By Alexis Herr
I had the good fortune of interviewing Dean Ramadan, co-founder of BeGood Clothing, to discuss the launch of his company’s new eco-conscious clothing-line. Read on to learn more about his path from conscientious consumer to eco-business owner.
Alexis: Today I wanted to talk to you about the launch of your new affordable and eco-friendly line, which is coming out on June 3rd, but before we do I thought it would be best to start at the beginning. What inspired you to start BeGood Clothing? Did you always plan to start your own line?
Dean: I started BeGood Clothing with my college roommate Mark Spera in August 2012. We started with a retail store in San Francisco that carried a little over 60 brands that were either eco-friendly, fair-trade, or gave back to charitable causes. I’ve always been the kind of guy who likes second hand shopping and I don’t buy clothes that I don’t really need, so I knew if I wanted to open a clothing store it needed to have more of a purpose to it. We were inspired by companies like Patagonia, who make it such a big part of their company to make products that protect the environment. And they even did more than that when they started this thing called One Percent for the Planet, where they donate 1% of their sales to different environmental initiatives.
We enjoy talking to people so we opened BeGood Clothing Store [currently located on 2127 Union St, San Francisco, CA 94123] so that we could chat with customers and educate them on what’s going on in the clothing industry.
So we used that [first] year and a half to learn more about the industry, knowing that we wanted to create our own line from the get go, but we didn’t really know how to do it correctly. Mark and I used [that time] to learn what the costumers are looking for, learn what makes different fabrics eco-friendly, learn the different business models—like what makes certain brands more successful than others.
From there we launched our online site at the end of 2013 and we did that so we could learn more about the e-commerce world: what goes into building a website, what goes into building traffic, and all of that. And then from there we decided it was time to start making our own line. One thing that we realized from owning the store was that people want to shop eco-friendly but there were two problems: it’s either way too expensive or people have that image in their heads that eco-friendly means that you are wearing a burlap sack and it is extremely itchy and uncomfortable. We wanted to know what we could do to change that. So that is why we wanted to start our own line and launch our website with just our own stuff on it.
Alexis: While eco-conscious clothing lines are gaining some popularity, they still represent a very small part of the overall market. Now that BeGood is moving its operations from being a reseller to a manufacturer of socially responsible clothing, I imagine your company has gained unique insight into this retail landscape. What are some of the lessons you have learned along the way?
Dean: We learned from the manufacturing process—and we are still learning to be honest—that it is a lot more complicated than what we originally thought. It is simpler to design the clothes, [but it is a challenge] to make sure you are getting your fabrics from a certified factory. Some people claim to sell eco-friendly fabrics and then you get it, and are looking at it, and there is nothing on the little swatch that they give you that says organic so you have to call and say “this isn’t what we are looking for,” and so there is this constant back and forth to try and find and make sure what you are getting is actually organic, chemical free, cotton, or silk.
Another thing that we realized is that a lot of companies don’t do this is because of the cost itself. Unless you can buy in really large quantities, it is going to be more expensive. That was definitely interesting for us. Luckily, we were able to find some good resources out there and buy in bulk in to be able to sell a $15 T-Shirt.
Alexis: I think that brings up a good point; you have to have large scale manufacturing in mind so that you can hit those price points that you want.
Dean: Yeah, I think that is true, and not just for eco-friendly. If you want to make anything at an affordable price then you have to buy in bulk. Like there are a lot of good companies that we have met over the years that have started their own eco-friendly lines and we honestly just couldn’t carry them in the store because they were way out of our customers’ price point, which is sad because they were amazing pieces of clothing.
Alexis: I know! I see that a lot and it is frustrating because I want to purchase from companies that are doing these types of things, but it can be price prohibitive. So I am curious, is there any type of legislation that mandates transparency for where materials are sourced? Like, for example, in the cosmetics industry there really is no oversight or restrictions to how a product is marketed, so a company can advertise a foundation as “natural” or a moisturizer as “organic” when in fact none of their ingredients are those things. Is there any type of parallel to the clothing industry?
Dean: Yes there is. It is this thing called Global Organic Textile Standards, or GOTS, certified, which makes sure that everything you are doing is living up to the eco-standards that they have set. Like in terms of what types of chemicals are used and water conservation. And there are also GOTS certified factories and those are the ones that we use.
Alexis: One of my favorite things about your website in the past was that it disclosed all aspects of a given product, from the origin of the material to conditions of its production. This seems to be one of BeGood’s core values: Transparency. How will you incorporate this in the new line?
Dean: We will be even more transparent, if you can believe it. We will have tags on every item that tells exactly where a product is from, where the cotton is grown, where it is stitched, where it is dyed – basically everything. We want to be as upfront and honest about where are clothes are from because we are proud of where we source our fabrics and where we do our production.
Alexis: I appreciate BeGood’s commitment to social responsibly, with regards to the products you sell as well as your company’s investment in the greater community. When we were emailing I was pleased to hear you plan to continue this approach by donating to Evidence Action’s Dispensers for Safe Water Program. Could you please tell me more about that organization’s work and BeGood’s support of it?
Dean: I came across Evidence Action when I read the book The Life You Can Save [by Peter Singer]. That is what inspired me to give back and it made me realize that when I started a business that would be a major part of what I was doing. One of the things he talked about in his book was [how] difficult [it is] nowadays to figure out which charities are actually using their money in the most efficient way to help the greatest number of people. And one of the organizations he mentioned was Give Well, which lists the best charities. They go ahead and do the research to make sure that [the top ten charities they list] are as transparent as possible, that you know exactly what each dollar is going to, and making sure that every dollar that is going into [that charity] is going towards saving a life or helping the environment. So that is how I came across Evidence Action, who was originally known for their “deworm the world” initiative. But they started this thing in 2007 called The Dispensers for Safe Water Program and I felt that it spoke to what our brand is all about: we want to protect the environment as much as possible.
A big problem in the fashion industry is that growing cotton and [making] all these different fabrics wastes a lot of water. 100s and thousands of gallons of water go completely to waste. Or they spray chemicals on the cotton and all the chemicals seep into the land and go into the water. So it is a really destructive industry, especially if you are not going eco-friendly.
We wanted to show that the old way was spraying a lot of chemicals and hurting the environment, and the new way is [does the opposite]. And yes, there is still a lot of water that goes into growing cotton, but we are going to make sure that water is given back in some way. So we are going to donate 12 gallons of clean water to Evidence Action for each one of our items sold. The Dispensers for Safe Water Program has set up [programs] in Uganda and Kenya, and have done test runs in Malawi. They have these chlorine dispensers that they put next to all these water sources so that people can bring their jugs of water, press a button [to dispense chlorine] that kills 99% of the bacteria in the water for 72 hours. This helps get rid of childhood diarrhea and it [provides] clean water for cooking and drinking.
And Evidence Action is really just getting started. They told me at the beginning of this year that they were going to only be able to help a million people, and now I talked to them last month and they’re like, “we are crushing our projections, we are going to be able to help 1.4 million people.” So we want to keep them growing and hopefully give back as much as possible to them so that that [number] can turn into 100s of millions.
Alexis: I think that is fantastic. And it is inspiring to hear you talk about it. It is beautiful to hear how you are melding these different interests that you have in terms of sustainable, eco-conscious fashion, but also continuing to put good out into the community. It is just really wonderful.
Dean: We are excited to get started.
Alexis: Absolutely! I’m excited to see what comes next for BeGood Clothing! Okay, so my last question for you is what sort of products we can expect to find on your website and if you have any favorites.
Dean: We are going to be having Men’s and Women’s, but to start we are just going to have six different colors of men’s t-shirts. And then every month or two we are going to add new styles. And then for Women’s’ we going to have t-shirts, organic cotton tanks, button down shirts, silk blouses, kind of a more wide selection for the women because they do a lot of shopping online.
Alexis: Yes we do.
Dean: We aren’t trying to reinvent style. If you are wearing t t-shirts, silk blouses, etc. everyday, you are going to have to get new ones. And if you can get them from us at the same price that you could from someone who is destroying our environment, there really is no excuse anymore. That is what we are trying to do.
Alexis: It is wonderful to have a company that cares so much about this and offers customers a chance to buy responsibly.