“At tentree, we plant ten trees for every item we sell. Our goal is to become the most environmentally progressive brand on the planet, and we are using our mission as well as eco-progressive materials to plant 1 billion trees by 2030.”
Before this email landed in my inbox, I’d never heard of the Canadian eco-conscious clothing brand, tentree. So naturally I did some online digging.
I immediately clicked over to the tentree website. I scrolled down the home page and was delighted to see that the brand’s lifestyle shots and product images featured racially and ethnically diverse models posing against natural environments or white backgrounds wearing casual apparel such as tees, caps, pants and hoodies. The brand focussing on diversity and inclusivity in its marketing gets a big tick from me given the dark complexion of my own skin.
Next I ventured over to the company’s ‘About’ page.
Tentree’s claim to eco fame is that it plants ten trees for every item purchased. Trees pull carbon from the air and sequesters it, so planting trees is a great way to combat climate change as well as helping to restore landscape and natural habitat for wildlife. In the top right corner of the website I notice the running tally of trees the business has already planted – 25,744,480 million trees to date! Tentree has 11 years to sell enough garments and accessories to reach their goal of one billion trees planted, but they’ve made great progress already.
As one comes to expect with a sustainability-focussed apparel business, tentree uses eco-friendly fabrics and these were also listed: hemp, organic cotton, recycled polyester, TENCEL™ Lyocell (plant-based fibre derived from sustainable grown eucalyptus trees) and linen. The fashion industry is one of the most polluting in the world, so by using these sustainable materials the company limits the chemicals and water used in production and reuses materials that may otherwise have been wasted.
I clicked over to tentree’s ‘Ethical Manufacturing’ page and learned that the company produces its products in five different countries. I was glad to see all of its suppliers listed and the names and locations of the 16 final stage factories producing its garments. While it was noted that some of the factories held industry certifications from Fair Trade, Fair Wear Foundation, WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Accreditation Production) and BSCI (Business for Social Compliance Initiative), very little had been published about codes of conduct, living wages, information on fabric sourcing and supply chain traceability.
Since tentree is a Certified B Corporation (which means the company has met rigorous standards of social, environmental and business transparency from a globally trusted organisation that audits businesses against high ethical standards) I was certain that they would have more information to provide than was readily available on their website.
As expected of an ethical brand walking its transparency talk, the team was forthcoming with additional information, advising that they would be incorporating the code of conduct (COC) onto the website at some point this quarter and emailed me a yet-to-be-published COC for my reference.
The tentree team also confirmed that each factory under a “certification scheme” such as WRAP, BSCI and Fairtrade, all have their own codes of conduct, but that they ensure that all auditing criteria, including COCs, is aligned with tentree’s minimum requirements. “In all cases, the requirements of the COCs are aligned with the International Labour Organization’s requirements,” tentree’s representative explained via email.
I was pleased to learn that living wages is also something the social enterprise is actively working towards. “We’re committed to paying a fair price for all our goods, ensuring that the true cost is reflected. We’re working with our main suppliers on this, and hope to work with some of them to gain additional certification such as Fair Trade to help ensure this in the future. Meaningful change takes time, but we’re working on it!”
The team clarified that the producers who are Fair Trade certified are likely better compensated than those without this certification, but that they “ensure that at least the legal minimum wage is paid in all factories, and this we can confirm through audit findings conducted by third party, accredited auditors, as they’re the experts.”
With regards to fabric sourcing and supply chain traceability, the company is actively working on adding further supplier “tiers” to their manufacturing page, adding to the 16 “Tier 1” product suppliers already listed. Furthermore, the company plans to publish a detailed “supply chain map” to provide more insight into the whole supply chain of our goods.
The company typically visits its factories at least once before starting a relationship with them and travels overseas to visit some of its factories about once or twice per year, but is mindful of its footprint, which means there are delays in visiting some locations.
“We will not start working with a factory unless they can provide valid and reputable documentation (audits, CAPs etc) showing that they are in compliance with at least the minimum requirements of our Code of Conduct, or we’ve validated this on site through a visit. As for auditing, we have a structured system based on supplier performance, but the standard cycle is once per year.”
After reviewing the site and checking out their brilliantly curated Instagram feed featuring travel grams, environmental photography mixed in with cleverly disguised product images, I was curious to learn about the humans behind the brand.
The business was launched in 2012 after two of its five founders Dave Luba and Kalen Emsley met some girls in Hawaii who were discussing companies that “give back”. One of the girls was wearing TOMS shoes and it was then that the pair learned about TOMS’ one-for-one business model; where the business donates a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair of shoes sold. Luba and Emsley’s entrepreneurial minds started racing; as outdoorsy types with experience in tree planting, who also enjoyed hiking, surfing and skydiving, they knew they wanted to give back to the environment.
As an environmentalist running a business myself, I wanted to know exactly what makes the founders’ tick. Since it would be a logistical nightmare to interview all five founders, I settled with interviewing just one, tentree co-founder and CMO Kalen Emsley.
EWP: Highlights of running your business?
Kalen Emsley: Working closely with friends and family. I get to work with my best friends, my cousin, my brother and tons of amazing people every day. Coming to work knowing that what you are doing is helping hundreds of people in different parts of the world is amazing; and knowing that every item we sell is going to be 10 huge trees in 10-20 years from now.
EWP: What are you most proud of?
KE: I think I am most proud of the community of people that have helped us along the way. Everyone who has purchased an item, told someone about us, consulted us…those people made helping the environment a priority and made it possible to gain this incredible experience. I hope that everyone can have that at some point.
EWP: Entrepreneurial challenges? What do you find the most difficult about running your business?
KE: I think it’s most important to keep your head on straight and not let any of your main life pillars falter. For me, that’s family/friends, physical health, and mental health. If I start letting any of those go then everything else goes out of whack. It’s a constant struggle because when you love what you do, it’s hard to differentiate work from the rest of your life. If you keep those level, then you can take on any challenge at work.
EWP: How do you unwind after a big work day?
KE: I usually go to the gym in the winter since the days are shorter and it’s dark by the time I leave but in the summer I love getting out to catch a sunset hike.
EWP: Best business compliment you’ve ever received?
KE: “tentree has changed my outlook on humanity. I now see how you guys are different. The trees came first, you guys wanted to help the environment, and clothing came after. That’s why you’re going have such a huge impact on the world.” — I’ll never forget this one!
EWP: What are some things that you’d like customers to know that you rarely communicate or promote on social media?
KE: It would be cool to show people how heated things can get at the office when we are debating what processes to implement or the fabrics that can be used. We’re always fighting to make things greener and more eco friendly — this means changing what is “possible” in many cases. We are constantly pushing suppliers to work with us and innovate when it comes to this kind of thing. I truly believe that anyone would have a tough time finding anything we aren’t currently doing when it comes to ensuring that (1) our product is as green as possible, (2) our factory workers are treated well, and (3) that every tree is planted and being protected.
We also do things like: pay to have someone come pick up all our recycling from work as there is no system here except for garbage, use recycled furniture in the office, rallied to get the city to allow bike racks in our area to get people biking to work; and the summer hours allow people to leave early to get out and hike.
We also make large donations outside of the trees, for instance we purchased a boat in Madagascar for the local charity in our village to give people faster access to medical care (shortened time to eight hours from three days). We also donated money to build a school in the village and have helped expand a maternity centre for women in a local village.
There are many more like this.
EWP: Influencers, books or films that have influenced your sustainability thinking?
KE: Chelsea Kauai, Kyle Quinn Schrock, Ocean Ramsey and Juan Oliphant, to name a few.
A recent documentary I just watched is Hadwin’s Judgement — that helped to inspire our Golden Spruce line.
EWP: Quotes you live by?
KE: If you’re always ready, you never have to get ready. – Will Smith.
“Time spent among trees is never time wasted.” — Anonymous
To learn more about tentree or browse their extensive range of eco-friendly clothing for men and women, visit tentree.com. Use EWP20 at checkout for 20% off, one time use only.
Credits: EWP editor-in-chief Jennifer Nini wears tentree festival hat, juniper pocket tee and pants. All other fashion accessories are Nini’s own. Photography by Ben McGuire. All other images were supplied.
Disclosure: This post was sponsored by tentree. Clothing was gifted as part of this partnership. Opinions expressed are the writer’s own. Specific product information is checked with the business. For more information about our policies, click here.
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Title image credit: Ben McGuire.