Against the grain
The men behind Parallel Revolution throw caution to the wind in their quest to create eco-friendly clothing
It was Jake Wade’s mild debauchery that indirectly brought him to his current eco-friendly business venture. As a high-schooler, he sneaked into a trade show in his hometown of San Diego to pass out some résumés; he scored an internship with clothing company SurfCuz, and met future business partner Andrew Schrage. They eventually parted ways with SurfCuz, but used their knowledge of the clothing industry to found a more sustainable business, and in 2010, Parallel Revolution was born.
“We were visiting retail shops back in 2008 and the organic materials movement was taking hold in fashion. We didn’t want a make a product at the expense of people and the planet,” said Schrage, 47, CEO at Parallel Revolution, a clothing company featuring hemp-based button-ups and T-shirts for men. Wade, a 23-year-old who graduated from Chico State’s Entrepreneurial Small Business Management program in May 2014, is the company’s COO.
“When we asked ourselves what we should be using, we decided that hemp was the cleanest, greenest option. I started researching sustainable options and discovered how awesome it was,” Wade said.
Often referred to as the cousin of marijuana, the hemp plant—which is commonly refined to produce fiber, oil, and seeds—has carried a negative stigma for quite some time. Although part of the same Cannabis sativa species as marijuana, hemp has considerably lower levels of the drug compound THC. Even so, United States laws generally have dismissed its use as a legal crop, beginning with the passage of the Marijuana Tax in 1937, which imposed heavy tax regulations on the plant and led to an immediate decline in hemp cultivation.
During World War II, The U.S. Department of Agriculture released Hemp for Victory, a film that motivated farmers to grow hemp to create important wartime textiles like uniforms, canvases and rope. But once the war was over, U.S. production of this versatile crop halted once again. It currently remains on the federal Controlled Substances Act list, preventing commercial growth until it’s declassified.
With President Obama’s signing of the Farm Bill of 2013 into law, some focus has been placed on industrial farming and research practices of the plant. But, as Wade points out, it’s still just a “baby step” toward progress.
“The government is now admitting they know the difference between marijuana and hemp. But the people who are allowed to grow it in the States are basically just universities,” he said.
China remains the largest producer of hemp, and that’s where Parallel Revolution gets its goods, working with over 1,800 farmers to turn the plant into the woven fabric that’s then considered legal for manufacturing in the United States. For Wade, producing the shirts locally was a big deal. “It’s a global economy, so we’re sourcing things from all over the world. That being said, we want to know who’s making our stuff and where the dollars are coming and going,” he said, noting Chicago and San Francisco as the two current manufacturing bases for PR’s clothing products.
But Wade’s hoping to make the business truly local soon. “The future lies in bringing manufacturing to Chico,” he said. “We’re currently working with the Work Training Center and other companies, and we’re getting it closer to bringing it here.”
So what is it about hemp that makes it such a good resource for green farming practices? “It’s essentially a weed, so it doesn’t need much maintenance,” suggested Wade, comparing it to cotton farming, which can take up to twice as much water during production. “Hemp can last three to four times longer than typical cotton strands,” he continued, speaking of his own Parallel Revolution shirts, which he claims to have worn hundreds of times so far.
PR’s hemp shirts are often blended with lyocell, the finished fiber that comes from eucalyptus. Wade points out that the extraction process for eucalyptus cellulose is also eco-friendly, using nontoxic solvents and no bleach (unlike cotton production).
Even the hangtags on a Parallel Revolution shirt are sustainable. Collaborating with San Diego-based business Green Field Paper Co., the tags are made from biodegradable seed paper, which Wade says can be “tossed and thrown in the garden.” (After you buy the shirt, that is.)
With the company still in its infancy, Wade has a lot of future goals, including making a profit. “Right now every dollar of revenue goes to paying for labor, design and other production costs.” To date, PR’s sold approximately 315 shirts, which can be purchased online at pararev.com or at Formal Education in downtown Chico.
And while the two-man team still has a lot of work ahead of it, Wade remains optimistic, proud of the sustainable business practices they’re following.
“Andrew and I want to leave behind something bigger than ourselves … a dent in the right direction, I guess. Plus, there’s something addictive about going against the grain when you know your solution is the right one.”