PACT Underwear Blends Organic Cotton, Nonprofits and Short Supply Chains
By Jonathan Bardelline
Published August 20, 2009
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Tags: Design & Innovation, Materials, More… Design & Innovation, Materials, Packaging, Supply Chain
San Francisco, CA — Does the world really need another underwear brand?
It’s a question Jason Kibbey and Jeff Denby asked themselves while developing PACT, their recently-launched company which infuses green and good measures throughout all aspects of its business.
The duo decided to stick with underwear since it’s such a ubiquitous item and has the potential for sustainable innovation. “We wanted to make products that the world needs,” Kibbey said.
PACT started as an idea between Kibbey and Denby while studying at the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley. It got a big boost when designer Yves Behar saw the two deliver a presentation on their idea and expressed interest in getting involved. Behar’s Fuseproject firm is the group behind such iconic items as the One Laptop Per Child XO laptop and Herman Miller LEAF lamp.
“I always wanted to do underwear because it’s such a unique category and everything about it is wrong right now,” Behar said.
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PACT blends social and environmental values throughout its materials, supply chain, packaging and more. The company offers a range of men’s and women’s underwear styles in three designs. Each design is aligned with a nonprofit organization, with 10 percent of each design’s sales — yes, sales, not profits — going toward its associated organization. The underwear ranges in price from $22 for a thong to $28 for boxers.
Behar made the initial three designs for the underwear, creating images to sync up with the first three nonprofits with whom PACT is working: 826 National, ForestEthics and Oceana. PACT plans to add more nonprofits with new designs from other artists and designers, topping off at about eight, Kibbey said.
The underwear is made of 95 percent organic cotton, and 5 percent elastane (a.k.a spandex). They could have gone with 100 percent cotton, which would have made it easy to settle on an end-of-life solution, Kibbey said at a roundtable discussion at Fuseproject’s San Francisco offices today. But they added the elastane in order to give the underwear some stretch, keep it from getting baggy too quickly, and to extend each pair’s life.
At that point in the underwear design, they had to make another choice: Should they make a product that will last longer or a product that is more easily handled at the end of its life?
“We know we’re not perfect,” Kibbey said, “But we’re upfront about that too.”
PACT is now investigating its options for disposing of its underwear when customers are done with it, batting around ideas such as deep cleaning them for use as rags. “We’ll break it down and make pillows or some other cool idea,” Behar said.
And since the company is so far only selling directly to customers through its website, www.wearPACT.com, they’ll have an easy time telling customers what to do with unwanted undies.
Another aspect of PACT’s creation that the duo struggled with was figuring out where to source cotton from and where to manufacture their goods.
One of their first ideas was to do everything in the U.S. Then they figured out what the supply chain would look like: sourcing organic cotton from Texas or California, sending it to North Carolina for processing, then to Sacramento for dying and printing, then on to Los Angeles for cutting and sewing.
They ended up finding Egedeniz Textile, a company in Turkey that owns all aspects of its manufacturing supply chain and is situated in such a way that all of its processes — growing, cutting, dyeing, etc — take place within a 100-mile radius. The company’s supply chain has been certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard, Organic Exchange, EKO, the Fair Labor Association, and a range of other groups.
Kibbey and Denby were so happy to be working with Egedeniz that they put the name of the company on each pair of underwear. “Let’s put it out there and be proud of who we work with,” Denby said.
Due to standard shipping practices for clothing, every item that leaves a garment factory must be packaged individually, and companies typically use plastic bags. PACT decided to go another route, using excess fabric to make small pouches for each pair of underwear.
And from there, they ship them to customers in compostable shipping bags (Ecovio, which is a hybrid of polylactic acid and plastic) with compostable labels and stamps. The bags are certified to compost in industrial settings within 45 days, and Kibbey said they will also compost in home compost setting, but it just takes longer. The bags are also heat sealed, and they are made by using two long rolls of the Ecovio material, so that the bags can be cut to be just the right size depending on the size of an order.
While PACT is sticking with underwear for now, Kibbey said they plan to expand into other basic clothing items like socks, shirts and denim in the future.