For years, the fashion industry has been a topic of controversy, particularly on the subject of sustainability. While the fashion sector is continually booming — boasting over 75 billion employees worldwide and valued at $2.5 trillion — people are drawing more attention to the negative environmental impacts that the industry is causing, like carbon emissions, pollution, incorrect water usage, and micro-plastics.
That’s why Derrick Emsley founded his sustainable fashion company, Tentree, to show how clothing brands can responsibly consume resources for their products and give back to the environment.
Tentree is a Canadian-based apparel company that sells outerwear and accessories for men, women, and children. Each time a customer buys an item, the company plants 10 trees. So far, Tentree has planted nearly 50 million trees worldwide and aims to plant 1 billion by 2030.
“We look at ourselves as a tree-planting company that sells apparel, not an apparel company that sells trees — that’s a distinction that’s unique to us,” Emsley tells Environment911. Here’s how Emsley is effectively promoting sustainability in the fashion industry — ten trees at a time.
From High School Student to Eco-Expert
The origins of Tentree date back to 2006 when Emsley and his brother attended high school. As discussions of pollution, carbon emissions, and even the world ending began to spread, the Emsley brothers were upset that nobody was taking any action.
So, the duo took it upon themselves to buy a few acres of farmland in Saskatchewan, plant some trees, and launch their own business to help encourage ethical manufacturing and sustainable sourcing. After five years, the Emsley brothers had sold the equivalent of $150,000 in offsets to crown corporations. However, after experiencing some difficulty meeting their goal for a carbon offset, they closed the business.
But this wasn’t the end of the road for Derrick Emsley. Soon after shutting down the company, he had an idea to create and sell a product, and use that as a method to plant trees. “We knew tree-planting, we knew how to do it scalable, we knew great partners across the globe to work with to create incredible messaging, and we knew the impact,” Emsley says.
In 2012, Emsley founded Tentree. At first, the company merely sold plain t-shirts with logos on them, but as Emsley discovered that sustainability didn’t mean they had to be frugal with style, Tentree reinvented their clothing lines with more fashionable and appealing designs.
“We went from having zero sustainable products and sourcing blanks to making our own 99.9 percent sustainable product, apart from some trims and zipper pulls that we are working on — virtually everything we make is either recyclable, organic, or fair trade.”
Today, Tentree continues its tree-planting project, and customers can even keep track of how many trees have been planted on the company’s About page.
Turning Trees Into Wearable Items
Leading up to the company’s relaunch, Emsley compared his products to other company’s products to effectively determine what was needed to make his items more sustainable. Using an eco-log, Emsley and his team were able to see how much water and energy they saved in their production processes.
Since the businesses’ relaunch, Tentree works to create sustainably sourced products. So far, the company has produced a tree fleece, a tree blend, and a tree waffle. Each fabric is made with a material called Tencel, a lyocell fiber, which occurs by dissolving wood pulp and using a special drying process called spinning. During the production process, Tencel needs less energy and water than regular cotton, which makes it a more sustainable alternative.
The company’s most recent sustainable material launch is its tree fleece, which contains a mixture of Tencel, organic cotton, and recycled polyester. The Tencel is delicately woven into the recycled polyester, which prevents pilling and the formation of micro-plastics.
The company also maintains transparency on where all of its goods are sourced. Tentree spruced its accessories, hats, and backpacks from Vietnam, while its activewear comes from the Philippines. Tentree also uses fair-trade organic cotton in their apparel sourced from India.
Additionally, the company is looking to address micro-plastics or small plastic pieces found in clothing that can be harmful to the ocean and aquatic life. To combat this problem, Tentree is studying circularity sustainability, which involves designing products that can be reused, repaired, and remanufactured. This ensures that once a product reaches the end of its life, it won’t be destructive to the environment.
Partnering Up With Charitable Organizations
Tentree was founded on the premise that every consumer has the right to know what they’re contributing to and how it’s affecting our planet. In April, Emsley made the list of Real Leaders’ 70 Environmental Leaders of 2021 for his role in empowering a new generation of environmentally focused consumers.
Tentree has gone on to partner up with various charitable organizations across the world to help plant trees and restore ecosystems. Some of the organizations include One Tree Planted, Eden Reforestation Projects, and Trees for the Future.
As far as the actual tree-planting part of the business goes, Emsley and his team must regularly decide on several factors to effectively determine where to plant the trees. One of the main considerations is the environmental need and impact, meaning wherever they plant the trees, there has to be a convincing environmental need in that area — like habitat restoration or ecological support.
“We aim to find projects that have some compelling job creation, food security, education component. Right now, we’re planting in Madagascar, Senegal, Nepal, Haiti, Canada, the USA, and Mexico,” says Emsley.
Reaching Their Goal, Ten Trees at a Time
Built from the ground up, Emsley’s business combines innovation and sustainability to create stylish clothing. Amidst an industry struggling to deal with negative environmental issues, Tentree continues to raise the standard of production while maintaining transparency with its customers.
And the company isn’t just concerned with plants trees on the land. Tentree is also looking toward their next venture — sea forestation, restoring kelp forests, and even creating a seaweed-based shirt.
“It’s what we’ve been trying to build as a company that connects people with tree-planting in a really powerful way. At the end of the day, we’re not planting trees, it’s the person that’s purchasing the product. You want to feel it. We’re just the vehicle that’s making it possible,” says Derrick.