Sustainable Clothing Company Turns Customers into “Rainforest Ambassadors.”
Overview: Tree Shirts is an online clothing company based out of Cleveland, Ohio that makes an impact all the way in South America. For every Tree Shirt purchased, the company plants one tree to restore Brazil’s Atlantic Forest. Tree Shirts “shrinks” the planet by educating customers about the importance, for all people, of preserving the rainforest.
Innovation: Tree Shirts developed a partnership with Reserva Ecologica de Guapiacu (R.E.G.U.A), ONNO shirt maker, and Cleveland-based printing company Jakprints to design stylish, comfortable t-shirts and plant one tree in the Atlantic Forest per purchase. The shirts are made by ONNO, using sustainably-sourced bamboo, hemp, and organic cotton, giving them a unique and cozy texture. Bamboo is grown without pesticides, rarely needs replanting, grows rapidly, and requires zero irrigation. It grows at a rate of 2 inches per hour and matures in 3-5 years in contrast with the 25-50-year maturation cycle of trees. It also is incredibly cool, breathable, and soft. Organic cotton is a sustainable alternative to traditional cotton, one of the most pesticide-heavy crops. It is a rotation crop and does not erode soil like traditional monoculture cotton. The shirts are eye-catching and are designed to be the catalyst for a conversation about rainforest restoration.
Inspiration: Tess Barsody and RJ Hoover were two college classmates that shared a passion for the environment as well as entrepreneurship. After learning about the rapid rate of deforestation caused by urbanization and agriculture, the two decided to use business as vehicle to restore the Atlantic Forest of Brazil. The idea for Tree Shirts was born in a social entrepreneurship class at John Carroll University. The assignment was to create an entirely sustainable business model. After plenty of hard work and an A+ grade, the business model was entered into a Cleveland-area entrepreneurship competition where it was awarded prize money that was directly invested to start up Tree Shirts.
Overall Impact: Through its partnership with Brazil’s REGUA, Tree Shirts has planted hundreds of trees that are self-sustaining and protected in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil. It has also begun a local conversation of conservation in the Cleveland area. A Tree Shirt is a reminder for its wearer to be mindful of his or her footprint in day-to-day life.
Business Benefit: A Tree Shirts order helps support an entire supply chain of sustainable businesses. Tree Shirts informs ONNO of the order, which sends a shipment of bamboo shirts to Jakprints to have the design sustainably printed on the shirt. The shirts are sold at a profit with a percentage going to REGUA to plant a tree in the Atlantic Forest.
Social and Environmental Benefit: Tree Shirts is a fashionable way to raise awareness about the endangered Atlantic Forest. A Tree Shirt customer not only adds a super comfortable article of bamboo to her wardrobe, she also becomes a walking billboard and an ambassador for the rainforest. A Tree Shirt is grown without harmful chemicals and pesticides, making it a clean, healthy product to wear. The shirts are designed to be recognized as cause—driven, but ambiguous and eye-catching enough to get people asking questions. The Tree Shirt staff updates the community on the progress of the tree pledged through their purchases through emails and regular blog posts on the website. Deforestation of the Atlantic has been outlawed, but only 2% of the primary forest remains. Restoration will take an enormous effort. REGUA and Tree Shirts preferred to enter into a one-for-one restoration project. The five dollars given to the REGUA for each shirt sold ensures that a tree is grown in a nursery until it is strong enough to live on its own in the rainforest. This growing technique has a much higher success rate than pledges to plant multiple trees for every sale.
Interview: Tess Barsody, Co-Founder