Jonas Larsson, the founder and CEO of B-Light Organic and Jonathan O’Donnell, the founder of L’Aquila Active, discuss their ongoing partnership as well as trends in sustainable fashion and European vs. American public opinions on climate change.
Check out this month's featured B-Light leggings HERE!
Jon: Thank you for talking to me I appreciate it. We are L’Aquila active, a sustainable platform for women’s apparel. B-Light organic is one of our favorite brands and one of our partners.
Jon: We've been working together two or three months. So, so first I wanted to congratulate you on your newborn baby. Congratulations! You're not going to sleep a lot but you probably know that already!
Jonas: Haha, yes! I know, thank you!
Jon: So I wanted to ask how you got into sustainable clothing, specifically sustainable active wear?
Jonas: I started wearing it myself first, because I was doing a lot of yoga like them. So I didn't have any organic clothes to wear. And I mean, I didn't want to wear regular clothes. I just I wanted organic and not synthetic clothes, especially when doing Yoga.
Jon: Your clothes are all organic cotton from India, correct? How did you find a company there to produce and manufacture your clothing?
Jonas: Yes, we do all manufacturing in India doing organic cotton and it basically just started from a small factory that we researched and was GOTS certified, which is one of the world’s top organic fiber certifications. And it was just yoga clothes for men to start. But as you know, the female market is much, much larger. So after while our brand also included women. So now, women are maybe 80% of our customers are women.
Jon: Right, yeah. And again, I would not be surprised it’s 80% women and that's why right now I'm not even really focusing on men just because I do think, long term that it's an important market segment. But the women’s clothing market is just so much bigger in general, and in regards to yoga and especially sustainable yoga clothing, it might even be 90-95% of overall demand.
Jon: My second question is why do you prefer I prefer organic cotton compared to some of the other, sustainable fibers such as recycled polyester? That was one of the things that attracted me to B-Light Organic from the beginning because it was very different material, and I'm curious, kind of what inspired the cotton versus some of the other options that are also sustainable?
Jonas: I’ve always known cotton fiber the best my whole life, and always work out in them since I was a boy. This is when polyester was rare to find. One of the biggest benefits of cotton is that it doesn’t attract bacteria, and, it doesn't stink when wet. It also breathes on the body much better. When you're working out and sweating a lot it’s going to get wet. But for me, I’ve always preferred organic cotton as a athlete.
Jonas: Also, there may other fibers we are willing to consider but I haven't explored them enough yet. I mean, one of the negatives with other fibers is that they need added dyes, chemicals etc. and many of them need to be processed in an unsustainable way. In many cases, they can never be organically certified. For me, the GOTS organic certification makes it easier and removes all doubts about where your clothing is coming from and how it’s produced.
Jon: Can you explain the importance of the GOTS organic certification and what it covers? How do you know your manufacturer in India is conforming to those standards?
Jonas: The certification is very important. And I know that our manufacturer in India takes it very seriously, because they will go out of business if they do anything against regulations and they're monitored, at least once a year. And I've been visiting them now four or five times and I know that they are serious, very serious. The certification is extensive, and it covers everything from putting the seeds in the soil until the finished product. It also covers transportation, water chemicals, labor, fair salaries, all socially and environmentally and, more or less, everything is covered. It's a good standard, to have.
Jon: Definitely. And actually I know the GOTS certification is definitely one of the highest standards in the world, and it’s quite comprehensive. I actually didn’t know the standards included labor practices, that’s fantastic.
Jon: How did you find your factory in India? Is it that common in India to produce organic cotton or is it was a very hard to find?
Jonas: After researching for many months, I finally found a factory with the proper certifications and regulations that produced high quality organic cotton clothing. I thought I would end up in a big city, but I ended up with a factory in a small town in the middle of nowhere. Most villagers had hardly ever seen a white European, so it was definitely quite an experience to visit. However, starting out, I sent 10 emails to different manufacturers to see how they responded. And I had some demands about what I wanted to make and along with my requirements. Then I found out that this particular factory was GOTS certified, and that helped us make our final decision
Jon: Tell me a little more about the factory in India in the middle of nowhere – how was your first visit?
Jonas: So, when I visit the factory in India, I stay at the CEOs home. He and his wife moved to the guest room and my wife and me slept in the master bedroom. It was a very simple place, a small apartment with a small plastic kitchen table and little furniture. People lived quite simply, and everyone was very humble, especially the CEO and his family. The CEO was a former English teacher, so that made communication much easier.
Jon: Sounds like quite an adventure! So moving on to another question. Since when you’ve started have you seen a bigger trend towards sustainable clothing and a a greater awareness in general?
Jonas: Yes, absolutely. When we started, people we just talking about non-gmo and organic food, not clothing. However, we are saying a greater awareness in organic clothing each year, driven by both concern for climate change and environmental issues but also because the fabric feels and breathes better!
Jon: Yeah, and I think the same things happening in the United States, too. I mean, like I mentioned, same thing here when a few years ago, people were just talking about organic food. Non GMO food, things like that and now people are realizing that the same kind of crap chemicals go on your body when you wear regular clothing.
Jon: I ordered your leggings and sports bras for my samples and I can tell you that the models, as well as my wife and sister that tried it on, said that you can tell the difference in the way they breathe on your skin for sure.
Jon: My next question is do you think that this consumer trend and growth in awareness is specific to Sweden, Scandavia, or Europe? Or is it a worldwide trend?
Jonas: Well as you know, Great Thunberg is from Sweden, and has become the face of climate change worldwide, so although there may be stronger awareness in Sweden and Europe, it is also growing worldwide. Funny, I think she was actually speaking at the U.N. by New York City by you recently.
Jon: Yes, funny enough, she was talking at the UN building which is right in Manhattan around 42nd Street and First Avenue. Coincidentally, my team and I must have just missed her as we were all in the city, doing marketing for L'Aquila Active and going to different yoga and pilates studios all over Manhattan.
Jonas: Very nice. I think one of the biggest differences in climate change awareness and perception is that in the United States, you're still discussing if there is a problem that or if there is not a problem, or if it exists or not.
Jonas: In Europe. It's like, it's a fact.
Jonas: It's still a little bit strange that you can have the discussion that if it exists or not.
Jon: These are certainly strange times. Funny, Greg Thunberg was actually on my on my questions list later but I feel like I feel like I should ask because you brought it up. Do you think she's helped the movement towards sustainable clothing? I mean she made you think that's helped in terms of making an impact and helping spread awareness.
Jonas: Yes, definitely! In Sweden especially she is like a superhero. It’s hard for me to say about how she’s impacted things abroad, but here people are even more conscious about their carbon footprint, and more awareness about things like flying on planes, mass transport, cycling, etc.
Jon: Awesome to hear! I wanted to change topics and find out a little more about cotton. Can you recycle cotton like your clothing at the end of the product life and into something else easily? Some of the other companies at L’Aquila Active use recycled polyester, and they actually take water bottles and make that plastic into clothing . So the idea is that you're taking away from what would have been in a landfill. With you guys, I know you're making it from scratch right but the organic clothing, but I was just curious how common recycled cotton is.
Jonas: Development to reuse the fabrics, and then create new clothes out of the recycled fabric, it’s not uncommon. However, keep in mind that polyester is made from petroleum, and is much more durable fiber than cotton, so it’s more easily recycled.
Jon: Yeah, exactly. It's a polymer, and all polymers are derivatives of petroleum. And you can really do anything with it.
Jonas: The negative is of course, is the possibility of these chemicals getting into the skin and less breathability.
Jon: Agreed, there are pros and cons to each fabric, I’d say. I think, cotton is superior for breathability as well as minimal risk of chemical absorption through the skin. However, cotton still needs water and land to grow, and has a lower recyclability rate that polyester.
Jon: My next question is about fast fashion. One of the things that got me interested in sustainable fashion was when I started researching it and realized how dirty, polluting and unsustainable fast fashion truly is. And the entire fast fashion industry is designed like this completely on purpose. It's not like our parents growing up or our grandparents, where people made things to last like leather shoes that would last 20 years right or a jacket that you'd have for 10 years. Now everything's made to fall apart, and that's done on purpose. And that's been the rise of fast fashion right.
Jon: One of the things I also found really interesting was that the company that really pioneered and became amongst the world’s largest fast fashion producers is H&M, and that company is headquartered in Sweden. I just found it ironic because the average western European, and especially the Scandinavian’s, are considered far more aware and conscious of climate change and environmental issues in general – especially when compared to Americans or most of the rest of the world.
Jonas: (laughs) Yes, you are right! And of course Greta Thurnberg is Swedish!
And when you look at it that way, I agree it is a bit strange that H&M started and is headquartered here in Sweden.
Jonas: However, I know they are now making large global commitments to reduce CO2 emissions and also making efforts to add sustainable clothing lines such as their "conscious collection." They are also trying make changes to more sustainable fabrics like organic cotton, but to my knowledge not everything is properly labeled, regulated, and certified at this point.
Jon: Yes, it’s definitely hard to trust a large corporation without certifications also when they are using multiple fabrics in one garment for example.
Jonas: Yes, and of course they were caught in a scandal burning unwanted clothes that were new and unsold in 2017!
Jon: I read about that!
Jonas: Unfortunately this is a common practice in retail especially with brands that are priced cheaply– because if too much supply enters the marketplace it can affect their business model and price point.
Jon: What bothers me especially about fashion in general, is that everything almost seems designed to as unsustainable as humanly possible. My point is if you looked at like a designer bag, like Prada or Gucci for example, they're not trying to be sustainable, but at least some high quality items like bags, shoes, jackets, belts can last for a decade or more.
Jon: It reminds me of planned obsolescence in technology right where companies like Apple. You may recall this but after, two years, maybe three or four, they intentionally slow down the devices so you have to buy a new one. It seems like a similar concept in fashion.
Jon: So just wrapping up on a couple of last questions. I know when you first started you told me that you only sold men’s sustainable yoga clothing, but now of course you sell men’s and women’s active wear, althleisure, and some other organic clothing with women’s sales now much higher – how has the market changed since you started five years ago in terms of gender and demographics? Do you see more men buying sustainable clothing than before?
Jonas: Well of course women are always going to a much bigger fashion and apparel market in general in size. That also applies to sustainable clothing also, and women in my opinion, tend to be more environmentally conscious and also trend setters in fashion. That being said, I get many repeat buyers that are men, and they also tend to buy more in bulk. For example, I have a French repeat customer that loves our underwear and tank tops and tends to buy 5-10 at once in many colors. So I think that more and more men are being aware of sustainable fashion and interested in it.
Jon: Right, I agree that in the U.S., trends are somewhat similar in that far less men in general are interested in sustainable and organic clothing, however, the ones that are tend to be very serious and engaged in the sustainable lifestyle. In many cases, these customers are also vegan and/or vegetarian and animal lovers. In some cases, they are also environmentalists and activists and some even follow a zero waste lifestyle.
Jon: We are down to our last question: Where do you see B-Light Organic in the future? For example in one year and also five years from now – what are your bigger plans, especially in regards to international expansion? I know you mentioned this earlier today about greater penetration into the US and Asia or Australia. Where do you see the biggest opportunities for growth?
Jonas: Our long term goal is to become a wholesaler and become one of the world’s top brands for organic cotton clothing. Eventually, we would like wholesale agents and dealers around the world. The good news is in today’s modern society and with the internet, so much can be done remotely. Agents and dealers can download model shoots, photos, ad copy, text, etc. and everything like that easily.
Jonas: That's how I want to work because it takes a lot of money and effort to chase customers that only buy a hundred dollar orders and based on that and you always need to pay to get your customers, unless you're doing a very good SEO work. I mean, the conversion rate is much higher when it's when they Google your company compared to your Facebook advertisement or something like that. Right. So we are going out to working more with resellers around the world. So, if they have inventory, they can choose which products they want, and don’t have to choose all products. They can just take what they want. Recently, we have a new possibility of a partnership like this in Australia.
Jon: Well, we wish you the best of luck of going forward and are very excited for our ongoing partnership together between B-Light Organic and L’Aquila Active. We love your soft organic cotton clothes, and so do our customers! Thank you again for taking the time to speak with me today!
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