MATE the Label CEO Dishes on Why They Are Focused on Clean Chemistry Throughout Their Supply Chain

It is no surprise to me that many of the disruptive brands, seeking to better protect our health and planet, are founded by women. I had the pleasure of sitting down with the CEO & Founder of one of my favorite clothing lines MATE the Label, Kayti O’Connell Carr. You may know their athleisure and sportswear which has enjoyed the “Best” ratings from Mamavation’s product testing.

I appreciate how Kayti and her team are focused on green chemistry across the many touch points that take place and particularly loved the tradeoffs she has to face daily, between local sourcing and non-toxic products. These daily choices are often not easy for consumers to appreciate, and I appreciate her candor.

Kayti was generous enough to share a special discount code, just for my readers:

Use LINDSAYD15 to enjoy 15% off your next purchase.

Tell me why you decided to start MATE the Label, what sets you apart from the industry?

There have been several iterations of the brand since conception, which was almost 10 years ago. I started the company by selling vintage t-shirts with no intention of creating my own line; however, it was a natural progression. For several years we produced conventional clothing without understanding how harmful the fashion industry can be on human health. In 2017 is when I started immersing myself in research and learning more about organic cotton, natural materials, certifications, microplastics, harmful dyes, waste, etc. From there, our Dress Clean initiative was born. We are now fully committed to offering the cleanest product possible from seed to skin.

Kayti OConnell Mate the Label

“We use GOTS certified organic cotton and dyes, have a strict restricted substance list, and focus on clean chemistry throughout our supply chain.” 

What is your approach to addressing toxic chemicals in your fabrics and supply chain? 

An important pillar to our brand is education both internally for our team and externally for our community. We try to connect the dots for consumers who may be aware of the importance of “clean food, clean beauty, etc” but have yet to look at fashion as a source of being disruptive to their health. We believe that the most important part of addressing toxic chemicals in our products starts with our tightly curated materials portfolio.

It’s important to note that the majority of clothing consumed worldwide is made from synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon, acrylic, spandex, etc, that are essentially plastic and made from nonrenewable sources. In addition to synthetics, 99% of cotton is made conventionally, which means the crop is sprayed with pesticides, many of which are known human carcinogens. Our fabric portfolio consists of GOTS certified organic cotton, Linen, Hemp, and Tencel, which we consider to be holistically the healthiest materials for humans and the environment. Oftentimes, brands do not transition their trims or packaging (woven labels, hang tags, care labels, etc), to reflect their sustainability initiatives and we are proud to ensure that all MATE items including trims are intentional and follow the same framework. It’s paramount that we take full responsibility for our products’ impact during their entire lifecycle, including end life. We offer a take back program through reMATE where customers are able to return their goods to us and we will responsibly recycle them. Most importantly, we want customers to feel confident in knowing that the material composition of our products will naturally biodegrade and return to the earth while doing the least harm possible. 

“It’s paramount that we take full responsibility for our products’ impact during their entire lifecycle, including end life.”

We’ve been hearing about hormone disrupting compounds in athletic gear, do you know where they are coming from? 

Recent studies are finding EDC’s such as BPA and PFAS in apparel, particularly activewear, which is highly concerning due to sweat being a solvent that can absorb the chemicals into our skin. PFAS bioaccumulate in our bodies and the environment and never break down. Yikes! Typically these chemicals are added to garments that are marketed as water resistant, wrinkle resistant, and waterproof. However, they can also be used as an intermediary chemical throughout the supply chain (packaging, cleaning solvents, etc) and hard to identify the exact source as they are so prevalent. What we do know is that they are found mostly in synthetic materials like polyester and spandex. We’re very hopeful that with more awareness on this topic, the demand for better activewear fabrics will increase causing a shift within the industry. 

Responsible sourcing, worker safety and chemical safety are hard to balance, talk me through a challenge you face?

TBH, there are so many challenges when it comes to building a responsible (and healthier) supply chain. It is often more difficult to navigate as a smaller brand that doesn’t have resources and networks that larger companies do. For the past 9 years, we have been exclusively manufactured in Los Angeles, within a hyper localized radius of 10-15 miles from our HQ in downtown LA. This allowed me to learn the ins and outs of apparel manufacturing from the ground up as I was our production manager for several years (on top of wearing all the different hats). As the business has pivoted to be laser focused on being clean, I felt that it was very important to be able to have GOTS certification, and farm level traceability, which isn’t a reality in LA. Like anything in business, there are always trade offs. We tapped our community and asked them what they value most: certifications/traceability OR being made locally, and our community voiced the importance of the former option. After lots of consideration and years of researching overseas partners, we are thrilled to work with factories in India and Peru that share our values around clean chemistry, traceability, and sustainability. 

As the business has pivoted to be laser focused on being clean, I felt that it was very important to be able to have GOTS certification, and farm level traceability, which isn’t a reality in LA.

What do you hope is the future for your industry and business? 

The fashion industry overall is highly unregulated. I would love to see movement in global standards of what defines being “sustainable” and “clean” and having uniform metrics to measure impact. From the brand side, we hope to continue to lead the clean conversation within the apparel industry and be a source of comfort for our community looking for healthier alternatives than conventional clothing. Consumers deserve better. 

Don’t forget to support MATE the Label and use: LINDSAYD15 to enjoy 15% off your next purchase.

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