As the former Director of Sustainability for Smartwool, Robin Hall spent his days making sure his company produced clothes that were environmentally friendly. When Smartwool moved to the Front Range a few years ago, she decided to stay in Steamboat Springs and co-founded Town Hall, the only US-based tech clothing brand for kids. With Town Hall’s frontline hitting the market last fall, we caught up with Hall to discuss producing gear for little adventurers, how it will compete with giants like Patagonia and reasons why clothes shipped from China can be considered durable.
5280: Why design only for children and adolescents?
Robin Hall: There is a huge hole in the market for children’s clothing. Brands overlook children because wholesalers and retailers don’t really budget for it, and margins on children’s clothing are usually very high. In addition, in the past, parents did not want to spend money on beautiful children’s clothes. But with COVID-19, people have not been able to travel by air, so they are spending more time with their children outside and focusing on purchasing better quality children’s equipment. We’re also finding that parents who are truly outdoor enthusiasts don’t want to come home early because their child is cold or uncomfortable, so they are investing in better children’s clothing as well.
Why did you decide to manufacture in China? Wouldn’t it be more sustainable to manufacture products in the United States?
This could do if the United States had the right equipment to produce waterproof clothing and a skilled workforce that could make it durable enough to last. Sustainability is our number one priority, and the most durable garment is one that stays in use for as long as possible. The producers of the highest quality outerwear are found in Asia. Asia also manufactures all recycled materials, so even if we had national tailoring, we would be forced to import all fabrics, insulation and fasteners.
So what makes town hall clothing sustainable?
According to Utah State University, up to 90% of the carbon footprint created by apparel companies comes from the transformation of raw materials into finished product. Thus, by using recycled content, we significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Our Mountain Town Winter Jacket ($ 180) is over 95 percent recycled. It would be 100 percent, except our order was too small to get recycled gaiters, zippers and velcro. We have mainly eliminated individual plastic packaging and hang tags. We also care about social sustainability, so we chose a factory with a gold level certification from WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production), an organization that monitors the ethical and environmental standards of factories. And we buy carbon offsets so that we’re not just carbon neutral, but carbon positive. Some people criticize carbon offsets as an easy fix – you just write a check to apologize for your harm – but by funding local environmental efforts we believe we can achieve real benefits.
How will you compete with established brands like The North Face?
Bigger brands have led the way for us, because when they switch to more environmentally friendly manufacturing methods, they move mountains that we can’t. I think people are hungry for new and interesting brands and small businesses.