A conversation with The Classic T-Shirt Company co-founder, Paul Garibian
As we’ve likely all experienced, ethical fashion can be… complicated. How do I know where and how it was made? How can I ensure the fabric is quality and earth-friendly? And why is sustainably-made fashion more expensive?
Enter in: The Classic T-Shirt Company, a brand making sustainable style as simple as possible by producing exceptional quality organic cotton essentials—and staying transparent all along the way.
Where and How it Was Made: Committed to localized production, The Classic T-Shirt Company partners with a state-of-the-art factory in Los Angeles that ensures fair wages, good hours, and healthy working conditions for the knitting stage of production and then does the cutting, sewing, quality control, and packaging in-house.
What it’s Made From: The Classic T-Shirt Company creates durable yet soft and lightweight tees for women and men made from 100% premium Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified cotton. The brand even publishes their GOTS certificate number to guarantee maximum transparency.
And when considering long-term sustainability, quality and fit are as important as the source of that material (because the longer we wear our clothes, the fewer pieces we have to purchase).
Considering this, The Classic T-Shirt Company produces each and every tee is carefully using over 20 measurements to ensure a reliable fit. Plus, all fabric is put through shrink tests to guarantee that they will “retain their original shape and quality wash after wash”
Why it Costs More: After becoming accustomed to getting $5 tees and $10 jeans from fast fashion brands, it can be difficult to get used to the prices of sustainable and slow fashion brands. The reality is, we’ve become used to artificially cheap prices that don’t consider the actual costs of cost-per-wear, (it’s not really a good deal if it falls apart after 2 washes!) paying fairly for labor, and sourcing materials in a way that ensures there are still resources available for future generations.
Understandably, though, you may still be wondering—but where does that extra investment I’m paying for an ethical fashion piece actually go? The Classic T-Shirt Company answers that question with their radically transparent pricing model, publishing the exact breakdown of where each dollar that you’re paying for their tees goes.
To explore these topics about production, material sourcing, the importance of organic cotton, the costs of responsible fashion, and more, I interviewed The Classic T-Shirt Company co-founder, Paul Garibian.
Let’s dive in!
Why did you decide to start The Classic T-Shirt Company?
After spending 15 years in the software industry and with our first baby on the way, my wife Olga and I wanted to start something that mattered and by doing so, become a good example to our daughter.
We wanted to improve the world that our baby will come into and when we learned that fashion is a top contributor to some of the worst environmental problems, we said, let’s take one simple product and make it better.
We both love t-shirts and wear t-shirts daily, so we said, why not make the most ethical t-shirts possible?
With 2 billion t-shirts sold annually, we decided to dedicate the company to improve each step of the supply chain of this one product. The brand was launched symbolically on July 4th, 2018—U.S. independence day. All of our manufacturing is done in Los Angeles, CA and hence the date.
Why did you choose organic cotton for your tees? What are the benefits of organic cotton?
Unfortunately, the clothing industry is known to be one of the most inhumane and environmentally damaging enterprises in the world. Garments tend to be made as fast as possible and in inexpensive ways. As a result, clothing quality suffers, and store clothing racks lack conscientious items, such as organic cotton clothing. The vast majority of companies tend to capitalize on the exploitation of workers and practices that endanger our environment.
But as consumers, we have the power of choice. We can use our purchasing power to support companies that aim to make customers and our environment a top priority. And choose to stand against the production of conventional cotton, one of the most chemical-intensive crops to grow that harms both our local and global ecosystems.
You can choose to say no to conventional cotton and say yes to organic cotton, which will ensure that your dollars are motivating a potentially powerful global movement and not contributing to a universal problem.
And why did The Classic T-Shirt Company choose GOTS-certified organic cotton?
This is the only scalable way to make sure the cotton we are using is actually coming from farms that grow and harvest organic cotton.
The Classic T-Shirt Company is committed to social sustainability as much as it is to ecological sustainability. Why do you believe that ethics and labor standards must be considered when building a truly “sustainable” brand?
First, many people in the clothing production industry make less than the poverty line in their respective countries (Bangladesh $68/month vs $73/month poverty line).
Second, that chemicals used in conventional cotton production are very harmful to the waterbed and to the farmers in the rest of the world on small farms. Lastly, we can all make a difference by investing in ethical and quality basics that last longer and do less harm to the planet.
What was it like to create an eco-friendly and ethical brand from the start? Any unexpected challenges?
Coming from the tech industry, people continually ask me, “why you are doing something as basic as a t-shirt?” My answer to them is, to make the most basic product “right”.
It takes commitment to your values and relentless focus. Another big challenge is not getting discouraged by negative feedback. Some things not working day one is always a challenge but we have a very strong reason to do it, and this is what keeps us going.
Why is the cost of sustainable fashion typically higher? Do you think sustainable fashion is inherently more expensive?
Cost-per-wear is a term that the majority of consumers don’t think about when purchasing inexpensive low-quality items. For example, our tees are made with high-quality organic cotton, are pre-washed, and garment-dyed. They last over 60 washes, as a result, being lower in cost per wear than say a $10 t-shirt.
While our brand is focused on making the best t-shirt possible in every way (quality and integrity included), there are a number of sustainable brands that offer ethical products at a fraction of the cost but lower quality so sustainability does not necessarily mean a high price.
One should consider products on 3 dimensions, quality, price and integrity/sustainability. Our brand offers value to the consumer on all 3 dimensions.
Building on this pricing topic, can you talk a bit about your transparent pricing model and what value this gives to individuals?
I live my life on a set of principles and one of them is radical transparency with everyone I deal with, personally or professionally. Hence, our pricing model. Since integrity is one of our brand pillars we wanted to provide this level of information to our community.
What lessons have you’ve learned along your journey that you think would be valuable for aspiring social entrepreneurs out there?
A mission-driven business is still a business. Have your set of values and principles and stay true to them.
Focus on creating value for the end customer and listen to their feedback. Put the customer in the center of all you do. For example, we embroidered our tees and our customers told us it was a bad idea so we discontinued and were able to lower our pricing from $50 to $45 pricing saving to the customer.
Lastly, focus on long-term brand building, and not on trying to create an overnight success. Incremental progress is key but manages your expectations no one else is going to do it for you.
This post was made in partnership with The Classic T-Shirt Company. As always, I only work with brands that meet Conscious Life & Style’s high standards for ethics and sustainability.