A Brunswick-based sportswear manufacturer has joined an elite list of companies recognized for their commitment to the environment. Company founder Jeremy Litchfield (left) is the man behind Atayne, which makes sporting apparel from recycled materials. The 6-foot 4-inch endurance athlete describes himself as Atayne's chief pace-setter. Tom Porter has more.
"Yeah, when you start your own company you get to make up your own title, and CEO, president, didn't suit me as much, so I went with chief pace-setter," Litchfield says with a laugh.
Six years ago, Litchfield says he underwent a 'eureka' moment which changed the course of his life.
"I was out for a run, and I was living in Virginia at the time. It was a very hot and humid day and I went out for a run in this new performance top, and it covered me in red dye," he says. "I was a little uneasy about the whole situation, what sort of chemicals are being absorbed in my body, and just started to do research and realized that the way all this apparel is made, and specifically performance apparel, and what was a passion of mine was running, was very destructive to the environment and has a lot of harmful chemicals in it for people."
And so Litchfield - who majored in biology at Bowdoin College- began doing some research. Within a couple of days he had quit his job and decided he would start his own company making running and cycling apparel. His aim - to make sportswear that performs as well, if not better, than other products on the market..
"But was also about taking care of the environemnt, and preserving the places where active people love to play, and also making sure that what people are putting on their body isn't harming them," he says.
After a year or so of more research, he hit on the idea of making fabric from recycled plastic. It's an expensive and a complicated process, in which used plastic bottles are made into thin, plastic fibers and then spun into fabric. The material is designed to pull sweat away from the body and helps athletes regulate their body temperatures.
Litchfield says other fabrics, like cotton, absorb sweat making the athlete get hotter. But Atayne products do come with a slightly higher price tag. The long-sleeved, quarter-zip running top Litchfield is wearing costs around $65.
But the wearer can console him or herself with this fact: "A shirt this size will probably be - about 12 plastic bottles went into making this shirt, and when you look at that over the larger scale of things, it adds up," he says.
Litchfield says last year his company sold about 30,000 items. This year, that numbers is expected to double. And that means a lot of plastic being kept out of the landfill. "It also takes about 70 percent less energy to make this fabric than a conventional fabric, so that's another number we pay attention to," he says.
The company also gives more than 10 percent of profits to charitable organizations. Atayne's commitment to serving the environment, as well as its customers and the community, has been noticed.
"I'm really impressed with their ability to address a problem they saw in their real life and then use business to take care of it," says Katie Kerr. Kerr is with B Lab, a high profile non-profit based in Pennsylvania, which rates companies not just on their profitability, but also on factors like environmental impact and social responbility.
There are about 750 companies rated as so-called B Corporations across the globe. Atayne has been one since 2009.
Last month it was announced that Atayne had made B-Lab's World's Best list, which means it's in the top 10 percent. Having only about 10 employees - although Litchfield expects that number to quadruple in the next three or four years - it's in the micro-entreprises category.
Katie Kerr says it's Atayne's ability to grow as a company while not purely focusing on the financial bottom line that makes them special. "And I think it really proves that not only is it possible to do business in a better way and redefine what success is, but it also makes for a stronger company."
"We're all about making profit, so we're not a non-profit, but also we measure ourselves by the impact that we're having on communities and the environment," Litchfield says.
Litchfield says companies like Atayne operate what is known as a triple bottom line, or the "three Ps" - which stands for planet, people, and last but not least, profit.
Photo: Tom Porter