinking, eco-products are expensive, and your client won't buy them at that price point. Well, according to a recent survey from the University of Pennsylvania, the vast majority of Generation Z shoppers prefer to buy sustainable brands, and they are most willing to spend 10% more on sustainable products. The report also found that Generation Z along with Millennials are the most likely to make purchase decisions based on values and principles (personal, social, and environmental).
This is HUGE, and a clear indicator that you need a solution for those customers. They want it, and they are willing to pay for it. With the rise in demand, it also allows sustainable brands to compete with pricing. You can now find an eco-tee at a comparable price of a conventional tee.
You should also look for terms like recycled and organic, along with brands that talk about their farmers. 100% organic cotton garments start with the farmer.
Not only are there labor issues, but chemical and water use are extremely important facts to know... I highly recommend using 100% Certified Organic Cotton, and/or transitional cotton tees. For a conventional cotton farm to become a certified organic farm, it takes three years for the ground the cotton is grown in to cleanse itself from the non-organic practices that had previously been used on the crops. During this timeframe, farmers will continue to grow cotton, but in an organic way. Because farmers are unable to call their crop "organic cotton" until three years after the last non-organic application was used, this conversion takes time. With the demand for more organic cotton, we have heard that more farmers are transitioning their land as we speak.
Another hot word you can look for when looking into sustainable brands to offer your customers is carbon neutral.
Lately, a lot of companies have been going carbon neutral. The harsh reality is that it is nearly impossible to not make a carbon footprint when making apparel or any other product. Think about the container full of goods being shipped overseas, to electricity that keeps factories lit, and sewing machines on. I like to call them necessary evils. A lot of companies are taking the extra step to go carbon neutral by countering those necessary evils by buying carbon offsets. You evaluate the life cycle of your product, and purchase carbon offsets from a company like carbonfund.org. Allmade is sponsoring windmill construction in India, where our organic cotton products are made by purchasing carbon offsets for our entire line (Bonus: we even purchase offsets when we travel!).
Step 3: Know About the Supply Chain
One of the causes for higher prices is limited resources. Sourcing organic materials can sometimes be a bit challenging. As you can probably recall, Texas experienced a terrible drought a couple of years ago, which led to a major organic cotton shortage. Apparel companies were unable to make their products and it rocked our industry. Then you add in the high demand for more organic products; the supply for organic cotton is super slim. If we all demand for organic goods, hopefully more and more farmers will convert their conventional cotton fields to organic.
Step 4: Share the Story!
The best part about choosing a sustainable product to show your customers: The story! Utilize the stories of the brands! Allmade, for example, just launched a new shirt that is made from 50% recycled cotton (literally using the scraps from the cutting room floor) and 50% recycled poly. The scraps are separated by color, never re-dyed, which saves water, mixed with recycled poly from landfill-bound water bottles, and gets turned into a t-shirt. The product has a life-cycle story that is a wow factor for customers. Use it. These stories are compelling to your customers, and they might align with their ethos!
Another fantastic selling tool is the good, better, best option. I love how Jarrod, from Rockford Art Deli, lays it out on his quote form through his website. Good - A budget friendly shirt, great for donations and giveaways. Better - A garment suited for regular wear and more comfort, or Best - The garment that your customer reaches for every time. A more eco-conscious solution that keeps comfort, quality, and sustainability a top priority. You are allowing them to choose their impact.
Step 5: A Greener Shop
Here is my suggestion, have one person in your shop be the sustainability specialist. Have them research products offered by your distributors and make a list that you offer your clients in this “Best" category. Now that you are offering eco-friendly products with a story, let’s talk about your shop!
T-Shirt Waste! I know all of us have this bin of testing tees, shirts that had a mistake, promo tees you want to throw away, etc. This can be one of the biggest wastes in your business.
First things first, if it is a print mess-up, scorch from the heater, etc, head to Atkinson Consulting and Marshall. They have a great list of ways to fix those tees so you end up with less waste. 7 Secret Tips That Really Work
Here are some options for the ones that you cannot recover: Find someone local that can use these scraps. One of our Allmade founders sends his scraps to get turned into the padding for dog beds! Another, sends a pallet to a t-shirt recycling facility. Another sends the scraps to a facility that turns them into rags for other businesses. And now, there are more textile recycling locations than ever! Check out Marine Layer’s Respun program! We know this is an extra step, but we can avoid a ton of shirts hitting the landfill if we work on this together.
Next thing is tools, chemicals, and inks!
If you aren’t using water-based ink in your shop, you need to start. Not only are they softer to the touch on your shirt, but you won't be breathing in the fumes that plastisol gives out. Look into some other inks as well, like algae, soy ink, and discharge.
Switch to cleaning chemicals that are eco-friendly! Sgreen is a great option!
The most sustainable cleaning practice a shop can do is go to an automated reclaim; it recirculates the chemicals and minimizes how many go down the drain. The Lotus Holland has one main consumable. It has a filter that filters out the particulates of ink from the chemical. You change it once a week and it's the size of about a water battle. That is the only thing that gets thrown away on a regular basis vs gallons of chemicals being dispersed down the drain or on dirty towels.
Stop using spray adhesives. This might be one of the worst items to breathe while in your shop. Use a liquid adhesive and BONUS - it makes far less of a mess!
Exposure to the fumes emitted by common screen printing products can ultimately cause a myriad of health issues, from minor sinus irritation to respiratory problems to cancer.
Stop using single use scrapers to get your ink off your screen! Grab a tool you can reuse, even an old credit card will do the trick. Wipe off and use again!
Recycle your film positives! Or highly consider getting rid of film by going CTS (computer to screen) or LTS (laser to screen) which uses no consumable
Packaging! Whether you have your own brand, or you fulfill for others, packaging is very demanding on the planet. We love our friends at Ecoenclose. They give so many great packaging options. Our number one suggestion for taping up those big orders going out? Paper tape. You can use water-activated tape or biodegradable tape and you'll start making an impact.
Your journey to becoming sustainably happy is easier than you think! Utilize all these tools, or start slow, it’s up to you. But if you walk away with one thing, let it be this: Your company’s values are a part of your story to tell your customers. Starting to implement these responsible choices will not just make you and your employees feel good, but your customers will take notice, and choose you over your competitors. Let’s make changes together in this seemingly “wasteful” industry to take care of people and the planet the way they should be. Let’s get sustainably happy!