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Interview: COTAM, Wearing Their Hearts on Their Sleeves

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We recently had a chance to chat with Caitlin Blue (Founder & Owner) and Carly Miller (Director) of Clothing of the American Mind (COTAM), a politically-progressive, eco-conscious clothing company.

Based in Los Angeles, the company makes political tees and protest wear. They use only American made products that are sweatshop-free and fair trade. Some of their line is made from organic cotton.

Several celebrities have joined up with COTAM to model their products: Jamie Lee Curtis models the Stop War tee, Diane Lane with an organic version, and Evan Rachel Wood as an Electoral College Dropout.

A socially conscious company, a portion of their proceeds go to charity. So far, $25,000 has gone to “organizations and candidates working for issues of social and political justice”.

Read on for more in depth questions and answers regarding the greening of Hollywood sets, how they got famous faces to model their products, why eco-fabrics are tough to come by, and what their role will be in the upcoming 2008 elections.

Q: I read in another interview that you used to be a set decorator for TV & movies, but you decided to leave due to the amount of waste it generated. Any thoughts on what Hollywood can do to green their sets?

Caitlin Blue: I left Set Decorating for the time being because I wanted to start a family and the kinds of projects I am interested in are no longer out there. As a professional consumer for the studios, I felt that a comprehensive recycling program could have mitigated all the packaging we accumulate from buying so much stuff. Also, I wish production companies were set up to donate set dressing that is no longer valued as an asset for these production companies to thrift stores or causes instead of throwing it away. I also wish that recycling were an integral part of production in the entertainment industry.

Q: How did celebrities get involved with your organization and modeling the COTAM Tees?

Caitlin Blue: We are fortunate to live in LA and have friends and access to people who are involved in show business. Before the 2004 elections, we were not shy about asking for help because we had no advertising budget so getting our shirts on people who get a lot of exposure was crucial.

Carly Miller: We simply nurtured the relationships we did have and did extensive outreach to get in touch with those celebrities that we thought would believe in and appreciate what Clothing of the American Mind is attempting to do. The celebrities that you see modeling our clothing on the website or simply wearing the shirts on their own are simply people who believe in our cause and believe in throwing their celebrity behind such worthy efforts.

Q: How much of your line is made from organic cotton? Are you moving towards making that a larger percentage? Any thoughts on other alternative fabrics such as hemp?

Caitlin Blue: We would love use organic cotton for all of our t-shirts, but unfortunately, the styles available are limited and we have yet to design and manufacture our own custom blank shirts. Organic cotton is also a more expensive material to work with so we are limited as to what is available to us especially because we only use products that are made in the USA. Although I really like hemp and use it myself for clothing and upholstery, it’s hard to sell it when I can’t verify the work conditions in which it is manufactured. Hemp is only grown outside the United States and mostly in China and I can’t verify from here that the workers out there are being paid a living wage and treated fairly. We will only sell shirts that are fair trade.

Carly Miller: Right now, approximately 50% of our line is made from 100% organic cotton. All of our products, however, organic or not, are all made in the United States and are sweatshop-free. We introduced our first organic shirt in late 2005 and have been slowly converting the line ever since. As Caitlin mentioned, we are hindered by a lack of style variation as well as cost. We want to ensure that we keep some products at a lower price point so that our merchandise is affordable for everyone. The messages on our t-shirts are too important to be accessible only by a wealthier demographic. We want EVERYONE to be able to shop with Clothing of the American Mind so we do feel that providing options is important. However, we are also eager to educate our customers about the benefits of organic and why it is so important. So, yes, we would like to continue introducing new organic styles/designs as we move forward and expanding the variety of our organic offerings. Most natural and sustainable materials and fabrics, such as organic cotton, hemp and bamboo, are not grown in America and for our business, this is something we must pay attention to. As Caitlin said, most hemp is grown in China and we are unable to monitor business practices there. Same goes for bamboo and most organic cotton; it simply isn’t grown yet in the US in comparable quantities to what is being produced internationally. We want to keep as much of our business process domestic as is possible.

Q: How do you select which organizations to which you donate?

Caitlin Blue: We pursue causes and people that are in sync with our progressive values and have a reputation for doing good and significant work.

Carly Miller: Most of the organizations we support are internationally known for their work in the political and social justice arenas. Obviously, as certain issues become dire, such as global warming and the destruction of the environment, you might see more donations being directed that way, for example. You can find a full list of our beneficiary organizations here: http://cotam.org/causes.php

Q: What role do you hope to play in the 2008 elections?

Caitlin Blue: A visible one.

Carly Miller: As Caitlin said, we look forward to playing a visible role in the 2008 elections. However, for Clothing of the American Mind, politics and elections are an everyday thing, not just a once-every-four-years thing. We would like to think that we had a very positive affect on the 2006 elections. In 2004, we sponsored and conducted a 20-city cross country voter registration tour where we drove from LA to Boston in an RV stopping in 20 cities in 13 swing states along the way, selling t-shirts, raising funds, registering voters, etc. We would like to do something similar leading up to the 2008 presidential election, but we have yet to announce any definite plans. We are so involved in activist on a daily basis that we tend to focus on what’s ahead immediately because a week in politics can be like a lifetime and you never know what’s going to happen.

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