Jessica Kaye didn’t think she was asking for too much. She just wanted clothes that weren’t manufactured with hazardous chemicals and didn’t pinch and pull during yoga or when she was driving her children to school. So she took matters into her own hands. Kaye recently launched Farm to Form, a Jacksonville-based maker of activewear sewn by local women and made of organic cotton grown and woven in the U.S.
Known as athleisure, the clothes are just as ideal for yoga, swimming, and kayaking as they are for picking up the kids, curling up to read a good book or sleeping.
“It’s lifestyle wear,” says Kaye, who moved to Jacksonville with her husband and two children about four years ago.
Equally important, it’s based on Kaye’s desire for safe, sustainable, ethical and domestic manufacturing.
Her search for better health and environmentally sustainable products started about three years ago. She was experiencing puzzling health issues and chemical sensitivities, and she was beginning to question the safety of products manufactured with hazardous chemicals for her daughter Sage, who is now 11 years old.
“That’s when I really started digging,” Kaye says. “There are too many health problems. How do we bring our lives back into balance?”
She grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where her family bought fresh produce from local farms and her mother was active in the yoga community, back when many people had never even heard of yoga.
Kaye started her own yoga practice about three years ago and became committed to self-care and programs like Greenpeace’s Detox Fashion Campaign, which urges fashion companies to stop using hazardous chemicals in their manufacturing.
She also strove for comfort. Rubbed the wrong way by constricting elastic in yoga wear, she snipped it from the clothes.
“So, I started sewing and making my own stuff,” she says.
Wanting to bring the principals of balance, respect and well-being to her household, she decided to build her own organic brand.
“My kids are my priority,” she says. “The only way I could do this is because of them.”
Kaye started looking for domestic sources of organically grown and manufactured cotton. After extensive research, she found the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative in Lubbock, Texas, which is the largest organic cotton grower in the country. Its 40 members plant roughly 15,000 acres of cotton each year.
Kaye buys the fiber from the cotton cooperative, which sends it to Spiritex in Asheville, North Carolina. Spiritex spins the fiber into yarn, weaves it into fabric and ships it to Kaye, who hires local women to do the sewing.
Organic cotton is a young, but growing industry. It still only makes up 1.1 percent of global production. Roughly 151,079 metric tons of organic cotton were grown in 2010-2011 and led by India, according to the Organic Trade Association’s 2012 Organic Industry Survey.
“There’s growing use of organic products in the U.S., but most of it is imported,” says Kelly Pepper, manager of the Texas cotton cooperative. “Jessica is doing it with U.S. cotton and U.S. manufacturing. I’m excited that she’s been able to get it off the ground.”
Cotton is one of the most chemically intensive crops to grow, accounting for 25 percent of all pesticide use. These chemicals are taking a toll on our environment and human health, according to Organic Cotton Plus.
To achieve organically certified status, the cotton must be grown without chemicals, synthetic fertilizers or genetically engineered seeds. In the manufacturing process, there’s no use of chlorine bleach to whiten the cotton fibers or heavy metals to dye the fabric.
As a result, organic cotton has a noticeably softer texture, doesn’t fade and is safer for people with allergies and chemical sensitivities. To stretch with the body, some of Kaye’s apparel has up to 10 percent spandex, a blend that maintains global organic textile standards.
It’s difficult, and expensive, for companies to source and manufacture cotton in the U.S., says Pepper, especially since the country’s textile industry has nearly evaporated due to outsourcing overseas.
“In the big picture of textiles, organic is very, very small,” Pepper says, noting it’s easy for someone to say they care about the environment but quite another thing for an individual to dig deeper into his pocket to pay for it. “The exciting thing is people like Jessica are getting it going.”
Sportswear companies such as Nike and Patagonia are also customers of the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative.
The process requires a relationship between retailer, farmer and manufacturer, which means transparency throughout the supply chain, Pepper says. Kaye isn’t just some abstract customer that he never meets and whose needs he doesn’t understand.
“I’ve talked with her and we work together,” Pepper says. “In normal commodity farming, there’s not that connection.”
For the farmers, the bottom line is demand. Therefore, the change to environmentally responsible, organic cotton clothing begins with the consumer, Pepper says.
For Kaye, it’s about integrity.
“By finding the purest source, I can bring the highest quality,” she says. “It’s so much a part of who I am. I just love being able to do this and share it.”
To learn more and to see Jessica Kaye’s clothing line visit farmtoform.com.