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07.28.2021

Food = Fashion

Meet the Non-Toxic Fashion Pioneers Using Vegetables as Dyes

Rob Lohman and Karl Lindner founded Groceries Apparel,  a non-toxic, vegetable-dyed, post-consumer recycled athleisure and loungewear brand, in 2008. Beyond using non-toxic post-consumer food waste products like  coffee grounds, vegetables, pomegranate, madder root and weld flowers to create their garments, they redefine transparency and brand responsibility every day by supporting small farms, localized manufacturing and paying living wages. Imagine that! Lucky for us, we had the opportunity to speak with them about their brand, upcycling and what it means to be ‘made in the future.’

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We’ve heard about reducing, reusing and recycling. But what is upcycling and where does it fit into that system? 

Upcycling is a process where discarded products get a second life, possibly a life with more value than the original.  In our case, we upcycle used coffee grounds to expand their lifespan and use.  Recycling usually goes through a facility to break down products for reuse.  Upcycling to us is more personal and creative than recycling, the scope is only limited to your imagination.

We love the name Groceries Apparel. What inspired you to lean into this ideology of using food waste to make clothes? 

[Rob] I was inspired by grass stains on the knees of my jeans, wine spills on my white shirt at a wedding and speed bumps that landed my morning coffee in my lap.  The stains were hard to get out which sparked an idea: maybe I didn’t want them out, maybe I can harness them.  I had always felt disingenuous selling “organic” clothing that included heavy metals and chemical dyes.  Organic means very little to me, I wanted to create a real non-toxic garment inspired by true colors found in nature.  It took us years to learn the processes but now we have it down.

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What are some unique ways your company is changing the sustainable fashion sector? 

We’re different in the fact we are a manufacturer and not just a marketing brand.  We have 25 employees here in Los Angeles (our factory is across the street from ROW DTLA) that make our clothes and we're able to understand their needs and oversee the quality of our own products.  Cutting, sewing and dyeing our own products is a holistic approach to our industry that cuts down on redundancy and waste.  We also dye our products with non-toxic vegetable dyes which is quite unique.

You mentioned above that your vegetable dyes are a key differentiator for the brand- as in the veggies at the grocery store? What’s this process like and what type of veggies do you use? 

That’s right, as in the same veggies at the grocery store!  The past few months we’ve been sourcing from Erewhon and Whole Foods here in Los Angeles.  The coffee grounds have been sourced largely from Blue Bottle and Stumptown.  We’re always exploring new food-waste to source from, up next is avocado seeds and onion skins.  Most vegetables turn into a brownish grey, so I would say the best vegetables to source from are the ones that can accomplish bright and unique colors.

The process is similar to typical dyes such as pomegranate and carrot tops, the batches are run through large dye machines.  The coffee dye is unique in that it is hand-dipped in large vats and hung to dry.

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Speaking of ROW, you’re back! (kind of). What is it like building your business in your DTLA, and what do those roots mean to you? 

It’s great to be back at the ROW!  We were here in 2014 when it was just us and American Apparel.  DTLA, specifically the Arts District, has allowed us access to world class sewing artists and creatives.  Groceries was born on the Venice boardwalk but DTLA is our home and quite possibly the only piece of land in America where we can execute our holistic vision.

The word local can mean different things to different people. What does local mean to you? 

Local to us means serving and supporting your neighbors.  Localized manufacturing also unlocks key advantages for a clothing brand including speed to market and lowering unnecessary economic and environmental costs related to shipping your products around the world.  Made in China is ok if you’re selling to China.  

Whether you’re wearing coffee or drinking it, come explore the Groceries Apparel pop-up, now open at ROW.

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