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The Athleisure Brand Raising the Bar For Sustainability

May. 29, 2020Home-wear is now a massive industry. Here’s how MATE the Label is leading the way on casual garments that are better for you and the environment.



Like most Americans, I am now a veteran of days spent at home — and the clothing that comes with that — mostly soft, loose-fitting clothing. The global loungewear and sleepwear market is expected to increase by 19.5 billion (USD) between 2020 and 2024, thanks in part to the novel coronavirus. 

With a growing number of workers performing their jobs at home — and an even greater number searching for jobs from home — most of us are spending more time in our homes than ever before. And the dress code calls for casual.

But not all loungewear is created equal. The fashion and clothing industry is one of the world’s largest polluters. Casual loungewear is just as susceptible to harming the planet as any other clothing category — possibly even more so when you consider the materials commonly used for making it. Polyester, lycra, spandex — the fabrics used to create our favorite yoga pants or sweats are often derived from petroleum, a substance also used to manufacture plastic that takes forever to decompose. And it’s not just the fabrics, many of the dyes used to create the bold colors and patterns of our comfiest clothes are just as toxic, polluting groundwater and posing toxicity risks for the workers that handle them and the communities where they are made.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. Just take it from LA-based loungewear label MATE. Known for their modern, relaxed silhouettes cut in styles for at home or on a casual brunch date or afternoon hang in “normal life,” MATE pieces are as comfortable as they are beautiful. 

But this line isn’t just aesthetically pleasing. Manufactured in founder Kayti O’Connell Carr’s hometown of Los Angeles, MATE’s tees, cropped sweats, and linen pieces are created from GOTS certified organic cotton and non-toxic, low-impact dyes. It’s a pledge O’Connell Carr has dubbed the “Dress Clean Initiative,” a pledge to take a holistic approach to sustainability, not just making clothes and selling them, but considering the entire life cycle of the pieces. 

With a goal of “circularity” — the company wants to turn used MATE pieces into new products — the label isn’t sitting on its laurels. They’re using even more eco-friendly dyes and continue to create clothes anyone would be happy to spend all of their time in. We spoke with O’Connell Carr’s about MATE’s path to sustainability.

 

Q: Could you share a bit about yourself and your background? Where are you from? Where are you living now? 

I grew up in Orange County and moved to Los Angeles for college, where I studied sociology at Loyola Marymount. I’ve lived all throughout LA and am currently residing on the east side in Silver Lake. Our office and factories are in Downtown, LA, so my commute is easy peasy, which I love. 

 

Q: Have you always been passionate about fashion and apparel? 

My love for clothing started when I became interested in vintage pieces in my early 20s. On the weekends, I used to live for flea markets and thrifting with my friends. My hobby quickly turned into a business, and MATE Vintage was born. 

Q: You started out selling vintage before shifting to where MATE is now. Could you share more about that journey? 

There have been several iterations of the brand throughout the years and my experience and growth have been a process of laying brick by brick. I came into the industry with zero experience and contacts, so it’s been a big learning curve and a wild journey. Early 2018 is when we launched our Dress Clean Initiative, through which we committed to using strictly natural fibers, certified organic materials, and low-impact dyes. Being a clean and sustainable brand is what drives us and is my north star for every decision we make as a company. I have never felt more aligned with my business, as we are extremely laser-focused on cleaning up the industry and consider our values to be paramount over everything else. 

 

Q: Could you share more about how your production methods shifted?

We have always been made in Los Angeles and have had a super localized supply chain, where our factories are located within 10 miles of our HQ. We have grown a lot over the past two years, and in turn, we have had to diversify our vendors to allow for growth and now have three factories. By having super strict social and material guidelines, this has allowed us to double down on who we are and focus on what we are good at: clean, cozy, and comfortable essentials. 

 
 

Q: What was the most shocking thing you learned when you began looking into the supply chain and production methods of your original line? What was the first step you took to change things? 

The fashion industry is extremely toxic and requires a lot of chemicals that are inherent to certain materials and dyes. When we launched our Dress Clean initiative, we committed to eliminating all synthetics from the line as they are very detrimental to the planet and people. Not many people realize that fabrics like polyester, spandex, and nylon are derived from petroleum, and are essentially plastics. At MATE, we believe that what you put on your skin matters, and we want to connect the dots for consumers that our skin is our largest organ. 

 

Q: The first thing that drew me to MATE were the colors — they’re so beautiful! Tell us about the dyeing process. I understand you use low-impact dyes. Why is this? What differentiates low-impact from traditional dyes? 

Thank you! Luckily, the U.S. has a lot more regulations for dyes than other countries, but it’s still not ideal. When I started out, it was common practice to use synthetic dyes that were derived from petroleum and contained other harmful chemicals. We use dyes that are considered to have a lower impact but we are aiming to use GOTS certified dyes soon, as that would be the gold standard for us, but they are not as easily accessible. 

Q: What advice would you give to someone looking to become more sustainable — in business or life?

Pick an area that interests you most and do that well, whether it’s reducing your single use plastic consumption or shopping second-hand, it’s not as overwhelming to just start somewhere. Don’t think that you have to do it all at once.  

 

Q: How are you practicing self-care these days? 

I make sure to get in 20 minutes of meditation twice a day, breathwork, lots of herbal tea, and, overall, just trying to be easier on myself.

 

Be sure to follow MATE on Instagram and discover the brand @mate_the_label and share your favorites with us.

Julie O'Boyle

By Julie O'Boyle

 —  Julie O'Boyle is a freelance writer and content strategist with a background in fashion and DIY and a devotion to the outdoors and functional nutrition. Currently residing in the woods of Maine, when she's not writing you can find her at the beach or on a mountain, or otherwise getting her hands dirty.

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