PACT is a forward-thinking organic cotton apparel brand that has been doing the eco-friendly, socially conscious beat since 2006. Started by two Berkeley college students as a business school project, PACT now functions something like “Kickstarter meets Tom’s,” in the words of Jeff Denby, one of the founders. We caught up with him to get a sense of where PACT came from, what it’s about, and where it’s headed.
The Underwear Expert: Where did the idea for PACT come from?
Jeff Denby: I was always interested in mass produced objects and how we can make those better, because if we can make those better then we’re having a huge impact on things that everyone wears every single day. Also, I was looking for organic cotton clothing for myself, and all I could find was oatmeal-colored, hippie yoga clothing.
The Underwear Expert: And now that you’re successful six or seven years in, how would you describe PACT to people who don’t know the brand?
Jeff Denby: Good design, good fabric and good cause are our brand pillars, and they’ve maintained themselves throughout the brand so far. A big piece of what we decided to include in the brand was this aspect of giving back to the community or the world at large; but, it was something that had been done before–Tom’s was out there, and we realized that organic cotton responsibly manufactured wasn’t going to be a defensible brand position. Customers weren’t going to rush just to sustainable cotton.
The Underwear Expert: To set yourself apart you tie different collections you launch to various causes. What kinds of causes has PACT partnered with so far?
Jeff Denby: For our holiday collection last Christmas, we partnered with Architecture For Humanity and designed a collection inspired by Japan. We raised money to help them fund the rebuilding of a village that was wiped out by the tsunami. It was a really cool project for the brand and customers, because there’s a visceral connection between the design of the product and the cause that we’re supporting. It became this big group movement: the more underwear that was purchased, the more money we could give.
The Underwear Expert: Do you think that this fundraising meets product model will ever become standard?
Jeff Denby: I certainly hope so! When it comes to manufacturing, there’s a long way to go… It’s very complicated and [the fashion industry] is not transparent. We’ve really forced PACT’s supply chain to be transparent. I’ve gone to every factory where our fabric comes from, gone to the cotton field and met workers. All of that is super important to me–to understand the supply chain and to understand the improvements that can be made, and how better to work with our suppliers. Things are improving and as consumers become aware of how clothing is made they’re going to demand different things.
The Underwear Expert: When do you think consumers will demand transparency and accountability on a regular basis?
Jeff Denby: Organic food is just now coming of age, but that’s because Whole Foods came along and made a big beautiful grocery store. So teaching customers about the apparel industry–that clothing doesn’t come from a department store–that’s going to take some time.
As for the philanthropic side, I think companies should definitely involve themselves that way, but I see a lot of brands trying to do philanthropic things and falling flat. That’s because the product isn’t well integrated into the project.
The Underwear Expert: We here PACT has some changes planned–what can we expect to see?
Jeff Denby: For men’s product were introducing more design, solid colors, and improving the waistband (we’re kind of obsessed with small design tweaks). We want to focus on maintaining core styles and a really democratic fit. We’ve got boxer briefs, boxers and briefs, and really want the fit to be a comfortable, democratic everyday fit. We’re experimenting with colors as well and expanding our socks.
As for the charity aspect, the goal as the brand grows is to be a clothing brand but also be a messenger for people who are out there in the world doing really awesome stuff. We say that sports brands sponsor athletes and PACT sponsors change makers.
The Underwear Expert: What’s the greatest joy that you’ve gotten out of this project, Jeff?
Jeff Denby: Definitely meeting these people that are involved in making the world a better place. There are companies who have started nonprofits or missions [around the world] and to be able to see them and tell their stories, and use our product to help them do what they’re doing, is great.