Is there a more versatile clothing item than a plain white tee? (Maybe a plain black tee, if you’re in Melbourne.) It can be dressed up or dressed down, kept casual or spiffed up with accessories, and you can wear one everyday and nobody will bat an eye. It’s a wardrobe staple for a reason, but the cost and impact can go beyond your wallet.
Cotton is one of the most water- and pesticide-dependent crops grown for clothing, with 2500 to 3000 litres of water required to manufacture a single cotton shirt. And up to 20 per cent of fabrics used by manufacturers ends up on the cutting room floors, and eventually in landfill.
“Whether you subscribe to the fashion industry or not, we each contribute to the demand of the garment industry. Its environmental degradation [impact] is common knowledge, but our need to produce basic clothing is not going away anytime soon,” says Tessa Carroll, creative director and co-founder of sustainable fashion label The Common Good Company.
She and partner Ben Heenan wanted to provide an alternative to the high-waste, high-impact clothing industry, and figured something basic such as a T-shirt would be a good way to start.
The company has developed its own unique textile made entirely with recycled materials. Sixty per cent is made from pre-consumer cotton (a fancy name for cotton scraps and other waste left on the factory floor), while the remaining 40 per cent uses recycled polyester made from single-use plastics such as water bottles, with the equivalent of 4.5 600-millilitre bottles used in every shirt.
The pair spent 18 months working with a Fairtrade-certified company in India to develop the fabric, and all its garments are now made there.
“Recycling textiles has really only been made possible in the last few years … we commenced development with factories in India due to their acute understanding of what constitutes worth,” Carroll says. “[They don’t] view used plastic or textile as waste but rather as a resource. They are at the forefront of recycling, finding purpose and worth in what our society considers destined for landfill.”
There are basic tees in two different cuts each for men and women to suit different body types and styles, and each one comes plain (in either black or white) or with minimalist logos and designs.
Dean James for men is a ’90s throwback with a looser fit and a ribbed neckline, while the John Citizen style is your classic crew-neck with a slightly longer body. The women’s Jane Doe cut is cinched at the shoulder, neckline and waist for a feminine silhouette, while Grace Jones is an oversized tee for tucking in and rolling up the sleeves.
“We wanted to start with something basic in both production and nature that would give us a platform to grow from, identify our market and educate the consumer with a garment that’s worn by all,” Carroll says.
Next they’re hoping to extend the range with long-sleeved shirts, sweaters, hoodies, beanies and hats, plus introduce new materials and collaborations.
The label has also partnered with Sea Trees, an ocean sustainability project that aims to tackle climate change through reforestation. For every product purchased from The Common Good Company, one mangrove tree is planted to sequester carbon out of the atmosphere.
Every quarter it also diverts a portion of profits to foundations improving the health of communities or the planets. Right now it’s working with Melbourne not-for-profit Food For Change: every shirt purchased helps donate 10 meals to Australians struggling with food insecurity.
And for every certified-organic cotton face mask sold, The Common Good Company donates two to vulnerable members of the local community.