ST. LOUIS — A new activewear company has set its sights on addressing and changing the
humanitarian problems within the fashion industry.
Tommy Flaim, founder of Fox & Robin, was involved in social entrepreneurship initiatives while attending the University of Notre Dame. After watching “The True Cost” documentary that exposes abuses endured by overseas factory workers, he was inspired to not only draw attention to those humanitarian problems but try to make an impact in order to bring change.
“I became passionate about addressing those issues,” Flaim said. “The global fashion industry is enormous, consequently, the room for impact is enormous. There’s a ton of room for improvement.” Flaim said Fox & Robin is an environmental-, social- and governance-focused brand.
He said most brands that fit into that category are considered streetwear. Outside of the outdoor/activewear brand Patagonia, there is a lack of humanitarian and environmentally friendly activewear brands on the market.
“I wanted to bring that lens to the activewear space,” Flaim said.
No stranger to activewear having worn the clothes while playing soccer and tennis growing up, Flaim and his team launched Fox & Robin in December 2019. The first launch offered men’s shorts.
Since the initial launch, the company now offers men’s shorts, joggers, athletic shirts, and hoodies, as
well as women’s legging and sports bra sets, joggers, crop hoodies, and tank tops. They also have a line of leisure activewear.
“We’re trying to have a little bit more of a ‘You do you’ mentality in regards to working out and staying active,” Flaim said.
“I think there’s a lot of intensity in the activewear space, so we’re trying to be a little bit more laidback and almost a comedic relief in the space. A brand for the washed-up athlete in many regards. I think that’s a different take, and also more realistic, and more relatable at least for me and my friends.”
What makes Fox & Robin different from other brands is that the company follows ethical supply chain policies and practices, according to Flaim. The company has a working relationship with fabric suppliers, and works directly with overseas cut and sew factories, instead of going through an agent like other brands.
Flaim said Fox & Robin’s ethical partner factories are probably not too different from other popular brands, but the humanitarian problems happen when overworked factories outsource to nearby, unethical factories in order to keep up with timing and pricing demands.
“They’re desperate for the business of these big western brands,” he said. “They often will subcontract portions of the order to sketchier, neighboring factories. Those subcontracting factories are where all of the humanitarian crises kind of take place.”
The subcontracting factories are the ones with lower wages and poor working environments. To avoid contributing to these humanitarian problems, Flaim said Fox & Robin requires regular auditing of the cut and sew factories to make sure they are not subcontracting and that they are following ethical practices.
“We have a third party auditor with people on the ground in China, in Vietnam, where we currently manufacture, that subject our factories to random auditing, not planned audits,” Flaim said.
In addition to subcontracting, Fox & Robin also is bringing attention to the wages of
overseas factory workers through transparency. Flaim noted that they are one of the first companies to disclose factory wages to the public.
“Those without a voice in the room are the factory workers overseas,” he said. “They’re often in extreme poverty and they’re very much struggling to make ends meet.”
“Two percent of factory workers earn a living wage. For us, that’s a little closer to 33 percent, so we’re significantly higher than the industry norm, but long-term, we’d love to have that closer to 100 percent.”
Although the company cannot dictate the wages of factory workers, the company is working on bringing awareness to the forefront that will hopefully inspire change.
“We’re more trying to start a conversation around what’s the average wage of factory workers (and) what’s an appropriate wage,” Flaim said. “The long-term goal is to be an advocate on their behalf.”