Thanks to the efforts of women’s lacrosse player Dana White ’15, the athletic department now provides “green” recycled practice apparel to teams for the first time.
Local company Atayne produces the apparel. Founder Jeremy Litchfield ’99, a native of Brunswick, said he read a book while at Bowdoin by the founders of Ben & Jerry’s about how to use businesses to solve real-world problems. He had “realized I wanted to start a company eventually that would create good in the world, environmentally and socially,” but for some time he did not know quite what to do.
The idea for Atayne came to Litchfield in 2007 when he was living in Washington, D.C., working at a marketing agency and running 70 miles a week. After completing a run in a new red athletic shirt one day, he realized he was covered in red dye. He wondered what other chemicals were being absorbed into his body, and started researching how the clothing was made.
“I realized it was way out of line with some pretty strong values I have about human rights and the environment,” he said. “I then decided I would start a running apparel company that would do things differently—I didn’t know how, but I knew I would do it differently. I quit my job and started going from there.”
So with an idea and a goal, he got his company started, adapting the name Atayne from the idea that didn’t want to compromise values while still “attain”-ing everything he wanted to.
Atayne makes sports apparel—mainly running shirts—using polyester that is made in the USA entirely from used water bottles.
“Just like other plastics, all polyester is derived from petroleum, which has the same chemical property as a water bottle,” Litchfield said. “You’re further down the chain of chemical reactions, so you save energy and you prevent materials from going into landfills. We recycle maybe 30 percent of plastic bottles in the U.S., so there are billions of them buried in landfills every year.”
Atayne is a Certified B Corporation, and receives third-party certifications on its fabrics to ensure they contain no harmful chemical dyes or treatments that are known to be carcinogenic or hormone disruptive.
“We expose ourselves to so many chemicals in just the clothes we wear, and my goal is to limit that as much as possible,” he said.
In addition to using sustainable materials, Atayne’s production model is environmentally conscious. By using bottles from U.S. municipal recycling centers and waste management companies, and creating the yarns in North Carolina, Atayne is entirely domestically based and produces on demand. Other companies, including ones that make recycled products, mass-produce their merchandise in other countries before it’s been ordered and later ship it back to the U.S. Atayne’s just-in-time philosophy guarantees that everything being produced is for a specific order that will not clog up landfills or sit on store shelves.
“We like to call it progressive performance apparel—it’s not only progressive environmentally and socially, but also performance-wise,” said Litchfield.
The College has sold Atayne clothing in the Bowdoin Bookstore for a number of years and Atayne offers other options for teams wishing to independently purchase attire, but the company only became an official vendor for the athletic department in recent months.
Talks to partner with Atayne started a few years ago and were catalyzed last spring by White, who brought the idea to the department this spring after returning from a semester abroad.
White has an interest in sustainability as a member of Bowdoin Green Athletes and as the eco-rep of her College House last year. She was also a member of the now-defunct Green Global Initiative, a Bowdoin club that brought to campus local alumni speakers in the sustainability field, and went to a talk by Litchfield as a first year.
“Learning about what he did really sparked my interest,” White said.
She then started talking to other people on campus about Atayne and realized she already had one of the company’s shirts in her closet.
“With our push as a college toward becoming more sustainable and carbon neutral by 2020, I thought it would be great if we could bring Atayne to be a more everyday part of athletics,” she said. “It also seemed like it aligned with a lot of things I’m already interested in.”
White began discussing the possibility of bringing Atayne apparel to athletics with Litchfield and Ashmead White Director of Athletics Tim Ryan. She soon discovered the College’s contract with Nike only applied to competition clothing, and that they can use any apparel provider for athletic department-provided practice clothing. Ryan was receptive to the idea and decided to implement the new practice gear one team at a time.
“It’s a nice relationship to have because they’re here in Brunswick and it’s obviously an issue that’s important to students,” said Ryan.
The switch from Nike to Atayne practice gear has had little financial impact, allowing the athletic department to “maintain the pricing parameters that we have for practice apparel,” said Ryan.
“Money was one of my main concerns, but it wasn’t that big of a difference,” said White.
“[Litchfield] sees this as a pretty cool opportunity for him and based on the way they produce clothing, they try to keep the prices down as much as possible.”
After continuing more serious conversations last spring, White talked with her coach and this spring the change was officially made for athletics-issued practice T-shirts.
“Now we can take pride in what we’re wearing,” she said. “I think it’s really been positive for our team.”
And because Atayne’s shirts are ultimately made from the same material as traditional counterparts, they perform the same way.
“There’s not a noticeable difference in how they wear and wash in comparison to the Nike Dri-FIT jerseys that we usually have. They’re just as great and comfortable,” she said.
“In fact, our fabrics are actually a much higher quality, made with super premium fabrics rather than inexpensive fabrics that come with bulk orders,” said Litchfield.
White spearheaded the process independent of any of the environmental groups she is involved in.
“I was pretty impressed by how easy it was to get the process moving,” she said. “As long as you’re asking the right questions and coming into meetings prepared, I think that people here really want students to take initiative. They’re more than willing to help make it happen.”
The athletic department currently only supplies Atayne gear to the women’s lacrosse team, but both parties have said they have an interest in furthering the relationship. White and Litchfield have talked about having Atayne develop cold-weather leggings for teams to wear under their uniforms, and the tennis teams have discussed the possibility of using Atayne spandex. Atayne is planning to have a sample sale on campus this fall.
This relationship entirely depends on demand for Atayne’s athletic attire.
“A lot of what we’re doing is driven by the students,” said Litchfield. “If enough teams come together and say they really want to do it, developing something like that is very easy.”
“It can’t just be me,” said White. “We have to get the word out there.”