"We could be a lot bigger if we did those things. But our mission is not to be the biggest. It is to be the best for people and the planet."
Editor's Note: This is part two of a new weekly series aimed at learning more about the 92 B Corporations who won the 'Best for the World' title earlier this year from nonprofit B Lab. Through short interviews with company founders, CEOs and directors, we'll dig into their motivations, missions, challenges and what makes them truly Best for the World.
Through their stories, we'll search for best practices, tips on aligning mission and profit, and identify gaps where better regulation can help or private-private partnerships can play a role. Becoming the change is an ambitious order – and one that over 1,000 companies have accepted already. Let's learn how they're doing it.
Today we spotlight Atayne, which designs and manufactures progressive outdoor and active apparel that drives environmental and social change.
According to Founder and Chief Pacesetter Jeremy Litchfield:
"This model is better for the environment since it eliminates the use of resources and energy on products that are not wanted in the market. It also enables us to better respond to changing market conditions avoiding producing products that no consumers want to buy.
"Beyond our products, we are continually finding ways to make for a healthier environment and society. Before even launching sales, we started a grassroots trash running movement that encourages people to pick up trash while they are running. There are now trash running groups across the U.S. and in a few foreign countries (Iceland and India)."
- Launched in 2007.
- Atayne combines domestically made 100%-recycled fabrics with a USA-based Just-In-Time (JIT) production process that allows them to delay making a product until it is purchased.
- They make a sale, then make the product and then deliver to the customer straight from the factory.
- Only uses materials that have been third-party certified for safety, eliminating toxic chemicals and known carcinogens from its production process and products.
- By using 100% recycled polyester, derived from plastic bottles, Atayne's products prevent usable materials from going into landfills and saves considerable energy and water compared to virgin polyester.
Here we go:
What motivated you to start your company?
It all started with a red colored running shirt on a hot, humid Washington D.C. morning in May 2007. After finishing a run in the new performance shirt, I found myself covered from the neck down in red dye. This was after washing the shirt twice! The experience left me with an uneasy feeling and a lot of questions:
- “What chemicals did my body just absorb?”
- “How is performance apparel actually made?”
- “Is there a better way to do it?”
What started out as a bad experience with a red shirt has transformed into Atayne, an outdoor and athletic apparel company that is recognized as one of the most environmentally and socially responsible companies in the world.
Why become a Certified B Corp?
Our reason for becoming a Certified B Corporation is simple – actions speak louder than words. It is one thing for us to preach our commitment to environmental and social responsibility. It is yet another to back up those words by having an independent third party evaluate us.
Becoming a B Corporation was an important step to communicate to the Atayne community we mean what we say.
Additionally, it was important to our founding group to ensure that our values would be preserved once outside founding came in. To date, we have been able to bootstrap and fund our own growth, but the time will soon come when we need to seek outside funding to take us to the next level of growth. Being a B Corp gives us important legal protections to continue to operate at the high standards we have set for ourselves.
Has becoming a B Corp helped grow your business and brand?
People are starting to understand and recognize what it means to be a B Corp and that gives us credibility because it comes from an independent source. With all the greenwashing out there, it is important to have third parties verifying claims.
You were named among the B Corp 'Best for the World' list. What were some of the challenges you faced in meeting/exceeding your CSR goals?
The biggest challenge is realizing that not every sale/customer is a good one for Atayne and our mission. We sell a lot of bulk custom orders to races and events. In that market, everyone wants to save a penny. We have had people choose a competitor over a $.50 difference. What they don’t like to think about is that $.50 savings comes with some considerable environmental and social costs.
We have had customers ask us why we don’t just offer a 50 percent recycled/50 percent virgin product to get a lower price point. Or why we don’t shift production to lower wage countries.
We could be a lot bigger if we did those things. But our mission is not to be the biggest. It is to be the best for people and the planet.
What is one critical area that you're challenged with because of lack of industry participation or government regulation?
We don’t focus much time and energy thinking about how government regulation or industry participation could make things easier. If more transparency were required, that would be great. But we can’t control that and we definitely do not have the resources to tackle those issues.