Over the past twenty four years, Green Apple Active founder and veteran athletic designer Cristofer Smith and his team members have pioneered 13 brands with wild success, winning several international design awards for his unique fusion of comfort & style.
Tell us about yourself – familial/personal story, education, and prior work.
I’ve been in this business for 25 years. I was finishing a Masters Degree in International Business. A good buddy in school, his parents were manufacturing some of the best tennis shoe brands.
So, we would go to her factory and look around to have a couple beers at night and said, “Man, we can do this better.” That’s what brought us into this. We took our student loans and parleyed it into six sewing machines, built a cutting table out of plywood.
That’s how the journey began. 25 years later, 14 brands through all the world’s largest accounts, I now do my own brand because it is a vegan, organic brand. So, not everybody was into it, I said, “Okay, I’ll do it myself.”
I put my own finance into it. That’s what brought me here. There’s more to it, obviously. That’s my plan. That’s I got here in a design studio on the beach. (Laughs)
If you want to go before that, I grew up with 5 sisters. My mom was a model. We were from the Bay Area. She was trained by Jack LaLanne. We’ve always been in the health and fitness industry.
I raced motorcycles for a living. After I got older, I went back to school. My buddy and I decide to take our student loan and make this happen. That’s how it all happened.
What is the importance of sustainable fashion to you?
Of course, the most important to us here is something that is comfortable, feels good, looks good, and is healthy to the Earth. All of our stuff is certified bio-degradable from Nelson laboratories in Utah.
When I developed this fabric, this textile, which is our textile exclusively. We sent it up to Nelson Lab. That’s the US Lab for anti-terrorism. We put it up for many tests such as metals, pollutants and so forth.
No heavy metals, they couldn’t detect anything. It was also antibacterial. It protected 100% UVA, almost, and was the most breathable fibre on earth by nature without chemical treatment.
The fascinating part was when they put it into earth soil and sunlight, then it biodegraded within 42 days without any harm. That was the real positive part for us because the plastics – the polyesters and the nylons – never go away.
I’m repenting. I did polyesters for athletes for 18 years. People still ask me to do it, Scott. I have to decline the offers. I appreciate them. But if it’s not going to be this type of fibre, it’s not me anymore. I have three boys. One graduated from college in May.
In a nutshell, I started from the ground up. I am self-taught. Edward’s mom knew how to do everything. She was from Nicaragua. She taught us everything. The rest of it is trial and error. We built our own cutting tables, did our own markers and patterns by hand.
Now, it’s all computerized. So, I’m raw. (Laughs)
(Laughs) What is Green Apple Active?
Eco-active wear for free souls. It’s an active brand that is based on comfort and sustainability. Since I’ve been digital 100%, I stopped selling the big to big retailers a year ago. I went back and learned digital business.
I meet with people every week. Since I’ve done that, we’ve listened to the consumer now, which is what I used to call the end user. It’s very enlightening on why they purchase this brand.
90% purchase it for the comfort. The sustainability is second to the comfort. What I’ve done is based the line more or less on bottoms and pullovers, and jackets, the other stuff is carried. So, they can wear something vegan.
But I’m not into the high fashion mode. The end user has changed us. When you follow sales online, you get to see everything. We found out 85% of our sales were comfort with sustainability as a backup. We decided to go into that arena.
I got out of the competitive bras, tops, towels, and socks. By the way, I started Green Apple with the Golden State Warriors. They got my towels, sweatshirts, and socks. They freak out about it. That you can make a vegan athletic garment.
This is like 9 years ago. So, they bought it. They were the first ones to delve into it. I don’t talk about it because I didn’t get a license. I did it with the owner. He loved it. One of my cohorts and I flew up there.
They took good care of us. We went into the condominium there and the stadium. By God, it was a lot of fun. Now look at the Golden State Warriors, right?! I’m like gosh darn it. They wanted me to get the license and continue. But Adidas was all over us. I didn’t feel like going into that war.
What other work are you involved in at this point in time?
Besides being a dad, I design. I’m designing the line. I do all of the design currently because when I went digital I thought, “Let’s regroup this.” I stopped designing about 6 years ago. I brought on a couple of ladies.
I taught them the ropes. They did great at it. One of them wanted to move forward into another company. I said, “Go for it!” So, I took back the reins. I do production and design myself.
I have a partner. He’s from Asia. He’ll be over in a couple of weeks. We are opening up in Asia and Russia within the next 60 days. It’ll be digitally controlled, but I formed an alliance. I was in Shanghai. I think 5 weeks ago.
We got a good thing going over there too. We’re excited. They really like that California lifestyle there. It should be fun. For us, it is so cool to be able to experiment with a totally different culture.
I mean 100% different. So, this is funny because I told Eddie. My alliance over there. I said, “Don’t you think you guys should design it and do the website?” He said, “heck, no. This will build value in the brand. They like California brands.”
So, we are redesigning the website. We are going to release it this week. It’ll come in 5 different languages. It’s not redesigned for each different country. It’s the same one that we run in California.
We’ll run it here. They’ll do SEO there. We do design here in California. Isn’t that funny? It’s cool, bro.
With regard to ethical and sustainable fashion companies, what’s the importance of them now?
Being part of the ecosystem, the most important part for all of us in sustainable companies is multi-faceted, obviously, because we need to do our productions in a clean way, try to make sure our warehousing and distro is all solar energy, and everything should be done as close to home as possible.
I understand athletic apparel is a niche market and it’s special. So, it’s tough to get it done in America, tough period. When they say ‘America, getting it done here’, there’s not one American in the factories.
And I owned factories. I can vouch for it. It’s multifaceted. It’s about being solar powered, doing clean fibre, processing it in a clean way, and going as far into your company as you can, and being as environmental and sustainable as possible.
Saudi Arabia, that’s my Middle Eastern customer. (Laughs) Breaking through, for us, in a nutshell, that’s it. We’re trying to get everyone into solar power, even the dye house has solar power.
Gradually, the business is changing. Let me tell you, it is the stubbornest trade because everything’s on sale all of the time. So, there’s no money to invest in infrastructure. It’s been a very tough journey for me.
Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion?
I want everybody to come along on the journey. Think about what they’re purchasing, try to help us with vendors out here build a better world, make a healthier garment, and look forward to having our kids wear something that is a little cleaner.
For me, it’s so profound I can’t tell you. I lost a sister to environmental cancers. So, for me, it is very profound as a statement. Clothing is, and especially in the athletic trade, right next to the largest living organism called the skin.
Polyester is a direct derivative of plastic. So, when you read about plastic, you’re reading about polyester. It’s a few versions down. It is prudent to teach mom’s, who are getting hip on that.
I have gotten fed up with preaching. So, I’m not going to preach to you. It’s been a real long ten years. Ten years of working on going green, and I slept around in China when there was nobody over there in farmlands trying to find the right plants.
I went to Austria to find things like eucalyptus. I wet around the world to find the right plant for the active lifestyle. Bamboo came out ahead of everybody.
Thank you for your time, Cristofer.