How to Wear a Sustainable Business Model

T-Shirt Elephant

5. Gender Equality 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth 12. Responsible Consumption and Production

Overview

T-Shirt Elephant’s business model is a refreshing approach to good business in the apparel industry—an industry that is often critiqued for being unsustainable (hello fast fashion!). Their approach to sustainability focuses on three UN SDGs: Gender Equality, Economic Growth, and Responsible Consumption & Production

Author

Margaret Guzman

Margaret Guzman

School

York University

York University

Professor

Charles Cho

Charles Cho

Innovation

Under T-Shirt Elephant's roof, gender equality is strongly promoted. They maintain a 50:50 split between men and women, and anyone can be seen performing a variety of tasks regardless of their gender. Whether it is working directly with the customers or handling the big machinery that prints the design on the garments, there is no task too "masculine" or too "feminine." The owners of the business ensure that opportunities to learn something new are available to everyone—all they require is some genuine interest in learning! 

Economic growth is another area of focus. T-Shirt Elephant is proud to hire new young graduates who may have limited work experience. Kozak explained, "We like to hire people based on their personality and willingness to learn, and teach them the skills they need as they go." This kind of mentality provides great relief, especially in a competitive city where the cost of living and youth unemployment are simultaneously high. 

Lastly and perhaps most impressively, T-Shirt Elephant has placed considerable effort in ensuring they pursue responsible consumption and production. Kozak wanted to emphasize the fact that they only purchase their apparel from sweatshop-free suppliers, a decision that is often unheard of in the apparel industry. In addition, this type of business requires a handful of processes that involve potentially hazardous chemicals (ex. the ink used for printing, the chemicals used to wash the ink off the screens). To minimize their impact, T-Shirt Elephant uses biodegradable ink in combination with the "direct-to-garment" method of printing on apparel. This eliminates the need to wash the screen with hazardous chemicals, and the ink is environmentally friendly too! The facility also has a recyclable water system that reduces their use of fresh, clean water. "The recycled water is from the factory floor that is used again on the factory floor. You don't need fresh water to clean the tools and machines," Kozak explained.

How to Wear a Sustainable Business Model

Inspiration

T-Shirt Elephant was not familiar with the SDGs prior to our interview. Kozak admitted that it was while he was preparing for the interview that he realized the business had found genuine ways to do their business through sustainable practices. "Our model is a reflection of the owners' values, which gradually became part of T-Shirt Elephant's values as well," Kozak stated. Their initiatives were implemented as they were realized. They were not planned nor “marketed” to their customers for public relation purposes. Their business model and practices are very honest approaches to doing good business. 

Overall impact

As T-Shirt Elephant is a small, private business, they do not necessarily communicate many aspects of their sustainability efforts to their customer—it is not expected of them. However, Kozak explained that their customers respond very well to the aspects they do share. For example, as the business sources their garments from sweatshop-free suppliers, they pay a premium price for their materials that is ultimately carried over to the customers. This has not been an issue for the business, however, because their customers do not mind paying that higher price knowing that they are supporting a good business practice. The customers are essentially their primary stakeholders, and Kozak believes that they have the greatest power in demanding sustainable practices from businesses. When this demand is combined with cooperation from the business, a greater positive impact is created on society.

T-Shirt Elephant’s business model has also had a positive impact on their own business, especially when the employees are taken into consideration as stakeholders. The employees are happy to be working on the factory floor printing the t-shirts, on the computers designing the logos, and on the front line managing the orders. New employees are strongly supported so that they become independent and confident in their work. Having created a workplace environment that provides equal opportunity to learn and work to anyone that is genuinely interested has resulted in one that is also very productive.

Business benefit

Because T-Shirt Elephant has maintained their sustainable practices in their production and recruitment processes, the business has benefited from high employee retention and productivity levels. This has aided them in becoming a leading competitor in the Canadian market. 

Social and environmental benefit

The environment has benefited from T-Shirt Elephant's steps to reduce their environmental impact. Their use of recycled water and biodegradable ink does not interfere with the delivery of their products, allowing them to become a successful provider of custom-designed apparel without the natural environment paying the price! 

Interview

Chris Kozak, Chief Marketing Officer

Chris Kozak, Chief Marketing Officer

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T-Shirt Elephant

T-Shirt Elephant

Toronto, ON, CA

Business Website: http://www.tshirtelephant.com/

Year Founded: 2010

Number of Employees: 51 to 200

T-Shirt Elephant offers high-quality custom-designed apparel to the Canadian market. They emerged as an online start-up and have proudly grown to become Canada's "go-to" for fun, custom-designed garments.