Marci Zaroff continues to pioneer the ECOrenaissance and breathe life back into the world one brand at a time.
Marci Zaroff isn’t called the “Godmother of Sustainability” because she recycles here and there. In the ‘90s, she helped write the world’s first premium standard for farm-to-finished-product certified organic textiles, now known as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). Marci has since made it her life’s mission to help the planet heal by cleaning up garment manufacturing processes at their very source. To name but a few of her many titles, Marci is an ECOlifestyle pioneer, author and serial entrepreneur. Living an ECOlifestyle means living a life with the environment top of mind. She coined the term ECOfashion before she founded her current company Ecofashion Corp. — a “Greenhouse of Brands.” Her company includes MetaWear, a business-to-business turnkey sustainable manufacturing platform; Farm to Home®, a home goods line on QVC; Seed to Style®, a size-inclusive clothing line on QVC; and YesAnd, an in-house contemporary apparel brand that sells directly to consumers online. Ecofashion Corp. offers something different in terms of sustainability — it seeks systemic change. All of her supply chains are GOTS certified and the resulting garments are made with organic, recycled, regenerative or circular fibers and materials.
Long before Marci began her journey in the food and beauty industries, she knew she was meant to raise awareness about sustainability. At the age of 16, after a friend gifted her the book “Living in the Light”, Marci dove into the ECOlifestyle, became a vegetarian and never looked back. She was in the trenches of the early-stage organic food and clean beauty industries when she discovered that textiles were a missing variable in the wellness equation. In her 2018 book, “ECOrenaissance: A Lifestyle Guide for Cocreating a Stylish, Sexy, and Sustainable World”, Marci cites that roughly 2% of global arable land is used for cotton farming yet cotton is the world’s most pesticide-intensive crop, a pervasive problem that can be improved by implementing GOTS. The book is dedicated to Marci’s late friend and mentor Horst Rechelbacher, founder of the iconic natural beauty brand Aveda. Before moving into the apparel industry, Marci co-founded The Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN), promoting health through food. Her involvement with healthy organic food helped Marci transition to the world of textiles and fashion since textiles farming often takes place alongside food. Marci says, “I’ve lived at this interconnection of food and fiber (textiles) because there’s so many ways, from agriculture to popular culture, that those two categories are inextricably linked,” Marci says. “We are a part of nature; we breathe out carbon and nature breathes in carbon. Nature breathes out oxygen and we breathe in oxygen. We have this interconnected, interdependent, symbiotic relationship and that’s what my book is about. The premise of ECOrenaissance is that through the lens of design, we can change the world. We have to see ourselves as a collective ecosystem with each other, nature, and every living creature.”
Marci’s first order of business is combatting the notion that sustainable clothing is inherently expensive and inaccessible to ordinary people who, for the lack of better alternatives, prefer fast and disposable fashion. An alumnus of Haas Business School at the University of California Berkeley, Marci’s business background and supply chain expertise leave her well poised to alter mass production practices, bringing conventional manufacturing into a new era of sustainability. Her holistically managed supply chain is prepared to output any volume of organic and/or circular apparel and home textiles required by private label brands and big box retailers like QVC and Walmart. The idea is that garments designed sensibly, of high-quality nontoxic materials, touting sustainable advantages side by side with the competition and priced to sell, should make Ecofashion Corp.’s garments a no-brainer for consumers who care about their health. If this is true, her competitors in the marketplace may soon feel the pressure to follow suit and implement the same sustainability standards in their supply chains. With the fashion industry responsible for 10% of the world’s carbon footprint, Marci seeks to positively impact the industry at economies of scale.
Marci’s brands focus on organic and regenerative agriculture, offering affordability, accessibility and authenticity to break the stigma that a consumer must sacrifice style and comfort for sustainability. In her book, Marci writes, “People are always initially drawn to the surface, to the way things look. So, a beautiful, elegant style can present an essential means of planting a seed of consciousness.” Ecofashion brands are all farm-to-finished fashion, meaning there are no harmful ingredients in the growing or processing of their products. “Not in our finishes, not in our dyes, not in our seeds, not in our packaging. The GOTS standard is a product-level finished standard,” Marci says. “You can also include social compliance, so there is no child labor, there are safe working conditions, [and] fair pay.” For consumers, GOTS verifies at least 70% of the fiber is certified organic. It ensures organic cotton is grown without GMO’s, fungicides, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. According to the Textile Exchange, GOTS-certified cotton uses far less water and less energy than the conventionally grown alternative. GOTS not only certifies that the garment is environmentally responsible, but that it was made to fulfill social responsibilities as well. Certifications like GOTS, Fair Trade or Cradle to Cradle, can help manufacturers ensure safe working conditions, implement programs for diversity, equity and inclusion, and partner with fair trade companies. Meeting this standard means that every touch point in Marci’s supply chain is monitored and audited, ensuring there are no harmful chemicals in Ecofashion’s garments — or at any point in the process.
Marci writes in ECOrenaissance, “What became evident in my early years of embracing health and wellness, and its relationship to all living beings, is that we all reside together ‘under the canopy’ of our planet’s ecosystem.” Under the Canopy was also the name of the company Marci founded that produced the very first GOTS-certified product in North America in 2006, her Under the Canopy® bed sheets. In a Zoom conversation, she explains, “We now have six iterations of GOTS, and it mirrors the organic food standard. When you see the Organic seal on a food product, it is certified. We can’t use that seal on textiles because the allowances are all food specific. That’s why we created our version of that standard in the ’90s to apply to textiles, which includes our allowances for things like low-impact dyes and finishes and things that we need in our industry,” she explains.
The idea of circularity or giving back to the earth by replenishing what is depleted from it means exiting the linear thinking found in conventional supply chains. Marci was on the founding Board of Advisors of Cradle to Cradle’s textile vertical initiative, Fashion Positive, that guides companies in the use of circular materials. Marci adheres to the vertical manufacturing model in her own 2013 company, MetaWear®, because she understands that removing unnecessary steps, sometimes seven to ten levels, in the supply chain helps to improve efficiency and costs. “The way I’ve done [this] throughout the course of my career is to build the supply chain from the ground up, eliminating a lot of the excessive markups along the supply chain, so that we can be more vertically integrated and more efficient … add value to the product without adding a lot of cost,” Marci says. Today, MetaWear® offers to co-brand, with other brands and designers seeking sustainable, organic materials. According to Zaroff’s website, MetaWear® is a full-package, private-label, sustainable apparel and home manufacturing platform. MetaWear® is the engine that fuels all brands that partner with it. If smaller apparel brands do not have sustainability in their repertoire, they can design a sustainable line through Ecofashion to see how receptive their existing customer base is. Marci’s company is wholly dedicated to sustainability, which makes her a natural partner for growing apparel companies that haven’t amassed their own network of trusted factories yet. This also lowers the stakes for mature companies that want to explore the growth potential of sustainability, allowing them to implement sustainability measures gradually, instead of committing immediately to sweeping process change in their supply chains.
MetaWear® is designed to make sustainability easy for brands and retailers seeking a sustainable solution. Brands or retailers choose their design, materials and certifications by following a step-by-step process laid out by MetaWear®. MetaWear® nominates manufacturing location based on product, timeline and cost. Customers can choose organic blanks or send MetaWear® their own swatches and designs. The last step in the process is MetaWear® helps customers navigate the best certifications for their product. They choose from GOTS, Standard 100 by OEKO-Tex® that tests for harmful substances, Global Recycled Standard (GRS) that tracks and verifies recycled materials content in a final product, Biodynamic® and Demeter® that are farming standards, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards for forests, conservation zones and protection areas or Organic Content Standard (OCS) standards for organic input. All are rigorous certifications for sustainability compliance that are voluntary but assure consumers that they are getting what they pay for. For private label customers, MetaWear® is an extension of the customer’s production and branding teams, offering a “source to story” service. YesAnd® is Ecofashion’s in-house brand that MetaWear® fuels.
If suppliers put in the work it takes to ensure our garments are sustainably made, the onus in on them to explain the value added to consumers. “It goes from source to story,” Marci says. “MetaWear® not only manufactures and oversees the production, compliance certifications, the whole inspection and quality control phase, because we have an office in India, but we also layer in the product with marketing and communication toolkits — photos, videos, impact data, blockchain technology, QR codes. We have basically created a full turnkey solution … for brands and retailers to have an extended version of their own team.” Transparency is another way to engage with consumers, as Marci explains, “We show everything from how many miles it’s traveled to the people that made the product and even [who] grew the cotton. A garment can change hands 10 times. There are so many layers to a garment, people don’t even realize how complex it is.”
Adding to the positive environmental impact in Marci’s business initiatives, YesAnd® also has a resale program called YesAnd Repeat. In this program, customers can buy and sell pre-loved YesAnd items. This small action can help push back on the fashion industry’s global impact. YesAnd® partners with a company called EcoDrive that plants a tree for every order YesAnd® fulfills, offsetting the carbon produced and giving back to the Earth. “Fashion originally was inspired by nature, and it was a reflection and an extension of who we are. We’ve gotten so far away from that with this disposable fashion mentality which is just pure waste that gets thrown away and ends up in the landfills,” Marci says. She also explains how synthetic garments were never made until this day and age, and they shed toxic microfibers. Those microfibers go into our oceans through washing machines, so, “not only are we destroying our land ecosystems through conventional agriculture, but we’re also destroying our ocean ecosystems through synthetic fiber and manufacturing.” Marci makes it a point for her brands to give consumers style, quality, fit, color, comfort, and price, while being sustainable — or in her words, “making a difference to human and environmental health, climate and social justice, and our children’s futures.”
Marci and her team will launch a customizable manufacturing model and are opening a smart factory for MetaWear® in Louisiana. Their first step in that direction is expanding their manufacturing methods from India and housing them in the U.S. The next phase is making the garments on demand. A precursor to this is Metawear’s quick turn t-shirts that are made domestically. At the moment, they are also working to set up batch on-demand manufacturing in India that allows the company to do any volume of orders.
In an excerpt from ECOrenaissance, Marci states, “I’m working toward a world where everything we eat and wear is contributing to a thriving ecosystem, not damaging or extracting from our environment.” She sees the younger generation demanding transparency and asking the necessary questions. When Marci meets with me on a video chat, she says, “Your generation changed the game for my world … the internet, the demand for transparency, wanting to ask the questions: ‘What’s in my food? Who made my clothes? What’s in them? How are they being made? Who’s making them?’ Rana Plaza, the Bangladesh tragedy, really created a lot of awareness from your generation demanding change in the fashion industry. It was a powerful catalyst that accelerated this movement,” she says. Marci is referring to the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building in Dhaka, Bangladesh where clothing for foreign multinationals was being manufactured. Safety standards and building codes were discovered to be violated and the fashion company that placed the orders destined for Walmart and Sears alleged that their supplier was secretly subcontracting jobs. Incidents like these put pressure on retailers to do better. Marci’s mission is to provide the transparency needed to assure consumers these tragedies will not repeat themselves.
Marci goes on to share, “We empower women at every step in our supply chain — from our farmers to our workers, to our team and consumers. We are a predominantly women-run company dedicated to women supporting women.” Her company partners with the Women’s Earth Alliance to co-create “women’s leadership in regenerative cotton production for climate change mitigation and resilience.”
The industry is starting to shift thanks to sustainability warriors like Marci. The planet is waking up to destruction — the ECOrenaissance is upon us.
Conversations with Samantha Stanich. Written by Samantha Stanich. Edited by Maya Quarker & Jess Lo.
Page design by Emily Hartwig.