As the former director of sustainability for Smartwool, Robin Hall spent her days ensuring her company produced planet-friendly apparel. When Smartwool moved to the Front Range a few years ago, she decided to stay in Steamboat Springs and co-founded Town Hall, the sole kids-only brand of technical apparel based in the United States. With Town Hall’s debut line hitting the market this past fall, we sat down with Hall to talk about producing gear for little adventurers, how she’ll compete against giants like Patagonia, and why clothing shipped from China can qualify as sustainable.
5280: Why design just for kids and teens?
Robin Hall: There’s a huge hole in the marketplace for kid-focused apparel. Brands overlook kids because wholesalers and retailers don’t really budget for it, and the margins on kids apparel are typically really tough. Plus, in the past, parents haven’t wanted to spend the money on nice kids apparel. But with COVID-19, people haven’t been able to travel on airplanes, so they are spending more time with their kids outside and focusing on buying better, higher-quality kids gear. We also see that really outdoorsy parents don’t want to go home early because their kid is cold or uncomfortable, so they’re also investing in better kids clothes.
Why did you decide to manufacture in China? Wouldn’t it be more sustainable to make products stateside?
It might, if the United States had the right equipment to produce waterproof clothing and a skilled workforce that could make them durable enough to last. Sustainability is our number one priority, and the most sustainable garment is one that stays in use for as long as possible. The highest-quality outerwear producers are in Asia. Asia also manufactures all the recycled materials, so, even if we had domestic sewing, we’d have to import all the fabrics, insulations, and fasteners.
So what makes Town Hall clothing sustainable?
As much as 90 percent of the carbon footprint created by apparel companies comes from turning raw materials into finished product, according to Utah State University—so, by using recycled content, we significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Our Mountain Town Winter Jacket ($180) is more than 95 percent recycled. It would be 100 percent, except our order was too small to get recycled wrist gaiters, zippers, and Velcro. We’ve mostly eliminated individual plastic packaging and hang tags. We also care about social sustainability, so we chose a factory with gold-level certification from WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production), an organization that monitors factories’ ethical and environmental standards. And we purchase carbon offsets so that we’re not just carbon-neutral but carbon-positive. Some people criticize carbon offsets as an easy out—you just write a check to excuse your harm—but by funding local environmental efforts, we think we can achieve real benefit.
How will you compete against established brands like the North Face?
Bigger brands have paved the way for us, because when they switch to more environmentally friendly manufacturing methods, they move mountains that we can’t. I think people are hungry for new and interesting brands and small businesses.