The Tribe of Lambs Crew; What They’re All About

When a makeup artist friend of mine came to me with a project he was helping produce, I was immediately intrigued. Tribe of Lambs is a project founded by a Canadian who was passionate about creating jewelry and giving back to different communities in India, all whilst bringing awareness to the HIV+ epidemic especially for children. The specific project my friend was asking about was for their upcoming shoot and I was more than honored to be a part of it. So much of my job requires me to shoot for brands I don’t always have the same beliefs in. This was something I was proud to promote, support, and share with all of my community. Meet Bobbi, Co-founder of Tribe of Lambs….

Founder Bobbi Paidel and Director of Marketing Philip Haley

1) Tell me a bit about how Tribe of Lambs came about? Where did everyone in the company come from and how did you all transition into the sustainable/ethical world? 

Tribe of Lambs started over 4 years ago as a crowdfunding project to raise money for two orphanages in the Himalayas of India. I was volunteering there and felt a real pull to do something more meaningful in life. Phil came to India when the campaign was finished and helped me complete the donations. Initially we were selling a variety of different artisan made accessories and supporting a variety of youth based causes but we’ve since streamlined our mission and our products. Nearly 3 years back we became aware of the issues HIV+ children face and we felt very strongly that this was something we needed to put all our efforts into. The initial campaign was so well received we came home and registered as a nonprofit, along side our 3rd friend who used to be quite involved. As the team is now just Phil & I, we’ve had to boot strap it, working full time jobs and growing the organization on the side. My background is Fashion and Phil’s is marketing, so we have complimentary skills, which can both easily transition into this type of social venture. 

2) I couldn’t believe reading about the treatment of HIV positive children in India… It’s atrocious and stunning to read they’re often segregated or left to fend for themselves. Tell us about some of the NGO’s you’ve been working with that are helping to make a difference. How did you choose who to partner with? 

We currently have one partner organization – Rays Aasha Ki Ek Kiran which translates to One Ray of Hope. It is a small privately run organization, which works solely for the lives and rights of HIV+ children in and around Rajasthan. It is absolutely incredible to see how the life of a child can be completely transformed when provided a loving home, a sense of family, proper nutrition and health care and quality education. Beyond that, the children we work with are constantly reminded that their lives matter, that they can lead by example, that fear and stigma do not have to be the societal norm when it comes to a person living with the HIV virus. Rays currently house 38 boys, 16 girls & employs 8 HIV+ widows to work as caretakers in the home.  We’ve met and worked with a handful of organizations over the years and in India the culture of personal connection runs much deeper than in western partnerships. We first must have a “good feeling” about an organization, their presidents or founders and administrative staff before we will even consider moving forward. This means regular meetings and conversations to see if these small NGO’s are aligned with the Tribe and then we move forward ensuring transparency and ethics are being maintained so that we can build a trustworthy partnership. The founders of Rays and their families have now become our families. We know our project funds are being properly allocated and we love spending time there to experience first hand what’s made possible through our generous contributors around the world. 

3) I think it’s beautiful that the artisans you work with are oftentimes giving back to their very own communities. That must be special to see. How do you find artisans to work with and is their work volunteer based seeing as 100% of the funds are donated to your projects? 

100% of our donations are donated to our projects. As we are a nonprofit company, we contribute our jewelry sale profits (after expenses) to our projects, which works out to be between 10-40% of each purchase. We pay our artisans 3x minimum wage in India, we connect with small family run producers to ensure that work ethics are met to our standard.  We only move toward partnerships once a mutually agreeable and trustworthy relationship has begun. Empowering local artisans and bringing economic growth into the communities we work to support is how we operate a full circle business model. The artisans know that their work is contributing to children who are in need in their communities. There is a lot of corruption in India, and we work hard to ensure we’re part of the solution, not contributing to the problems. 

4) What materials are you using for your jewelry Tand how do you choose each one? 

We use Indian 925 Sterling Silver, 18 Carat Gold Plating, Semi-precious stones and brass detailing. We use silver because it is an affordable price point and a high quality, hypoallergenic metal. We source our gems from a gem wholesaler who’s family has been working in the industry for more than 40 years. 

5) In your opinion, what is the most unsustainable part of the fashion industry? What is Tribe of Lambs doing to combat this?

Overconsumption & waste due to fast fashion, advertising & greed in our society. The mass impact on the environment and garment workers overseas are becoming more common knowledge however, we have a long way to go in making simple lifestyle choices which will help make long lasting change. 

a) What about ethically?

Tribe of Lambs is working towards a consumer industry, which focuses on quality over quantity. We want our customers to both understand our strengths and our areas for growth in the production of our products and also know that their purchase is contributing to a global issue.  We encourage our customers to look for quality when making a purchase so it is long lasting.  

6) What’s the best way you ensure your workers are treated well?

We have close working relationships with all our producers who disclose the payments, agreements and schedules of the workers they employ. All our producers sign Tribe of Lambs supplier standards documents. As we contract our workers, we do not have total control over these issues however, it is in our 5 year plan to develop our own jewelry cooperative where we can shift this. 

7) What are some initiatives you’re working on in Canada, UK and India to spread awareness?

Our whole business is our awareness initiative. Our mission is to raise funds and awareness for HIV+ children through the sale of our jewelry. Our jewelry acts as a platform to create meaningful conversations about HIV and other global issues and how we can come together to inspire change. 

8) What’s something different (or special) about Tribe of Lambs from other companies you’ve worked at in the past?

Since founding Tribe of Lambs I’ve really been focused on showing consumers that ethical & sustainable can also mean quality & style. 5 years ago when I was working in the fashion industry, ethical had a “hippie/granola” vibe to it and people weren’t responsive. Now it’s totally possible to support smaller brands with bigger missions. Tribe is different that we are supporting such a small marginalized group of HIV+ children while maintaining a quality product, at a competitive price. It IS possible to use business for change if you strategize correctly. People will always want to shop, and they want a platform to give to…that is what we offer.

9) For someone new to the sustainable world, what are some key small steps they can look out for when shopping to ensure they’re investing in a good company?

Research! Read about a companies values and standards before you give them your money. If the information isn’t available online, send them an email. I appreciate getting emails requesting more information about what we do and how we do it. 

A Sustainable Life- L.A. Edition

A month in Los Angeles...

I spent the whole month of May in L.A. this year and to say I was impressed with the abundance of sustainable/ethical/local brands based in the City of Angels is an understatement. While I was aware of the bigger, well-known companies like Reformation, I was time and time again pleasantly surprised with how many ethical options there were. While taking advantage of the fact I was a local for a month, I would occasionally window shop to check out some of the brands I hadn't heard of so I could feel the fabrics and ask the questions, who made the clothes, where the factories were and whatnot. But I decided to also take advantage of the fact that a lot of these companies were producing their pieces right there in L.A. I reached out to as many companies as I could, including the company that makes our ODM/ODC Sustainable is Sexy tees, and got a lot of positive feedback. Not only were companies willing to answer any questions I had but a lot were open to having me visit their headquarters and/or manufacturing warehouses. Transparency at its finest. 

To start, I headed to Groceries Apparel to see where exactly our tees are made and the production process from start to finish. They couldn't have been more open about the entire process which was incredibly important for me, in order to relay all the info to you guys, our customers! I met with the Co-founder of the company and his lead sales rep who told me all about the fabrics they use, where most of their materials are farmed, where their fabrics are dyed, how long they had been in this factory, what future design plans they have, and much much more. I was surprised with how much information they were sharing, especially since growing up I've been used to most companies withholding all this information. We are the buyers and we should be in the know about where everything is made and who all is making it. Why does it have to be so secretive? Groceries Apparel doesn't think so. Below are pictures of their staple tees and the factory where everything is sewn, cut, and sampled. 

Groceries Apparel

Made in L.A.

Pattern making, cutting...

Sewing and bagging away to be dyed at their nearby dye factory!

Next up, I got to meet with the talented visionary behind the L.A. apparel company, EVERYBODY.WORLD. Iris, co-founder of the company previously worked at American Apparel and took everything she learned from working there to create her own line of simple basics, ethically made in L.A. Iris was kind enough to invite me to her L.A. headquarters to talk about the company and how they came about. 

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Iris Alonzo

Co-Founder of EVERYBODY.WORLD

Differing from Groceries, Iris talked about her love of recycled cotton, a newer innovation they're working with to use the discarded fluff that gets wasted when you spin cotton buds into yarn. Oftentimes, this fluff is thrown away. Iris figured it's worth a shot using this as fabric, and therefore a lot of their tees and future products will be made with the "recycled" form of cotton, closing the production loop even further. The funny thing is, there isn't any right or wrong way. While Groceries focuses on organic fabrics, EVERYBODY.WORLD specializes in this recycled material and puts organics lower on their list of priorities. What I started to realize after talking with both companies is that everyone is doing what they can to be better and do better. While some smaller companies can't always afford organic cotton (a lot of the bigger corporations like H&M are buying all the organic materials which drives up costs exponentially), there's always a way to try and be better which is what EVERYBODY.WORLD is after. After recycled cotton, treating their workers well and working with their community is high up on their list of non-negotiables. A lot of their designs have been made through collaborations with people in their community. 

Prakash'a Perfect Sweatpants

Prakash Gokalchand is a 76-year-old spiritualist and chess enthusiast with classic, unassuming style.

The fact that they're collaborating with people in their community to find out what exactly matters to them and what they'd like to see in their ideal pieces of clothing is incredibly inspiring. Talk about giving back to their community!

Some more of our L.A. favorites!

L.A. Style

Below find some of my favorite sustainable pieces I wore throughout my L.A. trip... My Groceries Apparel tee, Levi's jacket I wore to the Eat.Drink.Vegan festival (reusable cutlery from Joseph.Joseph in tow for all the samples!) and the white blouse I found at the Venice Beach flea held on the weekend. Perfectly paired with my friend's gifted vintage Calvin Kleins! 

Suggestions?

Have a favorite sustainable/ethical/made in L.A. brand you'd like us to profile? Comment below, we're always looking to learn more!<3

People Tree; Doing it RIGHT!

People Tree is a leader in ethical and sustainable fashion. With credentials running from WTFO accreditation to the Fairtrade Foundation and using GOTS certified cotton, People Tree goes above and beyond to ensure their customer is getting something of quality that isn't at the cost of our environment or the people who make each garment. With the upcoming Fashion Revolution Week and Earth Day nearby, I decided to interview Katy Hughes, account director of People Tree to hear her intake on the future of sustainable fashion and how People Tree ensures they're production process is ethical and sustainable. 

*Use code 'ODMODC10' for 10% off new arrivals!

1) For someone new to the sustainable world, what are some key small steps they can look out for when shopping to ensure they’re investing in a good company?

If you want to shop more consciously, it comes down to paying attention to sustainable and ethical aspects, buying fashion which is better for the environment but also ensuring good and safe working conditions for the people behind it. Being mindful to either of this is already a great step in the right direction. To make sure you’re investing in a company which is actually following these ethics, have a look out for credentials. Certifications like Fair Trade and GOTS are awarded by independent organizations and their strict standards are reviewed regularly. While many fashion brands talk about ethical fashion, these credentials mean you can actually trust how the products are made and ensures you’re investing in a good company. This is a huge support for consumers trying to find orientation in the ethical fashion world. It might also be helpful to read some blogs from independent experts in this area for some advice and guidelines. Apart from that, always keep in mind that doing something is better than doing nothing and every little step contributes to a big change. 

2) People Tree is Certified in many ways from GOTS to SOIL and WFTO to ensure proper sustainable and ethical measures are taken when going into production, which is fabulous! What are the steps to certification and how easy would it be for a smaller company like ODM/ODC to get certified?

To be Fair Trade certified, you have to become a member of the WFTO and put their 10 principles into action and ensure living wages along your whole supply chain. Then you do the audit to become certified and you need to attend regular checkups and peer visits to show that you continue following the 10 Fair Trade principles.

For the GOTS certification you also start by building up a GOTS certified supply chain and finding an Organic cotton supplier who can provide you with a transaction certificate for all the cotton you use. Then you apply to GOTS and have an annual audit to prove that you have all of the documentation. It will also be checked if you are ethical and sustainable in other processes along the supply chain from the office to packaging.

So to become certified with these credentials, it is important to show some action first and put their standards into practice so you can pass the audit. It definitely requires a lot of work, but we think that it is possible to achieve for small companies as well, as everyone has to start somewhere. 

Even if you take on the road slowly, it still is a step in the right direction and you will get there one day. Till then, make sure to be transparent about what you’re doing and illustrate your supply chain to your customers so they can be sure to trust and rely on your ethics. 

3) A lot of people think ‘Made in USA’ is the best way to ensure sustainable and ethical practices. However, a lot of your products are produced overseas. Although it took me a while, I’ve finally come to understand the importance of preserving cultures, giving underdeveloped countries the proper tools for ethical production and a sustainable working wage to ensure available work for these markets but some people don’t understand the whole picture. Made in USA however doesn’t always mean it’s better…How do you convey the difference to your customers?

With the specific aim of Fairtrade to support farmers and suppliers in the developing world, as a WFTO accredited company for us it is a key aspect of our mission to help people build a sustainable livelihood and reach economic independence. We do realize that farmers and workers in the US or UK might face similar challenges to our producers, however we have focused on supporting the growth and development of disadvantaged communities. 

From our point of view, either approach, the local production or the Fairtrade support, is good and valuable. But it is important to know, that in terms of good working conditions, the producer country itself doesn’t give any information or guarantee. Instead, credentials like the Fair Trade mark give insight into standards that you can rely on. 

4) Something many conscious consumers in the sustainable world have trouble with is the idea that simply producing more clothing (whether it’s sustainable or not) is bad for the environment. How do you justify making more clothes? 

Here at People Tree we are very happy that the topic of sustainable fashion finally gets more awareness and consumers are adapting conscious shopping habits. However, we think that is still a long way to go till the change actually becomes part of our daily lives, so making and selling more clothes is crucial to sustainable brands as it allows us to grow and spread the word further. 

In addition to that, sustainable production techniques like organic farming will be used more broadly with increasing production numbers, which actually benefits the environment. Organic farming builds a strong and healthy soil and preserves water, so the more organic crops are grown, the bigger the positive influence on the environment is. 

As a small and ethical company, when we consider a complex issue, we have to weigh up pros and cons from different perspectives and review the impacts of every decision we take. 

In this case, we think that at the point where our society is at now, it is still more important to meet customer’s demands and offer a wide selection to allow them to slowly amend their habits. We also figure that producing higher numbers so that we’re able to offer our garments to a broad audience is crucial to promote sustainable production and trading techniques.

5) Sustainability seems to be trending in the fashion world. Hopefully it’s not a trend that goes out of style. What are some positive shifts you’ve seen in the past five years in the fashion industry in relation to sustainability and ethical production?

A positive shift can definitely be witnessed in the growth of the interest. More and more people are curious about the topic and start talking about it. Social media is full of hashtags, conversations and blogs focusing on sustainable fashion. Our follower and customer numbers are growing continuously and it doesn’t seem like it will stop soon. 

Once people have learned about this topic, it is impossible to forget. That differs the rise of sustainable fashion from a trend. It is not based on taste, but the whole movement relies in facts that have been researched thoroughly for years. More than that, the negative impacts of our current lifestyle and economic processes show clearly which results in more people realizing the importance of a sustainable lifestyle. Especially the younger generation who will face the consequences even more therefore grows up with a complete different view to this topic. Their higher sensitivity towards sustainability could have been noticed in the past year and makes us believe that the growth will continue. 

More than that, there have been massive upheavals in the industry: Several brands are committing to sustainable and fair practices, the Australian Vogue just appointed the first sustainability editor at large, traditional fabric fairs show lots of innovative sustainable materials and universities offer specific programs focused on educating experts for this branch. All these changes point out, that sustainability in fashion is not just a trend, but a change that came to stay.

6) What are the next steps for People Tree? How do you see yourselves evolving in the next five to ten years? 

At People Tree, we have been innovating ourselves and the industry continuously whether by introducing new design and crafting techniques, innovative fabrics or implementing Fairtrade standards into the fashion industry. 

As a pioneer in the sustainable and fair fashion world, we know exactly how important it is to question the status quo and go with the time, because there is always room for improvement. 

For the next few years we aspire to maintain the role as a pioneer in the industry by continuously implementing more sustainable production materials and techniques. As one of our key missions from the very beginning is also to support underprivileged people from around the world we also want to keep taking on more partners. 

It is our vision to make sustainable and fair fashion the norm. To achieve this, we are expanding our clothes range every season with introducing more styles and launching new products like our underwear range. We want to make a broad range of garments available to as many people as possible including men and kids, which we are already working on. 

At People Tree we never stop evolving and as the fashion industry especially in this niche is evolving very fast, we might ourselves be surprised what we’ll all have achieved in ten years. 

7) In your opinion, what is the most unsustainable part of the fashion industry? What are you doing to combat this?

The most unsustainable part of the fashion industry in our opinion is the use of unsustainable, artificial materials, the use of hazardous chemicals and energy-intensive production techniques which are exploiting our resources and damaging our environment. 

But this is also the part where you can achieve the biggest change. People will always be shopping clothes which is good to some extent as this strengthens our worldwide economy. So instead of trying to break people’s habits and fight consumption, why not changing the habits instead and make use of the situation for good. 

Consuming fashion is not the problem. What you consume is what makes the difference.

This is why here at People Tree we only use environmentally friendly processes along the whole supply chain. From sourcing organic fibers via using natural dyes through to promoting the use of carbon neutral handcrafting skills and choosing sea shipments, sustainability lies at the heart of everything we do.  

Perks are that this also results in comfier, long lasting and unique garments. 

a) What about ethically?

The most unethical part is the exploitation of workers along the whole fashion supply chain. Humans are working hard to create beautiful garments for us and aren’t even paid a living wage, let alone valued for their skills. More than that they’re facing safety risks whilst having to work under dangerous and unhealthy working conditions. 

To combat this, People Tree has obliged to work under the WFTO’s standards from the very beginning. The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) is an internationally recognized organization that aims to improve the livelihood of disadvantaged producers and introduce fair working standards for greater justice in world trade. 

Like all their members, we have to ensure to meet their 10 standards of Fair Trade. More than that, People Tree was actively involved in writing these guidelines which equally address economic and social topics.

At People Tree, we’re really proud to be the world’s first clothing company that received the their product mark in 2013, which means that we’re dedicated to these principles throughout the whole supply chain from the design, to the fabric and the production processes in every garment.

Fair Trade is at the heart of our mission to combat the most unethical parts of the fashion industry. 

*Use code 'ODMODC10' for 10% off new arrivals!

The Production Process...

We did it!

We finally have some of our own product on the site... Nothing makes us happier than promoting the sustainable and ethical companies we love and trust, but we've always had the itch to create our own stuff and finally we can say we're making strides in the right direction.

The Start...

With the help of online accelerator program Factory45, we were able to seamlessly source materials, factories, suppliers, you name it, with sustainability and ethical production at heart. Shannon Whitehead founder of Factory45, collected everything she learned from starting her own sustainable company and decided to create an online accelerator course to help other passionate entrepreneurs in the eco-friendly world. For anyone with a desire to learn anything pertaining to sustainable production, this course is a gold mine!

We initially had plans to start ODM/ODC with our own line of off-duty model basics, but after some thought, we decided it was a smarter choice to focus on one piece and do it well. Enter the perfect white tee. Our hope is to expand on the wardrobe staple in the future, once we really get the hang of things.  

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The Perfect White Tee

Living in New York City certainly has it benefits, especially for those of us who work in the fashion industry. There are plenty of manufacturing options available, but trying to get your own products or garments made can get a little pricey, especially if you hope to do so in an ethical and sustainable way. That means we had to make a few compromises throughout this whole process, but regardless of that, we promise to continue being open and honest about our methods and practices. That is our main goal. 

If a company produces their clothes overseas but works with a factory that takes care of their workers and ensures proper wages, that's great! We'll promote that kind of work. If they use sustainable materials but may not be fully transparent about their factories, we'll still promote them, but we'll let you know they don't disclose the factories they use.

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When it came to deciding on the production process for our perfect white tee, we knew if if we were going to use cotton, we'd make sure it was organic. And since  organic cotton uses a vast amount of water to produce, we decided it was best to source the  material locally to ensure we weren't using an excess of water in addition to flying the materials overseas  and increasing our carbon footprint. Ethical production was also a big concern, so we chose to use a factory in Brooklyn, giving us the freedom to check in on the production process and meet the people who were making our clothes! By using organic cotton we compromised on water waste but made sure to use a factory that was open with us about their policies.

Surprises along the way...

In addition to chasing the perfect factory, it was important for us to get the fabric right. One thing we learned, though, was that it’s very hard to find a supplier who is open to working with a new company with low production minimums. Luckily, through Factory45, we were able to find a supplier in New York City’s  garment district who had organic cotton sourced locally from Texas. (I will note, however, that when I asked to learn more about the actual cotton farm, the supplier didn’t provide further information. The experience taught me to be more diligent about getting as much information as possible in the future, and I pledge to do that to my best abilities from here on out.)

Eventually, , we were  able to agree on a price that matched our budget and brought our sample yardage into the Brooklyn factory to do a sample T-shirt. Pro: we had this 'test' before we ran full production. Con:  I hated the fabric once I felt it in  t-shirt form.

So... what next?

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Rather than going back to the drawing board and buying more sample fabric, I decided to buy wholesale T-shirts  from Groceries Apparel, a company I already knew and loved. Groceries Apparel will remove their tags and add yours, and the best part about them is the fact they  are extremely transparent about their production process. They have lovely white tees that would rival any of your faves, they’re made with organic cotton and they’re manufactured at their factory in Los Angeles. A perfect match for the ODM/ODC perfect white tee!

We were also able to find a water-based ink printing company locally in Brooklyn along with sustainable fabric for our labels, sourced in Canada.

Sustainable is sexy...

The next phase in completing our perfect white tee was deciding on a design that would both promote the ODM/ODC brand and work as the perfect white tee you could wear with anything. We also wanted it to include a message people would be  proud to wear and support.

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Rather than using  our logo, as we've done in the past with water bottles and reusable straws, we decided to use the slogan "sustainable is sexy.” To us, this takes the "un-cool" out of sustainable clothing and is a catchy slogan that people would be excited to wear. With  our #sustainableissexy campaign, we’re hoping to take the edge off the eco-friendly discussion and  prove to our customers you can dress stylishly, sexily and simply, all with sustainability at heart.
 

With our t-shirts, you don't have to worry whether or not they were made ethically. You don't have to worry if they were made with sustainable materials. We will always be transparent about our practices and how we strive to better our planet. Along with that, we’ll tell you what roadblocks we face along the way and share how  we are constantly learning to be more sustainable and ethical without, of course, compromising on style.

 

Join our movement. Get the perfect white tee that will go with everything, will never go out of style, and is made with integrity, the ODM/ODC way!

#sustainableissexy

*Article edited by Julia Brucculieri of Untangledstories