By Megan Sayles
A few years ago, Air Force veteran Tameka Peoples was looking to buy T-shirts for an event that she was holding for her California-based nonprofit, People’s Foundation for Connecting Community Military and Veteran Services.
Not only did Peoples want to buy the shirts from a Black-owned business, but she also wanted them to be produced and manufactured by Black people.
Unfortunately, there was no existing business that fulfilled those provisions.
“I said, ‘Well, if I’m looking for this as a business and someone who wants to promote and brand on this unique type of T-shirt, I’m sure there are other businesses, or even people, looking for this,’” said Peoples. “It just didn’t exist, not in the way that we wanted or intended to bring it to market—cotton by Black farmers made by Black people or a Black-owned company.”
Peoples decided she would be the entrepreneur to fill the gap.
Seed2Shirt launched in 2018 as the first Black-woman-owned, vertically-integrated apparel manufacturing and print on demand company in the United States. Peoples wanted to give those across the African diaspora the opportunity to take their place in the production.
Every part of the Seed2Shirt apparel production process takes place in Africa. The organic cotton is sourced from West African farmers, 58 percent of whom are women, and refined in Uganda at small- and medium-batch facilities. Then, the cut, make and trim operation is executed in Kenya at a carbon-neutral production center.
The company partners with ShePrintsIt, a Black woman-owned promotional products company, so corporations, brands and other Seed2Shirt customers can receive unique branding services on the T-shirts they purchase.
Raising awareness about sustainable fashion has been integral to Peoples’ vision for the company, and Seed2Shirt is currently trying to lean into pre-ordering for their apparel to avoid falling into fast fashion, which overloads landfills and harms textile workers.
A significant part of Seed2Shirt’s mission is using profits to support programs that empower marginalized communities.
In the United States, 1.4 percent of farmers are Black or mixed race, compared to 14 percent a century ago. These farmers comprise less than 0.5 percent of all U.S. farm sales.
In Africa, Peoples said farmers face significant challenges to accessing land and resources that sustain their farms.
Seed2Shirt’s Farmer Enrichment Program seeks to address these disparities. The initiative empowers Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) farmers in the United States and Africa to earn livable wages and positively transform the global apparel production supply chain.
Through the program, over 350,000 cotton farmers participate in workshops surrounding organic farming, soil health and business training.
Peoples hopes that increasing African and Black representation in production will bring more autonomy to communities across the African diaspora.
“We need to be in places and in positions to create these level playing fields and create industry representation and autonomy in the way that we build our communities,” said Peoples. “The things that African Americans are experiencing here in the U.S., our brothers and sisters are also experiencing across the diaspora. We need to remember and understand that we are one.”
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