SALT LAKE CITY — The United States produces millions of tons of plastic waste every year. Most of it ends up on beaches or piled up in landfills across the country. Salt Lake City company &Collar ("and collar") is looking to change that. Each of their shirts are made, in part, from 15 "upcycled" single-use plastic water bottles.
"They have these large machines that break [the water bottles] down into these small chunks and bits, and then those bits are turned into these small pellets," said &Collar's Chief Marketing Officer, Jordan Larsen. "And then these pellets are turned into super fine thread that can be weaved into polyester again."
The result is a liquid-resistant, stretchy, breathable and long-lasting fabric.
"It's not only pulling out this plastic from waterways or landfills, you're getting a shirt that's super breathable, stretchy, high performance," Larsen added.
&Collar was founded by Utah Valley University alumnus Ben Perkins in 2017. The company had an 800 percent revenue growth in 2020.
"I mean, why not make the world's best dress shirt, but also try to make it the best dress shirt for the world?" Perkins said. "That was the underlying idea."
He believes the company's success comes from two factors: the first being a quality product, and the second being their environmentally sustainable business model.
"Make a great product first that customers can love and be passionate about," he said. "And then almost as an add-on say, 'Hey, and not only are you getting a great dress shirt for yourself, you can actually feel good about your purchase because you're helping us remove the equivalent of 15 plastic bottles from the oceans and waterways.'"
Although &Collar spends more money on each shirt due to the recycling process, Perkins said the upfront costs pay off in the long run.
"It's been a good differentiator if we're talking about it from a real business and financials perspective," he said. "It matters to people."
As more and more millennials enter board rooms and the marketplace, corporate social responsibility (CSR) becomes increasingly important. A recent survey by Nielsen found that 55 percent of online consumers across the world are willing to "pay extra for products and services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact."
CSR also applies to the workforce. Another study by Cone Communications found that 64 percent of millennials won't take a job if the prospective employer doesn't have a strong CSR policy.
"We asked, 'what can we do to help shape the world in a better place going forward and make things a little more sustainable?'" Larsen said. "Not just for us, but for the generations who come after us."
Both Perkins and Larsen agreed that consumers can have a real impact on a company's behavior and business model by "voting with your dollar." Perkins said it will take a combination of consumers holding companies accountable, businesses adopting sustainable practices, and government rewarding those behaviors to have substantial impact, but each player in the economy has to do their part.