"As always, our goal has been and remains to be the most environmentally and socially responsible product available" - RECOVER BRANDS
It all started wITH...
A passion for preserving the natural environment, advancing a family heritage in the textile industry, and lifting others while you climb. These are the forces guiding RecoverBrands, a genuinely sustainable apparel company based in Charlotte, NC
One major challenge to making products [textiles] at home - the workforce. While North Carolina State University and Clemson University for example still produce highly qualified textile students, a lot of said students are going into design, engineering, marketing, and branding. Where the textile industry is lacking from a job standpoint is more so the cut and sew side of things; which is the skilled labor. Most of the rest of the supply chain is automated, according to Bill Johnston, President of Recover Brands, "Americans just really haven't gotten into that since NAFTA. So since the mid-1990's and the big companies started "off shoring" big jobs, people just haven't gone into that workforce. It's a challenge in localizing, but we're very excited about this Recover local supply chain."
As a WNC based company, Recover Brand sits in a historically rich textile area. All the while the company is quickly garnering attention to this area and a lot of the manufacturing that is coming back. The story began in 2010, and it's a pretty cool story.
Bill Johnston grew up in Statesville, NC. His father worked in textiles, the knitting business specifically, his whole career. Bill grew up in textiles and not surprisingly enrolled at NC State in the textile school. Upon graduating, despite having all of that exposure to the textile industry, all he wanted to do was be in the outdoor industry. The very next day following graduation ceremonies, Bill began working for an outdoor company headquartered in Asheville, NC called Moondance Adventures. Moondance runs programs for teenagers that take them on extended backpacking/mountaineering trips, with a footprint on four continents. They also have a significant community service element on some programs.
Bill was focused on the wilderness trips, backpacking the western part of the US - Jackson Hole, Colorado, Wyoming, and in Europe. He knew he wanted to be in some environmental field as he loved the education aspect of the job. "It's important to note that I graduated from STATE in 2008 [laughs] so it was not a good time to go into the real world. Rather, It was a good time for me to investigate the aforementioned ventures, but I quickly knew I wanted to be involved with sustainability and something firmly environmentally centered."
That's when Bill connected with John Brittle, his business partner. John lives in Hickory and has sold yarn to Bill's father's business for years. Bill was/is a big mountain biker and at the time was starting to dabble in road biking while living down in Charleston, SC. "I went and met with John just to buy a road bike because my Dad told me that I ought to give John a call because he's been into riding for a long time and had a garage full of extra bikes.
So I went to John's in Hickory and got a new bike and made a new friend, mentor, and subsequent business partner."
Instantly Bill and John hit it off. Bill told John of his wish to move into something involving sustainability, but as of yet had not found the mechanism. There among the bikes, John introduced Bill to the technology for recycled textiles. "It was a relatively new technology, and we were just throwing about different ideas such as recycled plastic and up cycled cotton and a lot of various products, which were instantly fascinating to us. From there we continued the dialog [often talking business while riding single track all over the local mountains]and ultimately decided to start this "side" business. The idea was to create a brand that used 100% recyclable materials and sustainable products. Initially, our plan was to get into doing more retail oriented products to sell to Outdoor stores, which is still a big part of our business - a focal point, but it's not the CORE of what we're doing."
At that time Bill was in the transition of moving from Charleston, SC to Asheville, NC and still working for Moondance (4 years) as their Program Director. The evolution of creating a sustainable apparel business moved slowly at first. "I was building Recovery Brands largely during the off season and incrementally when time allowed. At that point what I was doing with Moondance was still my dream job. That continued for a couple of years until we started seeing some momentum from our products. We realized we were able to make an excellent product that people were responding to. I started reaching out to some larger scale events, as well as breweries, and others when we realized there was a big market for making custom products - what we call our Co Brand program, where we take other companies' products and put their logo on there. Of course, we still have the Recovery Brand logo on there, so it's kind of a "co-brand product."
Bill and John quickly realized there was a significant opportunity where consumers wanted and were more interested in more sustainable products. As an example, the traditional promotional products industry was offering what are conventionally cheap products; although, that industry wanted better products. The problem was that industry didn't contain classic apparel companies, so they didn't have the assets to source sustainable products. That's when the wheels started turning and "we realized there's some traction here." One of the biggest programs they launched was a uniform program for UNC - Chapel Hill's medical program of all things. Bill had a friend who was in medical school who put him in touch with one of the school's buyers. "That's when we started identifying more and more opportunities such as the abundance of summer camps in WNC. You know there's no shortage of events, and outdoor adventure companies et cetera."
By 2012 Recover Brand had turned into a "real business" Bill laughs. The first year Recovery Brands sold approximately $10,000 of products on a "very, very part-time basis." The upside of that is the fun of going to concerts to see bands you like and then see the tour manager to discuss your product. The next year saw an excellent jump to $70,000 in sales. The discussion changed by 2012 when sales reached $370,000 worth of product. Naturally, the focus became "Okay, this business deserves a little more attention." Bill was still working for the outdoor adventure company, which meant that he would put an out of office message on his email/phone to say something like "I'm out of the office for the next five weeks. I'll get back to you." Nope, that dog won't hunt. Bill and John knew that their venture would always be part-time unless they committed full-time. The leap of faith was taken to go full-time, and the business has continued to snowball over the seven years.
What goes into Recover Brand products? Recycled PET and up-cycled cotton (definition: Turning textile waste into valuable new yarns for many life-cycles) and a commitment by Recover Brands to incorporate their philosophy to educate consumers about making sustainable choices and giving them alternatives to buying products that are cheaply made and won't last. Recover Brand products that have a very long life cycle. "We want to get folks fired up about our philosophy and products whether it be a summer camp, a school, race, or a festival. We feel like if we can reach that end consumer by making them aware that shirt they just got is made from 8 plastic bottles, well, it's such a WIN in so many ways. It's about sustainable choices no matter the age".
CoBrand Program - Any blank shirt in Recovery Brand line will automatically display the Recovery Brand logo on the inside neck of the shirt along with a small patch on the right sleeve. If a customer wants to order 100 or 1,000 shirts the company will screen print or have a digitally sewn logo placed on the shirts in-house. "RB" will work with the customer to finalize the details and then deliver within 10 days of finalizing the order.
Recover T-shirt - The core of the company, the fabric for the shirts is made in the Carolinas. The finished fabric is then sent to Haiti where it's cut and sewn by a work co-op that creates sustainable jobs in developing countries. RB sends the finished fabric to Haiti, it's cut and sewn, and then it comes back to RB. Just another of the many examples of following the mission plan of creating 100 % recycled/sustainable materials, and creating jobs in communities that desperately need it.
Made in the Carolinas Line - The local line that's making products that are all within a 150-mile radius of the home office. They are still using/producing all sustainable materials, but localizing that local supply chain from the yarn all the way down to the finished product: Polo style shirts, T-shirts, hats, beanies, socks, bags, etc.