When you buy a Boerum top, you'll know everything about where and how that item was produced.
There is a strong and steady current of resistance standing up to the world of fast fashion. People are tired of not knowing anything about the clothes they buy; they are concerned about the harsh working conditions, slavery, and environmental damage caused by the industry; and they would rather spend money on a high quality product, not something cheap that loses its shape after a few washes.
Boerum Apparel is a great example of a company that is determined to do things differently. Based in Brooklyn, New York, Boerum is working hard to raise the bar on ‘radical transparency’ by sharing information about each garment’s journey from plant or animal to the finished product.
“The labels on our new sweatshirts don’t just say ‘Made in America’. They show where our cotton was grown, where it was turned into fabric, and where that fabric was sewn into the finished sweatshirt,” says founder Teel Lidow.
Lidow’s quote reminds me of a conversation I had at the World Ethical Apparel Roundtable in Toronto last fall, when an H&M spokesperson said that “there wasn’t room on the label to put all that information.” Obviously companies such as Boerum do manage to find the space if it’s a top priority.
Boerum sells sweatshirts exclusively at this point, made from organic cotton and merino wool. The cotton is grown on a cooperative of 16 farms in northwest Texas and milled in the Carolinas:
“This network of farms grows their high quality organic cotton alongside peanuts, wheat, blue corn, milo, forage sorghum, soybeans, black-eye peas, and watermelons, and sends their excess cottonseed to organic dairies as feed. The region's dry climate naturally suppresses pests and weeds, which helps organic practices flourish, but the cooperative's farms get enough rain that many of the member growers grow their crops without any added irrigation.”
Boerum uses merino wool that comes from a third-generation family-run farm in central New Zealand:
“The majority of the sheep's lives are spent grazing the 14,000 acres of hill country, where John and Susan regularly rotate small flocks to prevent overgrazing or degradation of the soil. The relatively high altitude and cool climate in the hills protect the sheep from fly strike without the use of painful and inhumane preventative methods like mulesing (which is also generally prohibited under New Zealand law).”
The workers who mill the wool have a long personal relationship with the sheep farmers of the area:
“The mill workers, some of them third generation employees, can tell you which farm a particular fiber is coming from and which finished product it will wind up in, allowing them to tailor the yarn to the characteristics of the farm's fiber and the requirements of the finished garment.”
This is an entirely different sort of operation from the usual way in which clothes are designed, manufactured, and sold. Conventional retailers do not share information about the supply chain, in part because they do not know, but also because they don’t want to know.
Boerum’s sweatshirts range from $89 to $220, depending on the fabric. Boerum plans to launch basic t-shirts for $24 in the near future. All items are sold online.