The Eco-Friendly Do-Everything Turkish Towel

Tiffany Shown remembers the night that led to Fair Seas Supply Co. “I was living my life as a normal consumer, not paying attention to where things come from, and one Friday night I opened a bottle of wine and went down a good ol’ YouTube rabbit hole and found a documentary about the environmental impact of a single t-shirt; the waste of moving the raw materials and fabric and the production process and factories in countries with poor labor laws, then shipping them to the U.S. where you get handed a t-shirt at the end of a 10K and probably throw it in the trash right away. And that documentary really struck me, I looked down at the t-shirt I was wearing and thought, ‘This shirt has been to more countries than I have!’”

Shown shifts from whimsy to conviction, “I went way into it. Depending on who you ask, cotton is the dirtiest or second dirtiest crop in the world. It uses 10-25% of the world’s pesticides, tons of water, and the way the marketplace works, cotton goes from place to place and uses fuel to get shipped around in loops that make no sense.”

That night she did the same thing every entrepreneur has done and put together a spreadsheet, watched more documentaries, and thought more about what it would take to start an organic cotton t-shirt company. Soon she was running an organic product and food blog, then taking courses at Factory 45.

After the program, she had an epiphany, “At the time I was living in San Diego, going to the beach all the time, and it occurred to me that I bought my go-to beach towel at Costco, and it was super brightly colored with dyes and I had literally no idea where it came from. So I began researching how to make a versatile beach towel, both more environmentally friendly and long-lasting. I didn’t just want to make another towel. I reached out to probably a hundred material sources, and at the time less than 1% of the world’s cotton was certified organic; sourcing was not easy.”

Her sister suggested Turkish towels instead—she was a big believer in how quickly they dry and how versatile they are. “I started looking at Google Maps in the region of Turkey that I’d heard was the Turkish Towel capital, and I zoomed in on some buildings until I saw what looked like the word “fabric” in Turkish on the businesses, then I used Google Translate to send them all emails and ask who could source organic cotton, and I finally found the one company in Turkey that had certified organic cotton.”

“Our first product was a round towel, made of a thicker material, so it was a somewhat different and innovative product that people use for everything from a beach blanket to a traditional towel to a throw in the home. If I was going to make something and add to the consumer economy, I wanted it to be the longest-lasting, highest quality product that I could make. I’d seen all these horror stories about factories and working conditions, so I wanted to make sure that I could work with people who I could quickly and easily go meet with, check on, and get to know. I wanted them to be treated fairly and paid well and feel like a part of my team. So I found a group in California that could finish the towels using material from Turkey.”

Shown reflects on the challenges of committing to ethically-made goods without making them unattainable to the people who are most interested in them. “One of the challenges is that organic Turkish cotton and American labor is that people want to support the idea of organic, ethically-made cotton, but can’t actually purchase the products at the cost they require.” Fair Seas works hard to streamline the supply chain and be smart about operations costs in order to deliver high-quality, sustainable goods at a price that we can all afford. Considering how long its towels last, it’s a worthy (and seriously nice to look at and use!) investment.

Although it is only grown on 2.5% of the world’s farmland, conventional cotton accounts for nearly 20% of global pesticide use. It takes three years for conventional farmers to certify their land organic. That’s how long it takes clear the soil of conventional pesticides and chemicals. In 2017 alone, organic cotton farmers saved over a billion gallons of water versus conventional growing methods.

Like Tiffany, the name Fair Seas Supply Co. is both inspiring and intentional. “I wanted a brand that was fair and used eco-friendly materials and was fair to the planet and to people, and obviously the brand is very nautically-oriented. The phrase ‘Fair Winds and Following Seas’ is how sailors wish each other safe travels, which means a lot to me as my dad and boyfriend are both in the Navy. I love the idea that this towel can accompany you on your adventures wherever you go."

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John is the managing editor at CAUSEBOX and a traveling writer who lives on the road with his dog, Hank.