HUNTINGTON — Some believe the fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world.
A study last year written by Aalto University design researcher Kirsi Niinimaki says fashion accounts for up to 10% of global pollution, generating 92 million tons of textile waste per year, consuming 1.5 trillion liters of water annually and contributing approximately 190,000 tons of oceanic microplastic pollution.
West Virginia-based nonprofit Coalfield Development decided it could help reduce some of this pollution by consolidating three of its existing social enterprises to create Mountain Mindful.
Coalfield Development CEO Brandon Dennison said their woodshop Saw’s Edge, T-shirt shop SustainU and a piece of the agriculture company Refresh were combined to create Mountain Mindful.
“It is a lifestyle brand offering casual apparel, home furnishing and self-care products,” he said.
“More than 80% of the products are made of recycled or reclaimed materials. All of the products are 100% made in Appalachia.”
Mountain Mindful’s main base of operations is the WestEdge Factory in Huntington.
Jim Caldwell, operations manager at Mountain Mindful, says the goal is to curb the effects that making these products pose on the environment.
“We’ve only got one planet to live on,” Caldwell said. “I’ve got two grandchildren and want to leave the world in a better shape than what it’s in.”
The new social enterprise has a commitment to sustainability, Caldwell added.
“Mountain Mindful casual apparel is made from 100% recycled and organic content,” he said. “Each T-shirt keeps up to six plastic bottles out of the landfills.”
“You can have a fashionable, stylish garment embellished with any design without having a harmful or negative affect on the world,” said Brad Stapleton, a crew chief at Mountain Mindful.
Mountain Mindful desktop accessories, furniture and home furnishing are made from 100% reclaimed Appalachian wood salvaged from abandoned buildings.
“The wood comes out of abandoned buildings that we’ve deconstructed, so this helps the community remove blight, but in a more sustainable manner than what the typical demolition process looks like,” Dennison said. “Usually, demolished old buildings end up in the landfill. Our approach not only keeps the materials out of the landfill, but we upcycle the materials and give them a new purpose. The shirts are made from recycled plastic and textile at our supplier’s shop in North Carolina — 100% made in the USA.”
“Our goal is to make heirloom pieces, this is not something you can buy in a box store, these are meant to be passed down generation to generation,” Caldwell added.
“Within our regional history of Appalachia, the items people would make by hand would be heirloom pieces that would last not only one person’s lifetime but passed down,” said Ryan Stoner, COO of Coalfield Development. “The goal is to have items that last.”
Mountain Mindful’s self-care products are 100% locally sourced by Appalachian entrepreneurs, Dennison said.
“For the self-care products we’re actually working with other local entrepreneurs throughout central Appalachia,” he said. “Our goal is to lift up the whole economy of this region so we are not looking to create a competitive environment. We are looking to work with others who share the vision of a more sustainable Appalachia.”
“Mountain Mindful is looking locally to see who is doing organic production and to boost them instead of making another competitive product,” says Elice Hunley, training coordinator for Coalfield Development.
Coalfield Development is a 501©3 nonprofit with a history of incubating social enterprises.
“These enterprises then employ people who face barriers, and employees are holistically supported with personal, academic and professional development supports,” Dennison said.
Dennison says as a social enterprise he knows not all of the education and mentorship activities they undertake will be profitable.
“The goal is for all of our business activities to be self-sustaining,” he said. “Our goal is to hit break even by year two, and then become profitable in year three.”
He said all profits will be put back into the enterprise.
“All profits go to support continued growth of the enterprise as well as the personal, professional and academic development of our crew members,” he said.
“Mountain Mindful is very unique as a social enterprise in Appalachia with a true triple-bottom line: people, planet, profit,” Dennison said. “The point of this business is the wellbeing, growth, learning and development of the people who employ the enterprise, but the enterprise also exists to help the environment.”
Mountain Mindful is set to launch on Earth Day, April 22, with 20 crew members and intentions to gradually expand in the coming months.
“I really am just so sincerely excited about this,” Dennison said. “We’re taking everything we’ve learned over the last 10 years and pulling it together into our most innovative social enterprise yet. This is what the new Appalachian economy looks like.”