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LL Bean Meets PACT: Tom’s of Maine Founds New Company for Wool Skivvies

| Friday March 5th, 2010 | 0 Comments

ban-startup-friday

Like LL Bean? Everyone knows how great its clothes are. Sure, they’re not known for being terribly stylish — but there’s something comforting about that Northeastern, down-homey functionality and durability. Just the right thing for a weekend working on the farm, taking a hike, or clearing brush.

Or what about PACT?  Recently profiled by MC O’Connor in another Startup Friday post, PACT’s gained many fans with its offbeat, half sexy, half cheeky approach to sustainably sourced underwear. It’s the kind of thing for sustainability geeks to wear when trying to be cool and sustainable at the same time.

But PACT doesn’t exactly communicate burly robustness, and you’ll be hard pressed to find many sustainable items at the LL Bean online store. Enter Ramblers Way Farm, a new apparel venture from the founders of Tom’s of Maine, Tom and Kate Chappell. Specializing in all types of base-layer clothing, Ramblers makes their products out of sustainably-produced wool, which is farmed and processed domestically, rather than relying on overseas facilities.

Navigate to the Ramblers Way site, and you’ll be struck by a few things right off the bat.

  1. These clothes are functional and sustainable, but not sexy. They’re available in any color you like, as long as that color is off-white.
  2. Ramblers Way dedicates almost as much content on its website to sustainable business practices as it does to the clothes themselves.

Delve deeper into the site, and you’ll see that the sustainability advantages really pile up. The wool used in Rambler’s products is an obviously natural and renewable resource, and is produced without the harmful chemicals that often are used to treat traditional wool. This wool is produced, processed, and sold all domestically, vastly reducing greenhouse gas emissions that might result from shipping wool around the globe (side note: it’s very rare to source wool from American sources, as American wool accounts for only .77% of worldwide production).  The farms that the sheep are raised on use sustainable farming methods, and the sheep are treated humanely. Finally, the entire venture provides domestic jobs, preserves farmland, and runs partially on solar power — to play soothing music for the sheep, we assume.

So what’s the takeaway? Well, for one, it’s clearly a win to have another high quality, sustainable apparel provider out there. Companies like PACT, nau, and END (that short list willfully ignores plenty of other great outlets — feel free to suggest some more in the comments!) can only make so many products, so having more supply for this type of gear is great. And Ramblers does seem to go one step further than many other sustainable clothing makers, by controlling all aspects of the production process, making sure every step is sustainable, and of course doing it all on American soil.

But at least for this author, Ramblers doesn’t quite fulfill my every need. For one, I generally like to buy my underwear for a little less than $80. Making the price so high will put clothes like this out of most people’s reach, and unfortunately may contribute to the perception that “sustainable = only for rich people.” Also, call me crazy, but I do appreciate colors other than off-white, and styles that mix a little, well, style in with the functionality. I can’t help but wonder if such designs will only reinforce the beliefs of someone who thinks that sustainability means boring and unfun.

Overall, I’m confident that Ramblers makes high quality, sustainable clothes and will be a valuable addition to the market. I may pick up a pair for my next hike, although I’m going to stick with my more urban second hand clothes around town.


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