It’s hot and the sun is beating down as you run from your morning yoga class to your first meeting of the business day. You’re parched so you reach for your reusable water bottle. It’s gone! “Did I forget it in class? On the train?” It’s the environmental equivalent of my dog ate my homework. A horrible quandary emerges – do you buy a bottle of water from the corner bodega or cafe, with single use plastic destined to be thrown out after you gulp down the water, or do you die a painful death of dehydration?

If this is you, we have some good news. NO NEED TO DIE! There’s a way to give those plastic items a second life. RPET stands for recycled polyethylene terephthalate. RPET is comprised of single use plastics that have been recycled, broken down, and then reformed into textiles that are then made into brand new products.

Just. Like. That.

When creating products out of RPET, 50% less energy is being used than if you were creating brand new products out of virgin polyester.* Further, using RPET creates an incentive for the market to keep plastics out of the landfill, or worse, the incinerator. In India, where we source our RPET, burning of trash is a MAJOR health and environmental issue. WORK+SHELTER is located close to a landfill in Delhi that is constantly being burned. The trash is incinerated, in part, because plastic is such a durable material. Those sad, unlucky plastics that do end up in landfills can take over 700 years to decompose.* With a city of over 20 million inhabitants, that’s a lot of trash taking up a lot of space. So, a lot of it ends up engulfed in flames and then disseminated in the air. 

When we buy fabrics made out of recycled materials we provide a monetary incentive to recycle instead of burn those plastics. What’s more, individuals in parts of India can actually sell their waste to recyclers. Thus, the waste ends up in end products like bags that have real utility, instead of as smoke that pollutes the air. 

At WORK+SHELTER one of our 2020 goals is to reduce the use of virgin materials we use in production. To that end, we like to tell our ethical fashion clients that RPET is a versatile material for both knits and wovens.

For knits, RPET can be combined with organic cotton (GOTS certified), resulting in material that works well for athleisure apparel. Our clients at Samvega, a sustainable clothing brand focusing on eco friendly yoga-wear, decided on this mix for a number of reasons. The polyester dries fast and is super durable, which is great for athletic wear. It’s then combined with cotton to make the garment more comfortable, as cotton is a soft and breathable material. 

For wovens, RPET is smooth and watery to the touch, but also VERY strong. Further, it folds down and is lightweight, making it cheaper to ship than a cotton equivalent. That’s why we used it for our new Weekender bag, custom printed below for our distributor friends Peace by Piece.

“BUT WHAT ABOUT THE MICROFIBERS?!” As you may have heard, RPET is composed of microfibers with very low street cred when it comes to being environmentally friendly. This is definitely an issue, and should be considered during product design and product use. 

Designers should especially consider using RPET in items that can be wiped down, or work to ensure that if their product does need to be washed, their end users are educated about how to reduce microfiber waste. A few recommendations:

  • Recommend cool washing water instead of hot water, as hot water makes it easier for the microfibers to sneak out of products

  • Educate end users about tools like the Cora Ball and GUPPYFRIEND to decrease the amount of microfibers that end up in our waterways

  • Encourage air drying your RPET clothes, rather than using a tumble dry

Despite the microfiber issue, using RPET is a huge upgrade from using virgin polyester. If you’d like to consider using this material for your production, let us know and we can help talk through whether it makes sense for your design. We’re always reachable at [email protected]

 

Theresa VanderMeer

-Founder + CEO

“What do you?” This is one of my favorite questions. After all, I feel super lucky to work with dozens of amazing women in India in my capacity as the CEO of WORK+SHELTER. Someone inevitably asks me next, “Where did this idea even come from? How did you do it?”

I recently shared the answers to these questions on the Becoming Aligned podcast with Maureen Ryan, a Self Discovery Mentor and all around lovely person. We talked about some other juicy stuff too including:

  • How to use business as a vehicle for good
  • Tips on being a more conscious consumer
  • The special importance of self-care and preventing burnout for entrepreneurs 

…and more!  This conversation helps to paint a picture of how a tiny dream became a thriving business, and provides a better understanding of the personal journey that helped shape and inspire me.  Enjoy 🙂

 

 

Theresa VanderMeer

-Founder + CEO

 

 


“Helping women? Alleviating poverty? And trying to do right by the environment? It sounds like you’re trying to boil the ocean.”

In a world where the shark tank is revered, businesses that believe in doing good are still as uncommon as a blue whale. The traditional advice is to first get rich, by any cost necessary, and then throw some of your profits over the fence to clean up the mess you helped create (for example, fast fashion empire H&M is widely known as one of the worst environmental offenders, but its foundation takes credit for “protecting the planet.” So of course a mission that works to make change in multiple arenas at the same time would be viewed as overly ambitious.

But we don’t care. At WORK+SHELTER, we want it all.

To that end, we’re becoming a B Corp. The B in B Corp stands for “Benefit.” This holistic certification proves that not only are we creating value for the women we work with in India, but also for our suppliers, our local community, and the environment. The whole damn ocean. 🙂

As a founder, I’ve loved how going through the B Corp assessment has challenged us to create scalable infrastructure that will help us build a better company long term. For example, we have known that the paid training we offer our female stakeholders in India is a lifeline that helps them emerge from poverty, but we weren’t consistently tracking the details of how much the women were making before. The B Corp assessment encourages tracking metrics, because only by tracking them can we work to improve our impact. This means that a year from now we’ll be able to share exactly how much of an impact we were able to make.

As a consumer, going through the B Corp certification process has shifted my purchasing habits. When I see a B Corp logo on a product, I know that the makers behind it are legit. So even if I’m just popping into Target on my way home from yoga class, I know I have options for protein powder, vitamins, and snack bars. Further, many well-known companies such as Patagoni, Athleta, Everlane, and Bombas are B Corp certified too. They prove to the rest of us that it’s possible to have it all.

Stay conscious ya’ll!

-Theresa VanderMeer

Founder + CEO

 

 

 

Thank you to our good friend Laura Vogel at Conscious Creators Co. for taking the time to chat with our founder Theresa VanderMeer!  Below you may read her kind words about how WORK+SHELTER came to be:

 

 

“Sometimes the stars of location and inspiration align, as they did for me when I stumbled upon WORK+SHELTER. Always on the lookout for conscious content and organizations to follow, my scrolling thumb stopped on a vibrant, joyful photo of Indian women posing with rad, handmade bags. I went to the profile, then to the website, then to the contact page. I wanted to know more and had to get in touch. Not too long after, I heard back and learned that the founder lived just a few minutes from me. If that’s not a green light to keep going on an idea, I’m not sure what is.

When I met Theresa VanderMeer, Founder and ‘She-EO’ of this incredible business, she welcomed me by making one of the best cups of chai I’ve ever had, truly. For most interviews I try to get in and out, imposing as little as possible on a busy person’s day, but this was not one of those interviews. While Theresa is incredibly busy, she is also very tuned in, genuine and generous with her time, as we ended up talking for several hours that afternoon. She sets a kind of “what’s the rush?” tone that still reminds me to slow down and be more intentional about things and interactions. As she does at the shelter, Theresa brings you in and connects in a thoughtful way. She shared heartfelt stories about how she initially met some of the women who now work at WORK+SHELTER, along with moments of full-circle impact that demonstrate the power of this business model. She talked about two sisters, one older who could work and one younger who was not enrolled in school. She spoke to the family about employing the older sister, which would provide funds for the younger one’s education. Upon Theresa’s return some years later, she saw the young girl walking down the road in her school uniform, two feet taller and looking ready to take on the world. 

 

                

It is that kind of direct correlation and human connection that makes WORK+SHELTER such a unique and inspiring model of how businesses can pay it forward, creating future generations of empowered, skilled women and communities. In addition to the give-back principle, their product-based mission is to make it easy for organizations to purchase wholesale quantities of high quality, ethically made, customized sewn goods. In a world full of corporate freebies such as frisbees, pens, nylon swag bags and all kinds of other disposable, not-so-environmentally-friendly items, WORK+SHELTER provides an alternative that is primarily sourced from natural, recycled and organic materials or low-impact raw materials. They are also currently looking into more closed-loop systems for reducing and re-using the fabric scraps and other waste created by their production cycle. Theresa has future plans to expand WORK+SHELTER into a green community space full of plants, resources and activities. The future is bright for this company and its New Delhi family. Next time you need t-shirts, giveaway bags for an event, aprons for your kitchen staff, or any other branded bulk items, I encourage you to order through WORK+SHELTER to be part of a powerful movement and lend a hand to lift up these wonderful women.”