Exclusive Coverage: MetaWear Opens Green U.S. Factory

FAIRFAX, Va.—A familiar name in the world of natural fashion and sustainability launches a new venture.

Marci Zaroff, a pioneer in the eco-fashion industry, has opened what she calls the first apparel factory in the U.S. that meets the Global Organic Textile Standard. From it, she and her partner are launching a line of GOTS-certified T-shirts under the new brand name MetaWear.

“I have so many companies and individuals and brands in the organic, natural, environmental, renewable energy world that have come to me with needs for T-shirts, requesting T-shirts for marketing campaigns, or for events or trade shows, and given that most of my production was done offshore, in countries such as India, Turkey, and Peru, it just wasn’t worth my time,” says Zaroff, who runs multiple companies under the Portico Brands umbrella.

She says the requests for short runs of eco-friendly T-shirts kept coming through the years, and the thought stayed with her. She knew that if she were to open something in the U.S. it would need to achieve the highest global standard for sustainability (GOTS) and it would need to be able to accommodate smaller orders, as well as larger production runs.

GOTS is the textile industry’s equivalent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic standards for food labeling, Zaroff says. The clothing and accessory items she produces with Under the Canopy, for example, are GOTS certified.

A major step in MetaWear coming to fruition was when she met CAS Shiver, she says. Introduced through a mutual friend, Shiver owns a tie-dye business and had developed “SeaInk,” a proprietary dye process that uses a seaweed derived pigment base free from the byproducts of standard dyes, such as PVC, resins, or binders.

“The two of us were sort of going down different tracks,” Zaroff says. “He is an incredibly savvy, technical dyer, and he had developed a proprietary seaweed-based ink system that is very cutting edge. And he did this because he had spent his career in tie-dye printing, and just through that process he discovered a way to do screen printing as well, and garment dyeing, using this seaweed-based pigment to avoid any kind of chemicals.”

It took just a few conversations before Zaroff realized that her dream of a U.S. T-shirt factory would become a reality, she says.

“We realized that his expertise in dyeing and this process he had created, which could potentially qualify as GOTS, and my market presence, market relationships and knowledge of the sustainable fashion movement, could be a really good fit in terms of coming together and creating MetaWear,” Zaroff says.

The company was founded in 2013 and has since moved into a 40,000-square-foot facility in Fairfax County, Virginia. Shivers designed the factory to run on solar and geothermal power.

“He’s really dedicated to showing that you can be economically viable because in our factory there’s significant savings,” Zaroff says. “We’re saving $2,000 a month on our gas bill and 3.75 million BTUs per day because we’re using solar heated water.”

She says she believes that the time is right for such a factory in the U.S., and she believes other apparel makers will be watching closely to see if the model works. The company will start out as a business-to-business wholesale company and will evolve into a contract manufacturing business in the future. MetaWear has done a limited number of T-shirt runs so far. A new general manager/director of operations is slated to come on board, and a full launch is expected by the fall.

Zaroff vows that her shirts will not only be competitively priced—somewhere in the $7- to $17-per shirt range, depending on a variety of factors—but they’ll be competitive in terms of quality and design also. To her, the organic textile industry is in a similar situation to where organic food was several years ago. She notes that 84 percent of Americans claim to buy organic foods at least occasionally, and she thinks a case can be made for why organic textiles are equally as important. In fact, the Organic Trade Association—of which she is a board member—recently voted to create an organic fiber council to help steer the apparel industry that way.

“We’re all spokes in the same wheel,” Zaroff says. “We’re all looking to find solutions to shift the paradigm of the textile industry.”

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