An Inside Look Into Groceries Apparel

After being introduced to Groceries Apparel by a fellow model, I was immidiately drawn to their simple, stylish staples that were clearly made well with the environment in mind. I had been thinking about creating my own basic white tees at the time and while modeling was taking over much of my time, I found it difficult to balance both worlds. I created a sample tee, here in New York and after I wasn't completely content with the first mock-up, I reached out to Groceries to see if I could do an ODM/ODC edit on a tee they were already producing perfectly. I was exceptionally impressed by their openness to work with a smaller company like myself. They were flexible with their minimums and completely open about where they sourced their fabrics, where everything was made and everything in between! They're a dream to work with, and after a recent visit to L.A. I was even more impressed with how open they were on a tour of their factory. Robert Lohman, founder of the Groceries took the time to answer some in-depth questions so you can get to know a bit more about where our Sustainable Is Sexy tees come from! Check out his answers below!

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

Groceries started on the Venice boardwalk with American Apparel organic blanks dyed with grass, orange juice, rust, soil, tomatoes, blood, and milk, and basically anything in my backyard.  I was set on creating a non-toxic t-shirt.  When I was trying to expand, it dawned on me that there were no volume blank providers that were 100% committed to chemical-free and made in USA.  I had randomly met Dov Charney at a fabric store called Ragfinders and he ended up inviting me to take a tour of his American Apparel factory.  Dov showed me how to sew in teams and digitize patterns.  The next day I rented three Kansai Special’s and a Tukatech license.  I’m not really a fashion guy, I’m an environmentalist that loves manufacturing.

2) What is your take on organic, recycled and regular cotton? Is there one the company is partial to?

From day one we’ve sourced only organic or recycled ingredients.  I’m not a fan at all of regular cotton, one of the reasons we exist is to shift demand away from it.  The future is in hemp, post-consumer recycled textiles, and bio-based textiles, these are some of the only fabrics that fit into a larger circular economy.  Lenzing has been working on some really soft closed-loop textiles made from recycled eucalyptus fiber, like Refibra.  We have some new spandex blends made from recycled ocean fishnets.  There are a lot of textile innovations on the horizon made from food waste, orange peels, fish skins, coffee, etc.  We also dye garments with flowers, roots, bark, leaves, and onion skins.

3) All of your clothing is made in America, which is awesome!! While I don’t think made outside the U.S. has to necessarily mean it’s a bad thing, why did you guys choose to stay local?

Locally-made is central to our business model.  Being local means being closer to our garments as they are made, which helps us command the fit and quality.  It also allows us to cut out middle men, trim redundancy, and lower the carbon footprint impact and costs.  Being local enables us to respond and fulfill orders faster, which helps our boutique partners.  Stores are able to hold their budget and analyze sales trends later into the season before purchasing.  Brands that stay local don’t need to speculate their production orders, they can cut-to-order and limit waste.  There are a ton of advantages to manufacturing local, made in China is great if you sell to China.

4) Tell me a bit about the factory you use and how you chose it. What’s the best way you guys ensure workers are treated well?

We are the factory.  We operate our own factory to ensure our standards and values are fully executed, especially when it comes to treating our employees well.  We have 80 yards of cutting space and 43 sewing machines, producing 40,000 units per month on average. 

5) What’s something difficult Groceries has been able to overcome in terms of becoming more sustainable?

Early on we were passing on a lot of sales opportunities due to our higher price point and our unwillingness to manufacture non-organic garments.  Groceries’ first business model relied on economies of scale in order to compete, which was hard to execute out of my garage.  It was kind of a paradox in the fact that we needed more orders to feed our factory, but we were also turning down orders because we were unwilling to make a cheaper non-organic option.  I was unwilling to compromise my values in order to stay in business, which sounds great but was actually a huge problem for the company.  My business model stated we had to generate about 4 million dollars a year in order to feed our factory and become profitable.  Groceries’ was more of a young, big business than a small business.  It took me a while to convince banks and investors that my business model wasn’t insane.

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

The industry is the 2nd most toxic in the world behind oil, so I would say the toxicity.  We’ve purchased 3 million yards of organic and recycled textiles to help push the demand for chemical-free and gmo-free.  We’re also moving toward non-toxic, vegetable-based dyes. 

a)What about ethically? 

We pay well above minimum wage to our employees and offer a safe and happy workplace.

7) What are the next steps for Groceries? How do you see yourselves evolving in the next five to ten years?

I see non-toxic and ethically-made clothing becoming the standard for our industry.  Every step we take will be working towards this.

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