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Letters to You

t-615 Featured on Ravishly's "Ladies We Love"

We've been doing lots of fun interviews lately - can you tell?! Here's another one originally posted on Ravishly.com, featuring some insight into our original intentions for t-615 and what it's like to run a social enterprise.

Three years ago, Lauren Carpenter and her best friend Emily Landham started t-615, a fashion company that sought to raise funds and awareness for survivors of human trafficking. They began with a collection of T-shirts emblazoned with inspiring quotes and graphics, then launched a line of accessories that would quickly become their signature item: BRANDED cuff bracelets. Designed to start a conversation about the horrors of trafficking, each bracelet is stamped with a unique number that represents the dehumanizing numbers that are often assigned to (and sometimes literally branded onto) victims of the slave trade. t-615 is a social enterprise, which means it's a for-profit business with a philanthropic mission similar to a nonprofit. Carpenter and Landham donate a quarter of their profits to End Slavery Tennessee, and are in the process of starting an internship program for survivors of trafficking.

I was thrilled to talk to co-founder Lauren Carpenter about the evolution of her business, what it's like to start a company with your best friend, and how she juggles a full-time job and a growing social enterprise.

What inspired you to start t-615?

I have never been someone who knew exactly what I wanted to do as a career. I danced around getting involved in the music business or becoming a PR professional, but nothing ever felt quite right. However, I happen to be married to someone who has always known exactly what he was supposed to do: music! So, his passion brought us to Nashville almost six years ago, and I started a job at the local chamber of commerce. Part of my job at the time was to help out at various events. At one of those events, Gwen and Suzanne of 147 Million Orphans were the featured speakers. They talked about starting a business with a purpose—what they called a "social enterprise," a term I was unfamiliar with at the time. They explained how creating a for-profit business for a social cause actually allowed them to be more successful and help more people than the traditional nonprofit structure. They were selling shirts, jewelry, and bags after the meeting. I think I spent at least $200 that day on items to help orphans in Africa. At that moment, I realized that the ladies had spoken to my heart through a love of fashion and a desire to do good. The wheels started turning, and I decided I wanted to start a business to help survivors of human trafficking. Add Emily's genius idea for t-615 into the mix, and here we are today!

BRANDED bracelets

How has the company evolved since its inception? How did the idea for the Branded bracelets come about?

When we first started talking about t-615, the original concept was actually a line of T-shirts with quotes on them. Emily came to my apartment with a typed document which detailed how our partnership might work and included some of the quotes she wanted to transfer onto tees to sell. Our idea was to donate a percentage of sales to human trafficking survivors through a local organization. So, with those bare bones, we set to work to figure out how to do it.

We had no money, but we had big dreams and hopes of helping people who were hurting right in our backyards. We would meet for coffee at least once a week to hash out new ideas. One week, Emily came into our meeting with this brilliant concept of the BRANDED bracelet—a bracelet which included a unique number that allowed the buyer to "become a number" to represent the dehumanizing numbers used in the human trafficking industry. Emily had come up with the concept through a lot of prayer and inspiration. She is what I would call the "big picture" thinker in our operation. She's always dreaming, thinking about our next step.

After several iterations of BRANDED prototypes, we landed on the recycled aluminum cuff. We decided to sell 100 cuffs for $100 apiece to raise $10,000 for startup operating costs. We expected to sell them to friends and family and thought it would probably take about six months. We started talking about them to people slowly . . . quietly . . . and we sold out of the first 100 in less than two months. That's when we knew that this BRANDED product was connecting with people, and we decided to make it our signature product.

As first-time entrepreneurs with full-time jobs, what challenges have you faced, and where did you find the support you needed to achieve success?

We are constantly facing new challenges, but that's the nature of entrepreneurship. I don't think either of us thought that we'd be entrepreneurs, and we certainly weren't "trained" for facing the unique situations that the career path occasionally entails. Our challenges usually have to do with the fact that we are a small operation with limited resources and time. As you said, we both have full-time jobs, but we are so passionate about t-615 that it is well worth the extra time spent and every strange obstacle we might face. For example, right now we're facing a bit of a challenge in changing metal suppliers for our main collection of BRANDED jewelry. This has taken a lot of research and effort (the metals industry is very complex) but we fit the research into our schedules just like anything else.

Our families and friends have been constant sources of support ever since we started. Also, a lot of times the best thing Emily and I can do is laugh together. We have to wear these ridiculous-looking masks when we sand down the BRANDED collection metals, and that's always a good time for some doubled-over laughter. There is such joy in having a friend and partner in this, and I feel blessed every day that Emily is by my side to experience the extreme hilarity of owning our own business together at the ripe young age of 28. We have so much yet to learn!

t-615 is a social enterprise. How do you balance your goals as a business with your goals as activists? Are the two intertwined?

This is such a great question! As I was discussing the challenges we face (see previous question) this definitely came to mind as THE most prevalent struggle we have. I think anyone who owns a social enterprise would probably say the same thing, because social enterprise is about combining passion, purpose, and excellency to sell a product—and sell it well.

We believe that the work we're doing to help human trafficking survivors is so important and necessary. In fact, we started this company because we felt called to help. At the same time, we are not doctors, or lawyers, or counselors; those are the things that human trafficking survivors typically need when they're rescued. However, we ARE humans who love fashion and who have a commitment to beautifully-made, ethical products. We know that the best thing we can do is use all of these passions together to make a difference to this cause.

The hardest part of selling a product for a cause is probably the way that you have to promote both things at the same time. We used to over-analyze our social media posts, trying to balance posts about human trafficking and posts to promote the products. I think the most important thing we realized is that this thing we're doing, t-615, allows both things to co-exist. So we are selling products, but that's also how we help the cause. They are so intertwined that we can't talk about one without the other.

People tend to caution against going into business with your best friend. After 3 years working together, what's your take on that?

I would say . . . those people obviously don't have an Emily Landham in their lives! In all seriousness, this was something Emily and I discussed at the very beginning of our partnership, and we were slow and careful to go into business together for that very reason. We got some great advice from someone who recommended drawing up an operating agreement so that if anything went south, we'd have the agreement to look at and say: "Okay, it was a valiant effort, now it's time to dissolve, and here's the document we signed for just that reason. Here's what happens now."

However I will tell you this . . . there's NO WAY that's happening! We are both fully committed to t-615 and we work well together. Emily is probably the only person that I would go into business with. She's extremely intelligent, realistic, and understanding. We both have so much going on in our lives, and we give each other a lot of grace. We always try to start business meetings with a casual conversation about life before jumping into all the work stuff. It's important to be there for each other and always remember why you started working together in the first place.

Do you consider yourself a feminist? How has your relationship with feminism informed the way you do business and your drive to empower other women?

I don't know if I'd call myself a "feminist." I think that word has so many connotations these days that it's hard to define. However I would say that as a woman I am all for empowering and championing other women! That's one of my favorite parts of running this business. It's unbelievable to me that in 2015, women are still making less money than men (for the most part). We still have to deal with sexist behaviors. There are still "female" careers. The majority of the victims of human trafficking are young girls.

Emily and I have had amazing opportunities to talk to various groups about t-615, from high school classes to church groups. My favorite part has been meeting and influencing the younger generation of females who have big dreams and are rising to the top. If I can be even a little bit of an inspiration to those young females, then what I'm doing here has been worthwhile.

When you look back at the evolution of your company and all you've achieved, what are you most proud of?

There are so many things I'm proud of—most of them having nothing to do with me and everything to do with the people we have employed to do amazing work for our company! Our vision with t-615 has always been to use the talents and skills of the artistic community to create beautiful products to advance the abolition of human trafficking. Since our company's inception, we have curated multiple product lines: 10 graphic tees, the freedom jewelry collection, the BRANDED jewelry collection, and two handmade tops, which were painstakingly designed and sewn by two young clothing designers. All of these things have been lovely, and all of them have taken a lot of hard work and attention to detail. I think I am probably most proud of us for always recognizing when it's time to take the next step, even if it's been painful. We're still a young company, and we're still evolving. I hope we will always be open to trying new things and if they don't work, moving on to the next right thing.

What advice would you give to other young women who are interested in starting their own social enterprise, or any business for that matter?

The best advice I can give is to just do it (no Nike puns intended)! Don't wait for "the right timing" because if you do, you'll never start. I would also say that you can't underestimate the power of listening. That may sound strange, but when I say listening, I mean that in multiple ways. Emily and I have both spent a lot of time listening to the people we trust and also taking coffee meetings with total strangers. People are fascinating! There has never been a pointless meeting or piece of advice. It is all valuable, and we have learned so many lessons along the way by simply listening. Most of the time, it helps us discern between the "noise" and the truth.

What's next for you and t-615?

Oh, I'm so glad you asked, because we're working on some really exciting things! In April, we'll begin training two human trafficking survivors to actually make the BRANDED cuffs through what we're calling our t-615 internship program. We're thrilled to be able to teach them the art of working with metals while also teaching them business skills which will hopefully be useful to their career paths. Many survivors have difficulty getting jobs because they have been trafficked since they were young and don't have career experience. We hope to be the stepping stone to their confidence in their abilities and their financial stability.

We have a couple of other things in the works . . . but that's all I want to reveal for now. After all, a good entrepreneur never shows her hand too soon.

April 01, 2015

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Q&A with Good Goods

We're thrilled to have recently been featured on the Good Goods blog created by fellow Nashvillian, Cayla Mackey. The site is a great place to find a PETA-approved catalogue of ethical goods that are vegan, fair trade and sustainable (including yours truly!). Check out the blog post below:

We recently had the opportunity to chat with one of the founders of t-615, Emily Landham. She and co-founder Lauren Carpenter create organic cotton shirts and recycled cuffs that raise awareness and funds for human trafficking in Nashville. 

Emily Landham, co-founder of t-615, Nashville-based ethical fashion company

Emily Landham, co-founder of t-615, Nashville-based ethical fashion company

Q: What led you to be involved in fashion?

A: I have a love of a clothes and a love of wearing things that not only look good and feel good but in their very essence are good.

Q: Why did you want to start an ethical fashion brand?

A: Clothes are fun, but they can also be harmful. We wanted to create clothing that is both fun and ethical.

Q: How did you start t-615?

A: We started t-615 after a long hike in the woods talking about dreams. We decided to start something that gave back to victims of human trafficking in our home town of Nashville. With t-615, we wanted to start more than a fashion line - we wanted to create a tribute, a tribe committed to ethical fashion and radical generosity. 

Q: Why do you care so much about where materials are sourced from?

A: I care about where materials come from because to choose to not know is to take an enormous ethical risk. There is little transparency in the making of modern day clothes unless you seek it out. When companies are not held accountable for their process, their process often goes awry. 

Q: Describe the life cycle of a shirt and bracelet, from raw material origin to the wearer.

A: For our tops, the journey starts on an organic cotton field in Texas. The cotton is harvested and then travels to North Carolina where it is milled into fabric. We then order the fabric and  have it shipped to Nashville, where our designers turn it into our shirts by hand. For our jewelry, we order up-cycled American-mined metals from a family-owned company in Arizona. We use this source because we want to keep things as close to home as possible. U.S. companies are held to a labor-law standard we prefer to other overseas companies with less-protected workers.

All t-615 products are made by hand in Nashville, Tennessee.

Q: What is your hope with t-615?

A: This year we have very high hopes for t-615. We are retiring the clothing line to focus solely on our BRANDED Collection of cuffs. This collection most directly impacts Nashville’s community of sex-trafficking survivors. In order to deepen our involvement with these young women, we are starting an internship program specifically geared toward helping them gain employment skills. In our internship program, they will receive training on how to make our jewelry and assist in the running of the company. 

Q: Describe a single transformative moment that you've had with t-615.

A: The first time I held one of our tops in my hands stands out to me as a transformative moment. There's such a physical and emotional difference between one of our tops and a $6 top from a chain store. You can feel the work, time, and skill that goes into our clothing as opposed to most of the clothes we buy. Cheap and easy on the buyer’s side likely means corruption on the production side.

Q: What is a new favorite item you're recently discovered on Good Goods?

A: This Constance Dress by Reformation is amazing. I haven't bought it yet, but I should very much like too if my life takes me to fancy places. The white version of this style is possibly the best wedding dress ever!

March 16, 2015

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t-615 + Hey Rooster = A Match Made In Heaven

We could talk for hours about the organic cotton we use to make our tops, how soft it feels, how durable it is. We could write hundreds of words about the way our shirts can easily be dressed up or down, how they magically complete any outfit. We could show you the gorgeous photos we have up in our online shop, so you could see the color of the natural, undyed, unbleached cotton that flatters every skintone, and how these tops fit like a dream.

And we probably will do that, because we're really, really proud of these shirts. But now there's a much easier way for you to get acquainted with the new t-615 tops.

Go try one on! 

We are thrilled to announce that t-615 tops are now available for purchase at Hey Rooster General Store in East Nashville. We've been big fans of this charming general store off Gallatin Road for quite some time, so you can imagine our excitement to see our tops hanging in the brand new clothing section upstairs. We're in great company, surrounded by select pieces from other independent designers, all made by hand with creativity and love. It's basically an ethical fashion party up there, and everyone's invited.

So head over to Hey Rooster and see these tops we can't stop talking about. Touch the cotton for yourself. Try on both styles. Decide definitively whether you're a Blair or a Primrose kind of girl (or both?). And if you end up buying one, feel good knowing that you're supporting not one, but two local companies that are committed to beautiful, ethical, handmade goods.

Thanks to Hey Rooster for making it easier than ever to buy local, buy handmade, and shop from the heart.

November 05, 2014

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The Grand Unveiling

The time has finally come: our new line of fair trade, organic, American-made tops are now available for purchase online! We are thrilled to unveil these two new tops because they truly represent our values and evolution as a company. From organic cotton to small-scale Nashville production, t-615's new collection is a beautiful example of the "farm-to-apparel" movement. Are these tops more expensive than our debut line? Yes. But we hope you'll be proud to pay a bit more for excellent quality, sustainability, innovative design, and perhaps most importantly, accountability - our customers can trace their t-615 tops all the way back to the cotton seed!

And now, without further ado, let's meet the new members of the t-615 family, shall we? Here they are...

 

   

The Primrose

What It's Made Of: Soft, undyed, unbleached, American-grown, 100% organic cotton. 

Why We Love It: We scoured the country to find fabric, mills, and designers that shared not only our creative vision, but our values. The result? A high quality top in a beautiful, feminine shape that reminds us why all that hard work was worth it.

Why You'll Love It: Its swirly hem will make you feel like a ballerina (no tutu required!), and you'll be surprised at how it effortlessly dresses up everything in your wardrobe, from boyfriend jeans to pencil skirts. 

Where To Wear It: Date nights, concerts, work, girls' nights, art museums, antiquing, brunch with friends. 

Buy It Here

 

   

The Blair

What It's Made Of: Soft, undyed, unbleached, American-grown, 100% organic cotton. 

Why We Love It: Because we're proud to have created a not-so-basic basic, an unexpected wardrobe staple that goes with everything and will hold up to <i>years</i> of wear.

Why You'll Love It: The Blair top will instantly eliminate the phrase "I have nothing to wear!" from your vocabulary. Its flattering shape and versatile style will quickly make it an MVP of your closet for all four seasons and countless activities. 

Where To Wear It: Weekend road trips, farmer's markets, coffee dates, football games, - the list goes on and on!

Buy It Here

October 07, 2014

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Change Is Good.

Hello, everyone!

Welcome to the new t-615 blog. You might notice our site looks a little bit different these days, and there's a good reason for that. Big changes are underway for t-615, and we thought it was time our website reflected this exciting new direction our brand is taking. 


 

 


Let's start with the logo, shall we? When we started t-615, we chose a logo that reflected our aesthetic at the time -- simple, clean lines, with a kind of "Nashville meets Manhattan" vibe. It was perfect for us then, but after being in business for a year, we had some personal and professional revelations that inspired us to change the way we do business and the way we live our lives.

It all started when we read a book called Overdressed and learned more about the fast fashion industry and how harmful it is to our planet and the people (mostly women) who are tasked with making the vast majority of clothes imported to the US. While we were doing things as ethically as possible before, we realized that if we wanted to run our business in a way that truly aligned with our values, we would need to remove ourselves from the traditional clothing supply chain and start from scratch. Our thinking had to change. Our habits had to change. Our products had to change. 

We made a vow to ensure every step of our manufacturing process is totally traceable and ethical, down to the smallest detail. We are now tracing each item back to mother earth – the metals, the cotton, everything we sell. We want our buyers to know that our products are 100% clean, fair trade, handmade, and slave-free, from first sketch to last stitch. It’s more expensive to do things this way, but it’s right. And, if we may say so, all our hard work is really paying off: our new products are painstakingly handmade and beautifully crafted. We are proud to sell them, and we think you'll be proud to buy them (and wear them!), too.  

When you look at our logo now, you won't see those sleek, perfect lines anymore. You'll see a bold, fluid design, written by hand. You'll see emotion. You'll see personality. You'll see the effusive joy of imperfection. Hopefully, every time you see this logo, you'll also see a company you believe in, a company that is truly committed to making the world a better place. 

Another new development? This blog page. We'll be using our blog to update you every step of the way. We want to foster deeper connections not only with the people who make our clothes, but the people who buy them. Bookmark this page, and we'll keep you in the loop.

This new journey we're on is challenging, exciting, and more fulfilling than we could have ever imagined. We're honored to have you along for the ride.

September 10, 2014

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