Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
People want to know where their food comes from, yet they don’t seem to care about the origins of their clothing. Brendan Synnott and Pact Organic Clothing are out to change that.
The small “basics” brand — they boast “socks with soul” and “altruistic underwear”— offers products made with 100 percent organic cotton sourced from fair trade factories powered by the wind.
“We’re the basics brand for the changed generation,” Synnott said. “Any consumer that votes with their dollar, wants authenticity, transparency and better-for-you products, we represent that within the basics category.”
The goal is to bring transparency into the outdoor industry via avenues similar to those in the organic food industry, where Synnott’s career took its first upward turn. (Perhaps you’ve heard of Bear Naked Granola or Evol Burritos — both were Synnott’s brainchildren.) He credits the food category for making words like “organic,” fair trade” and “sustainable energy” part of our everyday vernacular and for laying the foundation for these movements to take place in other industries. “Now that people are buying organic milk and fair trade chocolate and fair trade coffee, those concepts have matured in the consumers’ general consciousness,” he said.
Why the focus on socks and panties? For one thing, people have an intimate relationship with these consistent products. “Everyday, all day, people are wearing basics,” Synnott said.
Basics are also resistant to seasonal changes and the whims of fashion, allowing Pact to select a single supplier and thoroughly investigate its supply chain. In addition, the packaging around socks and underwear gives the brand a platform to tell its story, and in turn, connect with the consumer.
From an environmental perspective, Pact’s focus on cotton addresses a string of supply chain issues. While cotton is a universally loved fabric thanks to its natural, breathable and odor-resistant qualities, when cotton isn’t organic, it causes significant harm to the environment. Ten percent of the world’s agricultural chemicals and 25 percent of the world’s insecticides are sprayed on cotton, Synnott noted. He also points to the tragic correlation between cotton farming and farmer suicides in India. “It’s not only an environmental problem, but a community problem. Conventional cotton exploits people and the planet in a big way,” he said. “Everybody loves cotton, but there’s a real supply chain issue.”
Pact’s push into the outdoor industry was “obvious,” Synnott said, given the environmental awareness of consumers in the space. The movement comes after the brand’s great success in Whole Foods branches across the country.
Not that the road has been entirely easy. “Building a supply chain with values is really hard,” Synnott said. He noted the difficulty of sourcing organic cotton and finding a fair trade factory open to transparency in every capacity.
Another issue: Outdoor consumers’ general aversion to cotton. “Cotton is a bad word in the outdoor industry, which boggles my mind,” Synnott said, pointing to cotton’s natural nature. “Everybody that walks into the outdoor store owns a ton of cotton already, they’re just going to other places to buy it. So to offer branded cotton basics in an outdoor retailer takes people a second.”
Pact will rely on the retailer to help consumers make the connection between responsible sourcing and their cotton basics. It’s a challenge he believes specialty retailers in particular are up for. “It’s the job of small retailers to offer something unique, something that connects to their consumer base. Those independents can partner with you to tell your story, and I think we have something unique for them,” Synnott said.
He also pointed out the shared values, noting that consumers who shop at small retailers are likely to be the same ones buying natural, organic and fair trade products. “[They’re] making these choices in other parts of [their] life, whether buying Seventh Generation baby products or organic milk or fair trade coffee. We’re going to offer you the basics with a similar ethos to what you believe in,” Synnott said.