Style and Sustainability—Pure & Co. Excels at Both

April 19, 2011 Updated: April 19, 2011

Ontario-based Pure & Co., the parent company of fashion lines Neon Buddha and Pure HANDKNIT, takes both the fair trade concept and sustainability very seriously.

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Each piece in the Pure & Co. collection, available at major retailers throughout North America, is handcrafted by 4,500 women knitters in Thailand who are able to live a vastly improved lifestyle while doing what they traditionally know and love.

The women are provided with western benefits such as health care—including paid maternity leave—transportation to the workplace, on-campus housing, and paid continuing education which includes free English classes for all staff, their family, and friends.

“It’s incredible for them because they can make very good money and they can do it while living the way that they want to live. And we get to take advantage of the beautiful craftsmanship that they’ve cultivated over centuries and pass it on to North America,” says Lyn Baskett, VP of sales and marketing.

Pure & Co.’s head office in Canada and their facility in Chiang Mai, Thailand, use solar power to heat water. All paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, and metal are recycled, and any excess yarn is donated to several NGOs and women’s groups where it is used in income-generating projects.

This month, the company is on track to open an eco-friendly state-of the-art dye house in Chiang Mai. The facility incorporates a biomass power plant which transforms agricultural waste into electricity and a dying method called Cold Pad Batch that uses one-tenth of the water and one-quarter of the energy used in traditional cotton dyeing.

“It’s self-supportive completely,” says Baskett. “It makes its own energy and it’s using agricultural waste as the fuel. The water that will come out of the plant when it’s complete will be drinkable.”

In addition to the knitters, the dye house and related facilities in Chiang Mai will employ another 500 people.

Designer Shannon Pasaro lives in St. Catherines, Ontario, where Pure & Co.’s head office is based. As creative head of the company, Pasaro does the designing for both the Neon Buddha and Pure HANDKNIT lines.

The Pure HANDKNIT collection features stylish sweaters, cardigans, ponchos, hats, and wraps, such as the Original Button Wrap, which can be worn in five different ways. Buttons made of shell, ceramic, oversized coconut, and hand-punched tin are distinctive to the designs, which are crafted in 100 percent cotton.

The Neon Buddha collection consists of jackets, pants, skirts, dresses, and tops made in jerseys and various knit fabrics.

“It’s all knit driven,” says Baskett. “The yarn for Pure HANDKNIT is all 100 percent cotton, but we also do use Lycra blends for our Neon Buddha line, because the Lycra adds strength and durability to the cotton.”

In keeping with the belief that “you reap what you sow,” the company donates 1 percent of every item sold to Canadian University Service Overseas. CUSO puts the money toward worthy causes such as disaster relief around the world and the Mirror Foundation, an NGO that works to promote the rights of Thailand’s hill tribes.

“We never started off wanting to run an ethical business—we started off wanting to make great clothes,” says Baskett. “We think that our first priority has to be making products that women are going to love, so we never lose sight of that. But we think the way we do business is incredibly important.”