When Joy Vasiljev started her organic textile business back in 2007, sustainability was often seen as a side issue. Not anymore. Today, The Organic Company is proving that businesses that do good can also do well.
What inspired you to start The Organic Company?
Since I was 18 I’ve been a member of The Danish Society for Nature Conservation. The more passionate I got about protecting our nature, the more I started noticing a lot of injustices in this regard.
Around the same time, I bought a towel made from organic cotton, and reading about how it was produced was mind-blowing. But this towel could hardly absorb anything, it looked like it was poorly made, it was unbleached and not as nice as my other towels. This happened other times and it was such a big disappointment that I started asking myself, why do we have to pick between something that is produced with respect for the environment and people, and something that is well-designed?
“I have to prove that responsible business is good business”
The more I read about it, the more this question kept growing. Slowly something switched in my brain and I realised I could build this on my own. It was such a huge gap in the market and it felt so right to fill it. I had to prove that responsible business is good business. Back then it was either you’re a charity or you’re a corporation. Luckily, that’s changing today.
What was it like starting a sustainable business before sustainability was seen as such a big issue?
The main challenge was definitely awareness. When I’d tell people about my business, they would say things like, “Oh this is so cute. Is this like a hobby?” It was puzzling to me, how could somebody look at it as a hobby when it’s something so important for our planet.
But more than that, now that I’ve been working in this field for some time I realise that growing organic materials is the bare minimum. This is where you start. Then you need to build on it through regenerative and holistic agricultural practices.
A challenge I am encountering today instead is this new wave of ‘intentions marketing’. We know that greenwashing is an issue, but we’re heading a step further as more and more companies have gotten into the business of declaring countless, non-binding, environmental pledges. Brands gain a lot of goodwill by doing this, and politicians do too, but too often they fail to deliver on those promises. Good intentions aren’t enough. Change requires action.
What’s the impact you hope to achieve?
Our ultimate vision is for all agriculture in the world, no matter the crop, to be organic, meaning a pesticide-free world. Our cotton has been GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified for many years. GOTS is the highest standard for sustainable cotton production as it regularly performs unannounced site inspections and laboratory tests. It’s not impossible to cheat, but it’s really hard.
“You don’t have to move to an abandoned cabin in the middle of nowhere to be sustainable”
Next to organic agriculture, we want less and better consumption, because we can’t just replace all fields in the world with organic produce. And also because humanity’s resource consumption keeps exceeding our planet’s capacity to regenerate itself. Consumers should ask themselves, “Do I really need this?” and companies should think, “Why are we producing this?”
There’s nothing wrong in producing and buying things, but the way we do it and the extent of it has to change. And that’s why at The Organic Company we have very strict design principles that guide our product development. Even if we produce organic textiles, the planet still needs to absorb these products at some point, so whenever we are conceptualising a new product we say that it should “meet a need, solve a problem or lift a category”.
Besides that, we avoid following trendy or fashionable patterns to make sure our products never go out of style. And we work with functionality and quality, because when you make a genuinely good product, people tend to keep it for longer hence eventually buying less. As a company we can make a huge difference by working around the way we produce and helping the consumer be responsible as well. And that’s true responsibility.
What advice would you give to others who want to make a positive impact?
I find that people are scared and confused, and that leads to paralysis. To address the fear part of the equation, when I am teaching to young people in schools, I always open up by saying that sustainability isn’t about not producing, not buying, not eating any meat, and so on. I try to make them understand that you don’t have to move to an abandoned cabin in the middle of nowhere to be sustainable. It’s about how and how much.
Who do you want to pass a High 5 on to and why?
I’d like to give a High 5 to Laura Storm. She’s the co-author, with Giles Hutchins, of a book called Regenerative Leadership. It’s a must read. What Laura talks about in the book is that we first need to focus on reconnecting with our inner selves, then on reconnecting with nature, and finally on reconnecting with common sense.
High 5 Joy!