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Hemp gives Glenwood global reach

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Kara K. Pearson, AP/Post IndependentMariah Chastan, center, readies packages for shipping in EnviroTextiles' warehouse in Glenwood Spring. EnviroTextiles is an international company that makes natural fiber cloth " much of it based around hemp.
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” It might be Glenwood Springs’ biggest, but smallest business you’ve never heard of.

Inside the old Immanuel Baptist Church is EnviroTextiles, a sustainable and biodegradable textile business. The company counts clothing designer Ralph Lauren as one of its clients. Singer Jack Johnson wears its T-shirts.

EnviroTextiles specializes in textiles made from hemp plant fiber to make 100-percent hemp yarns. The company also sells textiles made of a mix of hemp and organic cotton, tencel and silk.

Although there might be a small contingent at the company’s Glenwood headquarters ” there are only eight full-time employees ” EnviroTextiles has some big ideas about how to run a business.

Sustainability is a core principle of the company.

“Sustainability, fair trade and corporate responsibility, this starts at home,” said Barbara Filippone, founder and president of EnviroTextiles.

“If you don’t pay your workers, what business do I have talking about what is going on overseas?” she said. “Fortunately, I take care of both. So it starts here and we have a domino effect all the way down to the farmers in China.”

That domino effect, according to Filippone, begins in Glenwood Springs, where the company does most of its United States business from the Internet.

“We don’t do trade shows, we don’t do advertising,” said Filippone, adding the company is a manufacturer and wholesaler only.

And business has been good. The company now has about 6,000 accounts in the United States and Canada for its line of sustainable textiles, said Filippone, who declined to reveal specific details on the company’s financials.

EnviroTextiles is capable of organizing a completely vertical sustainable operation, which “includes growing crops, processing the fiber, spinning yarn, weaving fabrics, importing the finished products,” according to company information.

All products for EnviroTextiles are imported to its Glenwood Springs distribution center, where the company has its showroom and business offices. Its warehouse has more than 70 fabrics of “various weaves and blends.”

Hemp is used to make clothing because the fiber is longer, stronger, more absorbent and provides more insulation than cotton fiber, according to the Hemp Industries Association, which represents the interests of the industry and encourages the research and development of new products.

The plant is better for the environment because it does not require pesticides and improves soil quality, the association says.

Filippone is an advisor to the association’s board and her daughter, Summer Star Haeske, is on its board of representatives. Haeske is EnviroTextiles national sales manager.

The association estimates that the North American retail market for hemp textiles and fabrics exceeded $100 million in 2007 and is growing about 10 percent per year.

EnviroTextile’s business is built on the benefits of hemp, but often people confuse the plant with marijuana.

That’s a perception that can be shattered by a simple analogy, Filippone said.

“It is a species. You have a chili pepper and you have a bell pepper. One is hot and one is not, let’s move on,” Filippone said.

Filippone, who is a product developer of fabrics, started the EnviroTextiles with Haeske in 2002.

Haeske said the building of EnviroTextiles happened so fast that within the company’s first two months, it already had a container on the ocean from China full of materials, but they had nowhere to put it.

Fast forward six years and the company now is basking in some heady company. EnviroTextiles supplied hemp fabrics to designers like Donatella Versace, Ralph Lauren and others for the Earth Pledge fashion show FutureFashion in New York earlier this year, according to the Hemp Industries Association.

EnviroTextiles has been key in making hemp available to American consumers by developing and maintaining working relationships with the traditional hemp industry in China, said Adam Eidinger, communications director for VoteHemp, a national, single-issue, nonprofit organization pushing to allow American farmers to grow hemp.

“(Filippone’s) textiles, I guess, would be in about 1,000 stores in the United States right now,” Eidinger said. “There’s been a lot of economic activity she has been key to developing.”

Although EnviroTextiles is growing and making money, Haeske said she and her mother wouldn’t want to run the business anywhere else.

“We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. (Glenwood Springs) is our home,” Haeske said.


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