Pact founder and CEO Brendan Synnott is not one to shy away from the shortcomings of sustainability. “If we all want to be perfectly sustainable, we can just shut down shop,” he says sarcastically.
It’s a hard reality for brands that are manufacturing a product: there will inevitably be an impact on the planet. So, it’s a juggling act of trying to weigh the positives and the negatives that go with manufacturing and moving all that cargo around the world.
Pact, which specializes in organic cotton basics, has been following a host of ethical and sustainable practices since the inception of the company. But there was one problem that Synnott knew they had to solve: the packaging material.
“We would get feedback from customers all the time about using plastic bags for our organic cotton underwear, especially when they ordered a 6-pack and got six individual bags, instead of just one. I totally get it. I’ve known that plastic is an issue. Wrapping an organic product in a plastic bag is not OK. That’s not the message we want to convey,” he says.
But the issue, he explains, wasn’t as easy to solve as he’d like because their products are fulfilled overseas in their partner facilities in India (where the organic cotton comes from and is turned into garments).
Early on the company did experiment with a recycled poly bag that Synnott says didn’t work for them; it didn’t hold up in the long overseas transit. Now, he notes that material has improved, but when they were trying it out, it wasn’t working and falling apart leaving the products exposed.
So this year, Pact has decided to opt for Vela bags, made with paper, because they meet a host of criteria: transparent meaning it’s easier to fulfill orders, durable enough that it can make the international journey and sit on shelves for longer periods of time, weather resistant, and manufactured with materials that are 100 percent curbside recyclable.
The Vela bags, a product offered by packaging company Seamen Paper, are in fact made with 60 percent post-consumer recycled waste, and are a FSC-certified paper-based solution to plastic.
Synnott admits that this switch is feasible for them because they have a streamlined supply chain, working with a few select manufacturing and fulfillment partners. “There’s a certain practicality with our supply chain that allows us to make this change whereas it might be harder for another brand working with multiple partners across different countries. Yet, even we were slow to move on this,” he admits.
So this has been a long journey for the sustainably-minded brand to solve a problem that many consumers may think is a quick fix. Other eco-minded companies such as Mara Hoffman, Outerknown, and Faherty have also turned to the same product to reduce their plastic consumption.
“Plastics, let’s get it out of the system. It’s a chemical, and if we can get it out of the system as much as possible that would be great. As a brand, we say ‘wear plants, not plastics.’ Plus, I don’t think consumers recycle it that well. It’s not about reuse, it’s about reduce, in my opinion,” he adds.
Over the years, Pact has shifted from selling in retailers across America to being in largely one national chain: Whole Foods. Mostly, Synnott’s approach is now direct-to-consumer. He says this allows the company to be more streamlined, have better storytelling of their supply chain and eco-practices (such as this one), and as a result, the brand isn’t dependent on limited floor space in big box retailers.
Thus, this holiday season, Synnott is asking consumers to “gift smarter” by supporting brands that are taking steps towards sustainability, especially with apparel. “It’s one of the most popular gift items,” he notes. So, Pact has partnered with Give Back Box to provide consumers a way to send back used clothing, if they are choosing to top up their wardrobe with new items.
“No one is perfect on this journey. But we’re trying, and that matters,” he says.