Tree Planters Take On the Fashion World, with Derrick Emsley
This month Parvati Magazine spoke with Derrick Emsley, CEO of tentree, an outdoor lifestyle brand that plants ten trees for every item purchased. By combining social and environmental consciousness with lifestyle apparel, tentree allows consumers to have a direct impact on the environment and communities worldwide.
Parvati Magazine: Congratulations on reaching the milestone this August of planting 15 million trees in your first five years of business. This is a great demonstration of your vision to protect and give back to the environment. How does that commitment translate into the eco materials used in the tentree collection?
Derrick Emsley: When we started tentree, we knew very little about clothing. With that, we truly were tree planters first, clothing second. We quickly learned about the environmental challenges the apparel industry is facing and knew that, in order to be true to our goal of being the most environmentally progressive brand, we had to align our production practices with these beliefs. We quickly transitioned into using as many ethical and sustainable fabrics as we could. Instead of [conventionally grown] cotton, we use organic cotton. Instead of [virgin] polyester, we use recycled polyester. Instead of rayon, we use tencel. We’re just now expanding into other eco-fabrics such as hemp. As well, we looked at things like the trims on our product and stopped using leather in favour of sustainably harvested cork and stopped using plastic buttons in favour of coconut buttons. It has been a learning process for us but we truly believe that in order to be authentic to our mission, our product needs to be the most sustainable it can be.
PMAG: tentree offers a full range of fashion, from shirts, to tees, hoodies, hats and dresses, that contain hemp. What made you choose this fibre in particular?
DE: Hemp is a great fiber for many reasons. It is incredibly durable, which for us goes back to our brand values of making a sustainable product not just because of the trees or the fibers, but also because of the longevity of it. Hemp is also grown with little to no herbicides and pesticides, it is naturally anti-microbial, and has great UV resistance. Not to mention, it can now be made into an amazingly soft fabric. All of this led us to build it into our collection.
PMAG: You knew about tree planting before starting tentree, but nothing about the fashion world. What was the most surprising challenge you faced in learning how to run an environmentally and socially ethical fashion business?
DE: I mentioned it above but our biggest revelation came when we realized how destructive the apparel business can truly be. The sheer amount of pollution and wastage that comes from the apparel industry is staggering. Our goal has always been to focus on not just reducing the negative impact of the apparel industry, but shift the conversation into how apparel can be an agent for positive change in the fashion world. We believe this is one of the things that makes us different than other environmentally conscious brands. Our goal is to not just be conscious of our impact, but to do something to make it better.
PMAG: How are you helping your customers feel inspired to tackle the environmental issues the world is now facing?
DE: Our belief is that the impact we can have through tree planting will ultimately pale in comparison to the impact we can have if we inspire a generation to believe in their ability to make change. We view ourselves as an outdoor lifestyle brand. We believe that getting people outdoors and having them become inspired by the world around them, they will be more invested in keeping it beautiful and having a positive impact. Our motto is to “protect the world you play in” and we try to inspire our consumers and the communities we support to live this mantra. Ultimately, the way we inspire consumers is by connecting them to their impact. From a product standpoint, we offer the “Tree Registry Program” which brings the consumer closer than ever before to their individual impact. Every product comes with a unique code that can be taken online to find out where your trees are planted and who you are helping.
Derrick Emsley CEO, joined his brother Kalen Emsley and David Luba to found tentree in 2012. Derrick and Kalen had gained tree planting experience in their previous business venture, Greenfield Carbon Offsets Inc., which the brothers started while in university. Derrick’s interest in entrepreneurship and conservation made him a natural fit for tentree. With a background in finance and private equity, his focus was predominantly operational and financial. Today, Derrick serves as the CEO and manages the fast growing team.