This article was published in Seattle Business magazine in October 2008.
Sisters Patty Grossman and Leigh Anne Van Dusen first entered the organic fabrics business four years ago because they wanted to produce beautiful materials that had little or no impact on the environment.
The result was Seattle-based O Ecotextiles, a company that produces fabrics in the most environmentally benign manner possible. The two founders have a collection of textiles made of bamboo, organic cotton, hemp, linen and silk that is being used by star interior designers such as London-based Emily Todhunter, who is well known in Britain for her designs in fashionable clubs and restaurants.
"The textile industry is a gigantic industry and gigantically polluting," says the 55-year-old Grossman. "The industry uses some of the most toxic chemicals known to process fabrics. Chemicals that include chlorine, chromium, copper, mercury, flurocarbons, and lead."
The five-employee fabric company uses natural substances— such as aloe vera, beeswax and vitamin E—to soften its fabrics, and low-impact, fiber-reactive chemicals as dyes, says Van Dusen, 59.
With today's hyper-focus on environmental issues, one would think it would be easy to find such fabrics, but Grossman and Van Dusen say that wasn't the case.
"It's taken us five years to learn how to produce gorgeous fabrics without all those chemicals," Grossman says. "I was a tepid environmentalist when we started this, but now I'm a rabid one. We've been reading scientific studies for five years and it's alarming what we found."
One of their primary goals was to locate manufacturing partners that were truly interested in creating fabrics that had a low impact on the environment, Grossman says. The two women didn't find any interior designers or textile manufacturers that seemed dedicated to creating and using such fabrics until 2007.
Today, O Ectotextiles has a line of 17 different fabrics with Pacific Northwest-inspired names, such as Chinook, Tacoma, Tonasket, Ross Lake and Lopez. The stratup's future looks bright. Its unique push for natural fabrics and processes has brought considerable media recognition and a number of industry awards, including the "Best Merchandise" award at Decorex 2007, one of the interior design industry's biggest trade shows. The company also won the 1008 Zino Society Green Investment Fund award of $50,000 earlier this year.
In addition, Grossman and Van Dusen recently caught the attention of the perfect audience: the entertainment industry. Furniture sporting their company's fabrics was used in retreat spaces at the Grammy Awards and the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, a gathering of Hollywood's elite independent filmmakers and actors.