After 8 years of university, Kayla finally completed her M.D. in family medicine and started working at a major hospital in 2012. She was excited to meet and help patients. Unfortunately, the US health-care system is focused more on profit than on care, and within a few years, Kayla was burnt out and discouraged. Often with just 15 minutes scheduled per patient, she was not making the deep connections and serving the community in the way she had hoped to. She finally realized that to provide the type of care she wanted to give, she would need to start her own non-profit clinic. She spent another 2 years getting formally trained in Ayurvedic medicine. Armed with both science-based and holistic health training, she manifested Moon Cycle Medicine, Inc. from a dream into reality in 2017.
Kayla and I met through a women’s networking group, Women Entrepreneurs of Portland (WE PDX) that I cofounded with a realtor friend. She was so excited to find a reliable source for organic cotton intimates! She and her mom have become regular customers, and I have joined the board of her non-profit. Unlike Ann from our last customer spotlight story, Kayla has no known allergies or skin rashes. This led me to ask her at a meeting recently why she wore organic cotton intimates. She responded, “Wearing organic cotton bras and panties is part of my self-care. I get peace of mind knowing there are no chemicals on my intimate areas.”
She also told me she occasionally prescribes organic intimates to her patients. “I had a patient who had a severe rash in her private area. I prescribed her organic cotton underwear along with more conventional creams and antibiotics. When she came back for her follow-up, she had gotten all the conventional items, but still hadn’t purchased the underwear. I had to explain, that the organic underwear was the most important prescription I’d given her and sent her off to go find some.”
Kayla appreciates that FaeriesDance.com gives her a specific place to recommend patients to. “It’s easier for my patients to follow my guidance if I know where to refer them.”
With so much synergy between our respective businesses, Kayla and I will be working on a few joint projects over the spring and summer. She’s going to be offering a free workshop on breast cancer awareness at our warehouse and we’re also collaborating on a series of bra videos that have been on my to do list for several years.
As I mentioned in my last customer spotlight, my personal motivation for starting Faerie’s Dance was wholly environmental. Twelve years into the business, I have to agree with Kayla that wearing organic clothing, and intimates in particular, is part of my self-care. I just hadn’t thought of it in those terms. Wearing lacy soy panties, or a sensuous pine-tree bra feels luxurious to me. It’s become part of my everyday armor.
Ocean Blue an Oregon ocean nonprofit, is concerned about the impact of the textile industry on our natural water resources, specifically the clothes we all wear and wash everyday. They contacted Faerie’s Dance to discuss whether eco-fashion represents an improvement over conventional clothing. Adrienne Catone, Faerie’s Dance’s founder and CEO was happy to discuss what makes their threads the best option for the planet’s waterways.
Founder of Ocean Blue Project, Richard Arterbury, is concerned with the presence of chemicals and unnatural clothing fibers in our waterways. He explained how our clothing impacts our waterways, both the manufacturing and the maintenance that happens after we start wearing them.
When two environmentally friendly organization leaders join forces, or even just get together to chat about sustainability and clothing, the conversation can be quite revealing.
Richard: We really like that you offer people sustainable clothing that has the health of workers in mind as well as being environmentally friendly. Can you tell me a little bit about what makes your clothing environmentally friendly?
Adrienne: Well, there are four important pieces that we factor in when determining whether or not a piece of clothing is eco-friendly:
1. We source fabrics with no or minimal pesticide usage and minimal or closed-loop processing. For example, organically grown cotton instead of conventional cotton – which is the highest pesticide/insecticide sprayed crop on the planet.
2. We source clothing that has been at least low-impact dyed. Some items are undyed or clay-dyed, but we avoid items that have been conventionally dyed with harsh chemicals such as azo dyes. You can read about dyes in this post.
3. All of our clothing has no chemical finishing agents. Most conventional clothing is finished with a chemical soup to make them wrinkle less, stand up better to the dryer, resist fire, etc. While these chemicals do have some benefits for the clothing, we don’t believe the benefits are worth the environmental degradation or the potential health risks to both the wearer and the factory workers.
4. Finally, we are meticulous in our verification that no sweatshop or child labor is ever used in any of the items we carry. Most of them are Fair Trade Certified, though we do carry some brands that work with smaller factories that cannot afford the certifications. In those cases, the manufacturers physically go to the factories on a regular basis and verify the working conditions personally. While we buy most of our clothing from manufacturers that wholesale, we do also manufacture our own line of underwear. All of our underwear are designed, cut and sewn in Oregon from Global Organic Textile Certified (GOTS) fabric imported from a family-owned shop in India.
Richard: It sounds like you have really done your research which makes me glad that you have dedicated your work to sharing this knowledge with the world. Which fabrics do you think leave the lightest footprint on our waterways?
Adrienne: Anything grown without pesticides that also has minimal processing waste would end up being the best option all around. We’ve done an assessment of eco-friendly fabrics, and essentially, the higher on the list you purchase, the better it will be for our waterways.
Richard: Pesticides wash into waterways that make their way to the ocean and that’s not good for wildlife or people that get our drinking water from those waterways. It is good to know how fabrics are being processed so we can make better choices for people and wildlife.
A solution from our perspective is most of our waterways have been impeded so greatly that native plants and native trees are no longer protecting our rivers. Today the world is making better choices, but pollutants are now present in sediments that got put there from many years ago. I would like to know more about other ways clothing is processed. How does closed-loop processing help the world’s ocean?
Adrienne: Most fabric production does have some waste products. A closed-loop processing system captures the production waste and recycles it for reuse in the next round of fabric production. Companies like Lenzing, who make both Tencel® and Modal® have achieved near 100% waste recycling. So there’s no waste or runoff at all into waterways or oceans. Closed-loop production is really the future of fashion.
Richard: Those are the kind of solutions we like to hear about. Clothing dyes also impact waterways and the ocean. So, can you tell me more about what you have found about those impacts?
Adrienne: As I mentioned before, conventional dyes can have really harsh, and in some cases, carcinogenic chemicals. Unfortunately, the dyeing process creates a lot of waste. The single biggest improvement of low-impact dyes over conventional dyes is the enormous reduction in waste output.
Richard: It is deeply concerning that fibers from plastic based clothing come off in the wash and end up making their way through water treatment plants, eventually flowing into waterways to the world’s ocean. These plastic fibers are also found in our drinking water. Would you say it’s better to have plastics go to a landfill than to be made into products that will end up in the ocean?
Adrienne: Actually, a huge portion of non-recycled plastic do end up in our oceans. So RePET fibers keep a lot of plastic out of the ocean rather than just out of landfill. So I guess the question would be is it better to have a lot of plastic in the ocean (a lot being defined as an entire garments worth) or a little plastic in our waterways (a little being defined as the small amount of the garment that leeches away during the wash)?
Richard: What’s worse? Is it a large piece that gets churned over time, or the piece that’s microscopic that we can’t see? The answers to these questions may be filled in over time by researchers, but until then we can keep cleaning it up and your company can keep making our footprint as light as possible like you have been doing. One thing that I really love about Faeries Dance is that you are offering solutions for a One World Ocean.
To learn more about the Ocean Blue Project, checkout their Mission Page.
One of the questions we get A LOT is about organic clothing manufacturing in China. There is a belief that garment manufacturing in China automatically means low wages and lots of pollution. Many of our customers avoid anything made in China at all. However, some sustainably-minded companies are still manufacturing organic clothing lines in China and it’s time to take a closer look at why they are. For one thing, garment industry wages in China are increasing rapidly. “Cheaper” clothing lines are actually leaving China for Africa and East Asia, where wages remain ridiculously low. Additionally, organic clothing manufacturers are working with third party certifiers such as the Global Organic Textile Standard, OEKO-TEX, and Fair Trade International to ensure their Chinese-made goods are meeting environmental, safety and ethical employment standards. Many of our USA made goods actually carry fewer certifications.
We caught up with Jane Nemis, owner of Echo Verde clothing for an interview on why they still manufacture in China.
Faerie’s Dance: What influenced your company to manufacture in China?
Jane Nemis: I had been working in China when it was the only producer of eco/organic fabrics (18 years ago) and formed relationships with factories that I still have to this day.
FD: How long have you worked with your current factory in China?
Jane: We have several factories – depending on sweaters or cut/sew knits – some are new 2 years and several are 6 years – 2 are 15 years.
FD: How often do you travel to China directly to meet the people who make your clothing?
Jane: Twice yearly.
FD: Can you tell us about your relationship with the folks who make your clothing?
Jane: There is still wide-spread opinion that sourcing and manufacturing clothing in Asia-and more specifically in China is a desire for cheap labor and that the conditions under which people work is not good. The truth, though, is much more complicated and nuanced, or just plain not true! Our Chinese manufacturers have become experts in working with organic and eco textiles and they produce some of the highest quality goods at competitive prices. All of our factories are reviewed for workers’ conditions and all must show proof of third party monitoring of social and environmental conditions. We have formed relationships with these factories from our years of visiting them in China and their owners and many of the ladies that work there are now our friends!
They have also listened to us over the years and instituted changes which have bettered the living and working conditions of their staff.
While the work ethic in China may not seem “perfect” to our standards, it is considered to be a skilled trade now to be a garment worker. They bring home a middle-class income and many factories now have health care. Many of the workers support their families and send their children to school based on the money they earn cutting/sewing and finishing our goods. The factories we work with are all family owned and smaller operations that employ workers from the surrounding areas. This means we are able to support families staying together. There are many sweatshops all over the world including specifically in New York and LA. It is important to us that we can personally monitor conditions and we have a partner that respects and listens to our requests for change.
Our workers are honest, hard-working, and family oriented and doing the best that they can to make a living. They depend on us for this. When we visit the factories, the ladies laugh and joke with us and teach us new words in mandarin. They are free to come and go to the bathrooms, they have tea and water available at all times and they are free to stop work and share a chat with their friends. The food they are served is the same as I eat when there (free lunch tokens are given out) and it is good and balanced and they have access to fresh fruit and vegetables. One of our factories has even built a small meditation garden where workers can walk during their breaks and get some fresh air and enjoy the greenery. Both our knit factories have adopted stray dogs from the local area and care for them like family pets.
These ladies make our clothes!
FD: Do your factories have any certifications (WRAP, GOTS, OEKO-TEX, etc.) and can you explain what that entails?
Jane: Yes, one factory has WRAP the other has a European version of WRAP and the very small ones cannot afford the costs so I just make sure they are following the same standards.
All our factories are small – we paid for one factory to get WRAP certification but while many big businesses can list an impressive amount of certifications – the reality is this is out of reach for most small family owned operations. Cost for WRAP was around $350 USD for a small factory of 23 employees. So it is impossible to do this for all our little factories even though they use the same standards (or higher). Bigger companies can afford to pay for WRAP and FLA (Fair Labour) is even higher $1200 USD which is to be paid as a yearly fee.
FD: Do the fabrics you work with have any certifications?
Jane: Yes, bamboo is 100% certified organic, cotton is 100% certified organic, wool is produced using humane farming practices and non harmful chemicals to process it.
FD: Some of our clients are concerned with Chinese factories “faking” certifications or claiming certifications they don’t actually hold. Is this a real concern?
Jane: Yes, I would say this is more related to large scale operations – they can afford to bribe the certifying body – I have heard about it but have never experienced it first hand. I would say it is a real concern with anything that is produced on a large scale for low cost… organic is expensive – as are good working conditions.
FD: Can you tell us a little bit about what modern Chinese facilities are like?
Jane: Here are some pictures – they are like any factory I walk into here in Canada or USA. Some are much better kept actually. Very neat, all windows are open in summer and doors. Well ventilated, lots of natural light and each worker has their own chair/light/table.
FD: What other information can you give us to assuage the negative connotation that is still often associated with garments that are Made in China?
Jane: Another reason that we manufacture in Asia is because all of the eco textiles originate from Asia, and one of our goals is to have our production facilities as close as possible to where our fabric, hardware and fixtures originate, this has been proven to reduce the environmental impact of shipping. Did you know that much of the cotton produced in the US is sent to either China or India for milling before coming back into the states? So really, if you go to the root of the garment – it is possible almost every piece of clothing has come from China in some way.
I would add is that I find it frustrating that there is such a negative connotation with Chinese goods. The US has spent the past few decades growing trade with China and helping to bring the work up to standard, pay etc. This is primarily why all the cheap brands have moved to countries without any work conditions in place (Bangladesh, US Samoa, Cambodia, Areas of Africa) – I also think other big industry has not kept pace and there are still horror stories of people falling asleep making cell phones and getting little to no pay for extremely poor work conditions. So unfortunately, I think this is the impression that is given in the media – these are the things that make the headlines – not the goods news.
FD: Is there anything you’d like to add or would you like to bring up any points we may have missed?
Jane: Just to stress that we have worked a long time with our factories and they rely on us – that’s how they make a living. So although we may do some production locally, we will continue to support them. It is impossible to do the sweaters we make in US or Canada. The machinery just does not exist anymore.