This summer Ramblers Way Farm, a sustainable clothing company, joined Siren’s growing roster of super cool, inspiring clients. It’s exciting for Siren and, in many ways, a full circle for me.
Ramblers Way was launched by Tom Chappell, founder of Tom’s of Maine (TOM), whom I’ve admired for a good 20 years. I first met him about a decade ago when I was with Cohn & Wolfe; TOM had just become the cornerstone clients of our budding sustainability practice. He was no longer CEO then as the company had just been sold to Colgate and Tom had stepped down, supposedly to retire. But we met one evening in Kennebunk. I was there for a meeting; Tom and his wife Kate were out for a stroll around town after dinner when we ran into them.
For me, it was like meeting an eco-rock star. Tom Chappell pursued his personal passion for nature and turned it into massively successful personal care business! Tom Chappell challenged the American Dental Association, helping the world to see that animal testing isn’t the only way to analyze the efficacy of a product! Tom Chappell introduced the revolutionary idea that toothpaste doesn’t have to be made with controversial ingredients like saccharin and SLS! Swoon.
In the beginning, Tom’s refusal to subject animals to product trials meant that his early products had to be sold without the FDA’s stamp of approval. One of his biggest challenges, therefore, was to grow the customer base from a small, uber committed core – I believe we called them Tree Huggers then – to a larger, more mainstream audience. The shared trait among the early users and the millions who’ve tried Tom’s of Maine products since is, of course, a commitment to ethical standards and a willingness to give a cheeky new company a try.
Ramblers Way, which offers timeless sustainable clothing made from natural fibers like wool and cotton, coalesces many of the lessons learned from Tom’s of Maine: a) anything is possible if you have the patience and persistence to look for solutions; b) consumers will support businesses that go the extra mile to demonstrate purposeful values rather than take the short cut; c) a family business is a strong business.
To launch Ramblers Way, Tom established a sustainable supply chain that adheres to high standards, uses ethically sourced materials, and supports unique American suppliers. Like Tom’s of Maine, Ramblers Way challenges our concept of what kind of ingredients a product needs in order to excel – and, in this case, in order to be super comfortable. (Believe me, slipping into the super soft Rambouillet Marino Eva – RW’s version of a LBD – will disavow you of any preconceived notions you have about the itchiness of wool.)
Ramblers Way is not without its challenges. It will have to prove that investing in ethically and well-made clothing offers a more sustained return than the mass-produced T-shirts and tank tops from overseas textile mills. It will need to demonstrate that purpose-driven apparel is also chic and fashionable. And it will need to be smartly positioned so consumers recognize and appreciate the lifestyle it promotes – one in which moving from work to play is fluid and doesn’t necessarily require a change of clothes.
Of course cost is so often at the forefront of what drives consumer decisions. And as we have seen with the organic food industry, it takes years – decades, even – to build an affordable, sustainable supply chain. Thanks to organizations like the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, which developed the Higg Index, and emerging global constructs like the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), change is happening slowly but surely in apparel.
Actually, clothing industry standards have changed significantly faster in the last few years than in the past 20. Global issues like forced labor, human rights abuses and climate change require designers and manufacturers to innovate faster and better. And brands are stepping up. Levi’s has been setting standards for years and continues to raise the bar in every way; H&M is working hard to become a less wasteful business; Eileen Fisher is actively communicating its values as a way to inspire new customers.
One of the things about Ramblers Way that I love most is that it’s a family business. Tom and Kate both come from textile families – Tom’s father ran a wool mill in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, and Kate’s family company, the Cheney Brothers, was the largest manufacturer of silk and velvet in the U.S. Now two of their kids play key roles at Ramblers Way – Chris as head of marketing and Eliza as lead designer for women’s wear – and their son-in-law Nick leads the supply chain.
Working with a family business is a unique experience, and one that I love. The day-to-day has a different tempo - rooted in a deep appreciation of each other. Perhaps it comes from the knowledge that they’re all in it together, no matter what. Perhaps it just comes from love – of each other, of the planet, and of the idea that to come full circle means we get to begin again. Keep an eye on Ramblers Way.