Since 1995, Alternative Apparel has been at the forefront of innovating soft, simple, sustainable clothes that are both dependable and purposeful. CEO Evan Toporek speaks to Parvati Magazine about Alternative Apparel’s dedication to environmentally responsible and socially compassionate, practices—delivering modern, stylish basics at an affordable price. We are inspired this month by Evan’s advice for eco-fashion, and the brand’s latest “Alternative Youth” collection for kids—because it is never too early to begin caring for the planet.
Parvati Magazine: What moved you to bring an eco-conscious collection to a younger generation?
Evan Toporek: Our customers asked, and we listened. This is also a perfect teaching moment about sustainability. Parents can start early with their kids and show them the importance of environmentally friendly companies and fair working conditions in the factories those companies work with.
Parvati Magazine: Beyond sustainable material, you have a commitment to social and ethical responsibility. Why is teaming with Fashion Revolution so important for Alternative Apparel?
Evan Toporek: We joined Fashion Revolution about two years ago and have taken part in their Fashion Revolution weeks at our retail stores in Venice, San Francisco and Soho. We felt it was important to put a face to “who made your clothes” and celebrate the diversity of our supply chain.
Parvati Magazine: What are the biggest challenges in balancing eco-conscious, innovative fabrics (and packaging!) with ethical production, all at a reasonable price point?
Evan Toporek: We have long-standing relationships with our vendors. They have a vast understanding of our brand DNA and are able to deliver quality products with competitive pricing. Now as a part of Hanesbrands Inc. we are able to implement their global supplier standards (GSS) and ethical code of conduct. We will have even stronger corporate social responsibility as we enter 2019.
Parvati Magazine: How does Alternative Apparel minimize its ecological footprint while maintaining that softness, simplicity and sustainability?
Evan Toporek: We look at our total eco-footprint and try to minimize our impact at every stage we can. Designing from the yarn up, we maximize our raw materials to use across fabrications to avoid waste at every stage. A majority of our Alternative-Eco™ fabrics are knit, dyed and finished in the US. We also have eco-friendly packaging, where we conserve 2,100 trees, 400 cubic yards of landfill, and 860k gallons of water annually.
Parvati Magazine: Evan, you began your career as an industrial engineer. What sparked the shift into clothing? How has your engineering background influenced your work with Alternative Apparel?
Evan Toporek: My father, uncle and grandfathers all ran apparel businesses, ranging from manufacturing through retail. It was popular conversation around the house and at family events. That said, I wasn’t particularly set on getting into fashion. I got an industrial engineering degree from Georgia Tech and worked with Andersen Consulting out of school, helping Fortune 500 companies operate more efficiently. At my core, I was an entrepreneur, though, and when I was given the chance to buy into Alternative early on, I jumped on it. I saw it as a great opportunity to help build a brand in an industry I knew a bit about. While I don’t specifically use my engineering degree, having that training helps me break very complex problems into manageable ones and I use that daily in operations, marketing, and even merchandising.
Parvati Magazine: As an entrepreneur, do you have any advice for changemakers looking to join the sustainable fashion industry?
Evan Toporek: First, make sure you are doing it because you truly care about doing the right thing. If you jump into it because you see a hot market or “easy money”, customers will catch up to your charade. You can’t fake it. Break down the supply chain. Make sure you know how the products are being made, from the field through the factory, and who is making them. Provide that transparency to your customers through authentic storytelling. Never stop. Continue to find ways you can make a difference at every touchpoint.
Evan Toporek joined Alternative Apparel as employee number five in 1998, the company’s first year expanding into apparel. Over the next 20 years, Toporek grew the business from a blank t-shirt manufacturer into an international lifestyle brand. When not at Alternative, Toporek sits on several for-profit and non-profit boards.