The Montana Robe Company
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Stories

Montana company making local luxury handmade robes. We love robes, but as we grow our company we look forward to sharing exciting milestones and developments along the way… in addition to our (and your) stories, testimonials and encounters.

Posts in Sustainability
Our Mission: To make amazing robes.

Choosing the fabrics for this Fall collection wasn’t easy. As we reviewed various suppliers from around the world, evaluated their pricing, quality, durability and longevity we have finally found fabrics worthy of our Robe Company mission - to make amazing robes.

For many of you following our story, you may be surprised with the selection of polyester minky fleece for the lining. After washing, wearing, using and sharing alternative lining fabrics, minky fleece was pretty unanimously the favorite lining fabric. With comments of “it’s like velvet” and “softer than a baby” it’s hard to disagree with its luxuriousness. For now.

Although we’re thankful for our partnership with Ambercycle to recycle our cut scraps and recycled robe linings, it will be pretty awesome to make the switch. Eventually.

Why not transition everything now? Well, our mission is to make amazing robes. And RIGHT NOW the most amazing fabrics available to make these amazing robes is the minky fleece. Someday, we look forward to this all changing and will continue testing these sustainable fibers in our robes to be ready to launch out.

But what if you want a sustainable robe? We’ve setup our products so you can order these various robes with a custom Bamboo Fleece lining instead of the minky fleece. If you select this Custom size at checkout and email us your request we’ll be happy to substitute it for you.

Hemp for Victory

for any readers who currently own (or are wearing) a hemp robe right now, I don’t need to explain why hemp is an amazing fiber. But it’s history is not always so positive and confident. To begin, here are some of the reasons we love hemp and see it as an amazing fiber:

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  • Three times stronger than cotton.

  • Good abrasion resistance/very durable.

  • Anti-microbial and UV resistance.

  • Naturally resistant to mold, mildew, rot.

  • Softens with each washing, without fiber degradation.

  • Breathable.and Washable.

Why could such a great fiber have such a conflicting history?. Here is an interesting link to see the rise and fall of hemp industry. In short, a “blooming” industry faced structural push-back from competing interests. These competitors (with a commercial interest in the growth of the cotton industry), utilized growing public concern and fear to launch a smear campaign on the hemp industry producing ads like this to bar hemp production within the US back in the 1930’s.

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With propaganda like this, it’s no wonder it has taken so long for generations to accept the usefulness of hemp and overcome the hysteria surrounding its production. But finally, thankfully, we’re moving past this nearly 100 years later.

As regulations between states slowly make progress in revising their hemp growing legislation and bureaucratic barriers, a burgeoning industry has started to appear… and with it, a unique opportunity for heightened accountability within fabric supply chains.

I should point out that we currently get our hemp fabric from a distributor in Canada who purchases from China. It’s not the most sustainable supply chain, but the quality and composition of fabric meets our imminent requirements. But… as the hemp industry regains its footing stateside I’ve been researching the viability of building a whole supply chain surrounding farm-to-closet Montana hemp. Sounds crazy, right?

But… I love the “What If” questions: What if we could build a partnership with a local hemp producer that takes hemp from root into fabric that we could use in our robes? What if we sparked a movement bringing not just manufacturing back stateside, but also full supply chain accountability? What if we could not only sustainably manufacture robes here in Montana, but source the fibers and fabric locally too? Root to Robe, Montana.

Although the startup costs and scale demands for getting this kind of operation running would be significant, I get goosebumps thinking about the renewed accountability this could bring to the world. Hemp for Victory!

The Microfiber Dilemma

For lucky recipients of our robes, I think you’ll agree that the microfiber fleece on the interior is pretty awesome. Instantly soft and warm donning one of our robes brings instant “robe hugs” to every recipient. Better yet, these fabrics don’t pill over time like more traditional fibers (ex. cotton sweatshirts) through washes and wear so they can take the trials of parenthood, ranch life and Montana living like a champ.

But there’s a downside that I’ve been wrestling with a lot over the past couple of months. For as amazing as this polyester minky fleece is, it (like a TON of our wardrobes these days) is a big contributor to the growing problem of microfiber pollution.

What is microfiber pollution? So… turns out… polyester fabrics shed tiny microfibers over time through wear and washing that aren’t entirely helpful to the environment. In fact they’re quite the opposite. A good video short illustrating all of this can be found here. These microfibers (like their name) are so small that they’re not filtered out by current washing machine and water processing facility filters - filling our beloved rivers, oceans and lakes with pesky plastic microfibers that take years to break down. Worse yet, these microfibers expand with other pollutants over time and wreck havoc on fish and their predators over time. With an estimated 1.4 million trillion microfibers in our water sources today, this is a huge (and growing) problem.

What does this mean for the Robe Company? Honestly, I don’t quite know yet. There’s lots of other more natural fibers out there - wool, bamboo fleece, organic cotton and hemp… but they’re still relatively early in being a real contender for this functionality. I’ve been experimenting with Bamboo/Organic Cotton fleece in some of our robes, and it is amazing…. but pills up quickly in washing on the underside. The hemp can be pretty amazing too, but doesn’t offer the same velvety luxury as the minky fleece.

I’ll continue to test things in the coming months as we design our Fall and Winter robe lines, but I’m open to suggestions, input and ideas. As a small company we need to survive - make sales that contagiously excite customers from the first touch to the 50th wash. But how can we do this in a way that doesn’t compromise our sustainability goals? Perhaps this is the million dollar question. As of now, we’re testing the Guppyfriend bags recommended by Patagonia for their microfiber garments, and will continue forming our decision.

My gut instinct? I would LOVE to kick polyester minky fleece forever with a viable sustainable contender. I wouldn’t miss the fluff, shedding and microfiber dust that floats around our shop. I wouldn’t miss the guilt of microfiber pollution that comes through washes - even though we’ve partnered with Moral Fiber (now Amber Cycle) to recycle our cut scraps and old robe linings. BUT. This transition away from minky can’t be done until there’s a really baller alternative. I think people are increasingly conscientious of their environmental impact… but not so much that they would buy a $300 mediocre robe to support it. So. The deliberation continues. More to come!

Sustainability Overhaul - Part 2

We’ve made great strides in overhauling our processes to become more sustainable, but I’ve got a couple of giant updates to share! I’m beyond excited that these have come to fruition and sincerely proud of the progress we’ve made.

  1. Moral Fiber Collaboration: We’ve partnered with an amazing startup in Los Angeles to recycle our polyester cut scraps and end-of-life robe linings. The recycling of polyester fabric is revolutionary - as recycling this type of plastic hasn’t historically been an option. We’re one of only a handful of companies doing this, but from now all, all polyester scraps will be recycled as well!

  2. Local Composting Service: We’ve setup a weekly pickup to snag our cotton and organic fiber scraps. These cut scraps and end-of-life robe scraps can be chopped up and composted!

  3. Recycling Overhaul: Until recently we’ve depended on our local recycling service. Sadly, we’ve come to understand the full process of recycling and with the recent changes in Chinese recycling costs we’ve kicked our pickup service and will be doing our own recycling to hold ourselves accountable with what kinds of products/packaging we’re BUYING. By handling each item that gets recycled or trashed we’ll know what products/packaging we should avoid in the future. It’s sad to see all the plastic waste, and we’ll look forward to collaborating further in this department.

  4. Testing out Sustainable Fibers: Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been dabbling in some organic cotton, bamboo, wool and hemp. They’re pretty amazing fibers and we’ll be stoked to offer these here shortly. These robes will be designed to be 100% compostible at the end of their usefulness - by either us, or you.

  5. Tree Planting: To balance out carbon emissions used in shipping, we’re going to be planting trees. Our first Aspen tree is scheduled to be planted here in 2 weeks!

The pursuit of “zero waste” will be a long road yet, but we’re super proud of our progress. Operating a business that enhances the world around us is pretty cool, and we want to do more. Thank you for all the kind words of support and encouragement!

Sustainability Overhaul - Part 1

If this picture looks overwhelming - it’s because it truly is. With the 12 Warriors & Quiet Waters robes well underway we’re quickly learning what we can do to make things better/faster/more efficiently…. and what not to do. These robes have been a great testing ground on re-configuring the behind-the-scenes processes to make them more “sustainable”. Although much of this has been in the background to what the final robes will show, I’m super excited to share the accomplishments!

  1. Design overhaul - redesigning parts of the robes that were annoying and tedious for us to facilitate. By re-organizing patterns, processes and cutting layouts we’ve mitigated these problems entirely making the robes stronger, more durable and more naturally beautiful.

  2. Cutting Process Overhaul - Prior to these past couple of months, robes were cut one at a time. Now, we’re cutting out multiple robes at the same time using much faster, more accurate tools. Amazing! Oh - and a cutting table and motorized cutter have come into the mix to alleviate on-floor cutting. HOORAY!

  3. Integration of “Batching” techniques through production - Thanks to the Warriors & Quiet Waters Robes we’ve been table to test out batching through production. Although sewing 12 robes at the same time is a bit overwhelming, bringing 4-6 robes through the process at a time make things go MUCH faster and more accurately…. without confusing parts.

  4. Compost service for organic cut scraps - We have setup a composting service who will be taking our cotton, hemp, bamboo and linen scraps weekly. We’ll shred our cut scraps (much fewer since our cutting process overhaul), and they’ll snag them weekly. It would be amazing to do the same with our Polyester Cut scraps, but we’ll leave that development to Part 2.

  5. Review of packaging & shipping materials - We love our boxes and black satin ribbons; although knowing that many of these ribbons get tossed after opening and left at a land-fill doesn’t feel quite so awesome. Over the next few months, we’ll be testing out burlap, twill, ticking tape ribbons as a better substitute.

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be expanding our scope out from mostly internal-sewing-room adjustments to investigating our own supply, disposal and recycle chains. Additionally, we’ll start looking into our carbon footprint, microfiber footprint and sustainable energy suppliers. One day at a time, one tweak at a time, we’ll become both more aware of our consumption - and more able to combat it.

Why go to all this fuss?

I’ve been asked this a couple of times and am so proud to answer. I believe companies have a unique opportunity to care - about their people, their products, their customers, the environment, and the community. Many businesses choose not to do this (it does bring costs and responsibility), but I’m not scared. I strongly believe we can make amazing robes for you and allow everybody to win .

Thank you as always for your ongoing support. We love you guys! Have other ideas for things we can do better? Feel free to drop them in the comments below, or drop me a note a jenny.thuen@montanarobes.com