The “Company Profile” is an Earth911.com series highlighting consumer goods and services making a difference through product stewardship and recycling. Products and services featured do not pay for placement and are not endorsed by Earth911.com.
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Run.
That is the mantra of Virgina-based Atayne Sportswear, who makes performance apparel from, well, trash. The company makes gear from recycled materials, hoping to attract a clientele who “run hard and tread lightly.”
If you’ve ever been to a race, you’ve probably noticed that the discarded water cups and water bottles strewn across the ground outnumber the runners by an alarming ratio. A paradox, considering many runners connect with the sport because it allows them to be out in the elements, enjoying nature and their surroundings. Jeremy Litchfield of Atayne noticed this paradox as well. He also noticed another shocking fact that would lead to the founding of the recycled apparel company.
It All Began With a Red Shirt
Jeremy Litchfield, “Chief Pacesetter” of Atayne, founded the company in May 2007 after a hot
summer’s day run left him covered in red dye from his new performance top. Jeremy bought the now infamous red shirt, which was advertised to “reduce skin temperature and dry three minutes faster than the competition,” to begin training for the Chicago marathon. Covered in red dye, Jeremy asked himself “what nasty chemicals were being absorbed into his body as he was trying to make himself healthier by running.” The answer, as it turned out, was:
- About one-tenth of a gallon of petroleum
- Heavy metals
- Azo dyes
- Chemical finish
Thinking about the chemicals associated with traditional running gear and their impact on human and environmental health, he decided to drive positive change in the industry with a line of recycled, eco-friendly gear. One thing would be certain with this line: it will never contain a red shirt!
In addition to learning about the chemicals associated with running apparel, Jeremy also learned that 85 percent of the $6 billion annual U.S. performance apparel sales end up in the landfill when athletes trash worn gear. He decided to do something about both the chemicals and the landfill waste.
Traditional performance wear is made from virgin, non-renewable materials, but Atayne performance apparel is made from trash. Recycled plastic bottles are broken down into polyester fibers, then manufactured into new apparel. Traditional polyester materials are enhanced with chemicals to aid in speed drying and odor control, but Atayne’s materials are enhanced with “cocona,” an embedded charcoal material made from recycled coconut shells.
Atayne’s goal of putting people and the planet first is benefiting the environment in four main ways:
- Landfill Reduction – “In the U.S., we don’t recycle enough plastic bottles,” said Litchfield. By using materials that are traditionally though of as trash, Atayne is redirecting plastic bottles from the landfills to your closet.
- Energy Use – Recycled polyester uses 70-80 percent less energy than using virgin polyester in performance apparel manufacturing.
- Consumer Care – 80 percent of apparel impact comes from consumer care – mainly washing and drying. Using cocona to enhance the polyester means odor is controlled longer and drying is faster. Atayne hopes this means their apparel is also not washed as frequently or dried as long as traditional performance wear.
- Action – Atayne organizes activities focused on cleaning up the environment.
Putting Their Mantra to Work
Atayne not only talks the talk, they walk the walk or run it rather. The Atayne Team organizes volunteers to work alongside race routes, reducing and recycling waste. At a recent Maryland marathon, Jeremy and his team ran behind the pack with recycling bins placed in jogging strollers and picked up waste as they ran. They managed to decrease the waste from a norm of two full dumpsters, to half of one dumpster through recycling.
Jeremy recognizes that the performance apparel industry has come a long way with regards to sustainability. Companies like Nike, Under Armour and Adidas all have their sights set on sustainability, a step in the right direction. But, there is a lot more to be done.
With regards to recycling, Jeremy believes two main things need to occur to make recycled apparel more of a mainstream commodity:
More companies need to make use of materials on the back end, so the cost of trash goes up. “It’s an interesting dynamic when it becomes cheaper to bury things in a landfill rather than reusing them,” said Litchfield. With every company that makes an effort to reuse recycled materials, the value of trash will increase.
- Curbside recycling of plastic needs to increase. Many curbside programs only accept plastics #1 (PETE) and #2 (HDPE), even though the other types can be recycled. If more plastic was collected curbside and not landfilled, more materials would be available for recycling into new products.
Atayne is currently focused on apparel, but hopes to branch out to other areas in the next few years. In the immediate future, Atayne plans to implement “community organizers,” individuals responsible for organizing “trash runners” around their communities to keep the paths, trails and places they love, clean.
“Reduce is probably the responsible answer,” said Litchfield. “But the fun one for us is reuse.” The Atayne team is constantly looking for creative ways to make new products from trash. Jeremy is often reminded “of being five years old again, having all this fun stuff in front of you and just wondering ‘what can I make out of this?'”