Podcast Recap, Episode 4: Sustainable Farming Practices with Seed2Shirt Founder Tameka Peoples

 

Tameka Peoples joins Monica for episode 4 of Sustainable Solutions with Planet Aid. Tameka is the founder, CEO, and Director of Operations at Seed2Shirt, the first black-woman-owned vertically integrated apparel manufacturing & print on demand company in the U.S. She shares her thoughts on sustainable farming practices, the benefits of sustainable agriculture, and how to enrich every farmer and community involved in the process, from seed to shirt.

Read on for the conversation highlights, or immerse yourself in the full podcast on platforms like Apple, Google, Spotify, YouTube or directly on Planet Aid’s website

Seed2Shirt and Vertically Integrated Apparel to Achieve Sustainable Farming Practices

Talking about Seed2Shirt’s origins, Tameka explained that it started with a desire for an apparel company that was entirely black-owned, which required vertical integration. Tameka described it as the opposite of outsourcing; everybody, including the farmers, has ownership and control in the value system, fostering sustainable farming practices. Also, as it turns out, the value system is complex.

Shirts may seem pretty simple because they’re so common, but cotton goes on quite the journey, after it’s been grown and picked, to become wearable apparel. This includes:

  • Ginning – Cleaning debris from the cotton fibers
  • Spinning – Making yarn from the cotton
  • Weaving – Creating basic fabrics
  • Dying – Adding colors and treatments
  • Cut/Make/Trim – The final stages of turning whole cloth into clothes

Each of these stages are usually handled by different companies, but Tameka takes a different approach. "There's no portion of our value chain that we don't completely understand and control," she said. Through the strength of Seed2Shirt’s vertical integration, the company is able to make decisions that create ethical, sustainable, and social impact.

Ethical, Sustainable, and Social Impact

Tameka explained why she cares more about meaningful impact than popular labels. "I try to stay away from buzzwords and jargon. What does the science and data tell us? What are the impacts on livelihoods? There will be a new buzzword in 5-10 years, and our community is focused on solutions."

One significant impact is freeing farmers from the extractive business model common to modern agriculture, and embracing the benefits of sustainable agriculture. Far too frequently, farmers are forced to pay all costs for upgrades to their equipment and land, but they don’t share the resulting increased profits. 

Seed2Shirt instead uses a more circular business model. "We wanted to bring value back to those who were intimately connected to the production of our product line," Tameka explains. This led to the creation of the Farmer Enrichment Program (FEP), which invests profits back into the production team through educational programs, equipment grants, and certifications. The FEP currently serves 8,400 African farmers and 1,200 U.S. farmers.

Using Good Business to Motivate Change

Asking farmers to make changes to their traditional methods of production has been a very rewarding challenge to overcome. The key to Seed2Shirt’s success was talking with farmers about how they could reduce water and increase yields. Certifying their processes would allow farmers to charge higher prices. 

Although these proposals were financially risky for the farmers, the Farmer Enrichment Program committed over $215,000 to expand outreach that will reduce the risk and increase the reward. Farmers are business owners after all, so showing them directly how they could improve their business and increase profits made them much more receptive to the ideas.

Healing the Traumatic Connection with Cotton in Sustainable Farming Practices

While African farmers see cotton as a crop like any other, many Black Americans have strong negative associations with cotton farming due to chattel slavery. As such, Seed2Shirt is helping reconnect Black Americans to the land so they can begin to heal this generational trauma.

Tameka shared her vision for five years in the future, which included continued growth and expansion in both the USA and Africa. She wants to see more Black people connected to agriculture and textiles. One specific plan is running exposure programs to Black farms, giving young people real-world experience and showing off the benefits of a farming life. 

 Partners in Textile Sustainability

Planet Aid and Seed2Shirt work as allies in the textile industry. With their commitment to sustainability and environmentally-friendly practices, these organizations share core values, underlining sustainable farming practices and the benefits of sustainable agriculture.

Seed2Shirt focuses on sustainable production in small batches for high quality textiles, while Planet Aid ensures these durable clothes live out their full life through its yellow bin donation sites, which help unwanted clothes find new homes and stay out of landfills and incinerators.  

For people looking to make their own community more sustainable, Planet Aid offers solutions including:

 Click on one of the links above to start your sustainability journey.

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