When Patty Grossman’s sister, Leigh Ann Van Dusen, approached her with a business idea for environmentally-friendly fabrics Grossman was all in. “The fact that we could be producing something that people need and use, and help save the orcas and the polar bears convinced me,” says Grossman. The two sisters started building their company — aptly named Two Sisters Ecotextiles — in 2005. While a lot has changed in the marketplace of sustainable products since Grossman and Van Dusen began, Two Sisters is still advocating that more work needs to be done in the production of safe fabrics.
The textile industry is responsible for harm to both the environment and human health. Textile mills generate one-fifth of the world’s water pollution and many fabrics contain chemicals including lead and perfluorocarbons (PFCs) that are known to generate negative health impacts in humans. In clothing, bed linens, upholstery, and curtains, people are in contact with these toxins on a daily basis.
For nearly 17 years, Two Sisters has been trying to change this. They sell everything from fabric for apparel to upholstery and drapery. Two Sisters’ fabrics are 100% organic and do not contribute to the microfiber shedding that is contaminating water streams. As they create their fabrics, Grossman and Van Dusen keep in mind environmental and human health concerns, along with a range of other issues including workers’ rights. Their fabrics are third-party certified by GOTS and Oeko-Tex.
“We really thought when we first started selling that we had two or three years to make our name before everybody was selling safe fabrics,” says Grossman, who heads up the business operations while her sister oversees design. “And we’ve just been shocked at how change comes really slowly.”
Grossman thinks it has taken so long for customers to develop fabric-shopping habits that are truly sustainable because they are drawn in by companies with misleading claims. “We had to be as stubborn as stubborn can be to not throw in the towel. A lot of delay comes from greenwashing,” says Grossman.
“It’s an overlooked area of improving the safety and health of your family as well as the health of the environment,” says Grossman. Parents might avoid plastic toys but tuck their kids into toxin-filled sheets at night. Switching to sustainable fabrics, according to Grossman, is actually one of the more straightforward transitions one can make.
Since Two Sisters began, awareness about safe and sustainable fabrics has spread. The Global Organic Textile Standard has become more widely recognized since its founding in 2002. As of 2019 there were over 10,000 GOTS certified facilities worldwide, representing a growth of 34% since the previous year alone. While this is progress, Green America reports that there are still 43 million tons of chemicals used in textile production each year.
Despite difficulties in disrupting the fabric industry, the two sisters have stuck by their mission. “We were too stubborn to quit because we thought someone’s gonna care,” says Grossman. And people do care. Grossman speaks to the testimonials of customers who are grateful to have found such a product.