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Posted by Brianna Kilcullen on

For most people, a brief scan of LinkedIn, commenting on a post or responding to an invitation to connect counts as the week’s networking effort and activity. Brianna Kilcullen is not most people. When I call Kilcullen mid-October, a cheery voice with a cold greets me on the other end. After two weeks abroad in Europe, attending conferences and meeting potential collaborators, she’s relieved to be back home in Jacksonville, Florida. Vegetables and sleep had been hard to come by during those hectic weeks abroad.

Kilcullen, a sustainability and supply chain consultant and self-described introvert, is no newbie to entrepreneurism nor adaptability. From a stint with the Secret Service to working on international development and land equity in South Sudan and Northern Uganda, to leading supply chain management and corporate social responsibility programs at outdoor industry companies, Kilcullen has woven a varied career. Today, she’s carving out a unique space in one of the most fraught sectors of the outdoor industry: textiles.

In recent years, the outdoor industry has taken a more vocal stance on sustainability and social responsibility. A 2018 report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change amplified the urgency of these initiatives, and with textiles, hemp may be the clearest solution.

Kilcullen was first introduced to hemp while traveling in Qingdao, China. “I had the opportunity to see firsthand the impact hemp has had on the Chinese government, military, farmers and economy,” Kilcullen says. “It changed me forever.”

In the U.S., hemp’s status is complicated both legally and culturally, and stakeholders must get comfortable with radical innovation in what is known as a “disruptors’ arena.”

“Hemp is a pretty lethal fiber,” Kilcullen says. “It’s multifaceted in a way that cotton, polyester and nylon are not. You can use the seed for food, the fiber for textiles and the hurd can be used for building homes.”

Hemp is also naturally antibacterial, antimicrobial, UV-resistant and biodegradable. It also bests cotton when it comes to environmental impact. Cotton, the thirstiest crop in the world, uses 24 percent of the world’s insecticides and pesticides. Hemp is a regenerative crop that revitalizes the soil, uses little to no water and doesn’t need insecticides or pesticides.

Kilcullen says, “I worry a bit that we put too much pressure on [hemp’s] ability to reverse the negative consequences we’ve had with cotton production. Will it work? I don’t know.”

That unknown isn’t holding Kilcullen back. A radical spirit with a desire to merge big business with positive change, she founded We the People, a company that makes hemp towels, in 2017. The company’s ethos draws on the history of the crop as integral to the founding of the U.S.—the first flag was sewn from hemp fiber, the Founding Fathers were hemp farmers and the U.S. Constitution was drafted on hemp paper—and Kilcullen’s desire to align business, social and environmental goals.

So where does hemp stand? In December 2018, President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill, which includes a provision to allow the legal cultivation of hemp. Ideally, we’ll soon see hemp move from hushed conversations at conferences—legend goes that Giorgio Armani used to make his famous suits exclusively of hemp, though now the fiber is totally taboo—to being widely recognized and utilized as one of the best options for environment-friendly textiles.

We the People’s towels are in development, and the company plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign in 2019. Kilcullen was recently nominated as one of MJBizCon’s 2019 Women to Watch.

She says, “I’m excited to be a part of reintroducing hemp back into the U.S. and to create a transparent industry that makes products to replace cotton and that’s better for people and for the planet.”

This story first appeared in RANGE Magazine Issue 10, which is dedicated to the idea of progress. Get your hands on a copy HERE.

Photo by Emma Pratte for The Highly x High Herstory.

XX Sophie Goodman

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Posted by Brianna Kilcullen on

One of the most popular questions that I am often asked is.. what's the difference between the Anact towels and bamboo towels? Before I answer your question, I believe it's important to know there are two different fibers when it comes to textiles: natural and synthetic. Natural fibers are as their name implies: natural. You can grow them in your backyard. Examples include: cotton, hemp, linen, wool, silk etc., Synthetic fibers are man-made fibers. Examples include nylon, polyester, rayon etc., These fibers are petroleum derived which means you cannot grow them in your backyard and they are manipulated by humans to become textiles. Bamboo i.e. rayon is one of those fibers. 

The reason that bamboo is not sustainable (even though growing bamboo is sustainable as long as it is not contributing to deforestation) is because of a chemical solvent that is used to break down the bamboo which wipes out any trace of the bamboo in the textile manufacturing process. If you were to test a bamboo towel, you would find there is no bamboo to trace. And have you ever wondered why there is no organic certification for bamboo? That's because the Global Organic Trade Association refuses to certify rayon fabric even if the start with organic bamboo. If you'd like to learn more about the history of bamboo/rayon fabric click here

Here's an illustration to show you the difference between natural and synthetic fiber processing: 


Textile Manufacturing Process

Due to lack of regulatory requirements on greenwashing in the United States, many companies take advantage of customers by marketing false information to appear to be "green". For example, I was in Costco several years ago and saw a blanket that had sheep pictured on it to make one think that blanket had wool in it. Upon checking the care and content label, I discovered it was 100% polyester. Unfortunately, this happens all the time. 

It's one of the reasons why I started Anact and I created the Anact towels. I wanted to know what was in my towel and I wanted to share the people and the process behind it. That's why we use only natural fibers (hemp and cotton) in the creation of our towels and we have two colors available that are not dyed with chemicals. We offer undyed and unbleached (natural) and undyed (white). Our goal in the future is to utilize natural dyeing methods to achieve a larger color palette offering to our customers but for right now, we believe in being as transparent as possible about what is in our towels so that you know what you're putting on your body!

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