Meet Cayla O'Connell, Brand Manager, & Danielle Dorn, Creative Director of Under the Canopy

Under the Canopy helped set the standards for sustainability, pioneering the organic cotton industry. Built on the belief that style and sustainability do not have be mutually exclusive, the business has since applied those same standards of excellence to home goods. We sat down with the creative genius behind the brand - Cayla O’Connell (Brand Manager) and Danielle Dorn (Creative Director) - to hear about their vision for Under the Canopy, the impact its products are having, and what they look for in the businesses that they support.

Dating back before your time, we’d love to hear about the story behind the brand. What niche does Under the Canopy fill and what do you want the brand to be known for?

Under the Canopy began two decades ago as a leader in the organic cotton industry, and had a hand in the establishment of the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). With that foundation, Under the Canopy rebranded two years ago and honed in on its niche to emerge as, arguably, the most certified sustainable home brand. Every single aspect of our materials and production are certified, meeting rigorous criteria of various standards. It’s a name you can trust. And beyond our commitment to sustainability, UTC creates not only basic items, but fashion pieces, which is difficult to achieve sustainably. Our collections are globally inspired and purposeful. Our goal, at UTC, is to provide consumers with the means to live a conscious lifestyle without compromising on cost, style, quality, or functionality of each piece.

Our goal is to provide consumers with the means to live a conscious lifestyle without compromising on cost, style, quality, or functionality of each piece.

That may be what we love most, the fact that Under the Canopy prides itself on making responsible goods at a palatable price point. How have you balanced price, style, and responsible production? And what advice would you offer other business owners or consumers who feel they have to choose between affordable and sustainable goods?

For us, style and sustainability are not mutually exclusive. We are not limited in color or hand quality by choosing organic cotton and low-impact dyes, although this is a common misconception by consumers. In terms of cost, we are able to achieve competitive prices because our supply chain is vertically integrated and we purchase our organic cotton in bulk as part of a buying cooperative. As more and more companies opt in to organic production and sustainable practices, the prices will continue to go down - and we hope that by offering affordable and sustainable products, we are not forcing customers to choose between price and quality. That is our mission: conscious without compromise!

Style and sustainability are not mutually exclusive. We are not limited in color or hand quality by choosing organic cotton and low-impact dyes, although this is a common misconception by consumers.

We’d love to know more about cotton. What are the consequences of traditional harvesting and manufacturing and how is Under the Canopy innovating to reduce its impact?

Cotton is the most utilized fiber in global production (comprising 30-40% of the market) most of which is genetically modified in a test tube. As so much of it is in demand, it is extremely chemically intensive to cultivate because of the pesticides that are needed to ensure a higher yielding harvest. In production, the treatment of the cotton incorporates toxic chemicals as formaldehyde, chlorines and known endocrine-disruptors that remain unregulated and unfiltered, running off into the water systems of the surrounding towns and exposing the village and factory workers to toxic substances. These chemicals remain part of the dye and treatment process, ending up in your products, and ultimately leaching onto your skin.

Organic cotton does not follow the same process as conventional cotton; in fact it prohibits the use of GMOs, pesticides, and said toxic chemicals - preventing the harmful runoff, pollution, and potentially dangerous products from entering our homes. As organic cotton is certified to the Global Organic Textile Standard, our production processes are saving water, saving energy, and preventing carbon emissions. A full Life Cycle Assessment of our products is available on our website - so you can directly measure the difference you make in purchasing an organic cotton towel.

Under the Canopy pushed for environmentally responsible production before there were even certifications to be had (although you now offer goods that are Fair Trade, GOTS, OEKO-TEX, C2C, RCS, and FSC certified). What cutting edge practices are you applying now and what do you project for future standards of responsibility in the industry? What opportunities do you still see for improvement?

We have been exploring the Responsible Down Standard and Responsible Wool Standard, as new certifications for production, which were recently released by the Textile Exchange for new products. In our opinion, the bulk of improvement could come as educational resources to businesses and perhaps financial incentives to brands in order to achieve these existent standards. This would likely be the work of a trade organization or readily available federal funding - essentially the industry needs an easier path to implementing sustainable practices from the get-go of a business’ formation. 

With so many certifications on the market, how do you evaluate quality and what standards do you look for in the products you buy?

As a general rule, third party certification entities should be the gatekeepers for best practices with respect to sustainability, organic, and “better for you” claims - these are generally non-profits, NGOs or simply trade organizations that have rallied together to prioritize and formalize industry standards for sustainable brands. Brands are audited to ensure adherence to those standards. Seals that indicate certification processes in the supply chain are at the top tier of quality standards - such as USDA, GOTS, Fair Trade, Leaping Bunny… In some circumstances, seals are not always an option because of the complexity of consumer goods and the best you can do is research the materials or ingredients. The Environmental Work Group is a great resource and has a couple handy apps - The Good Guide and Skin Deep - which are great for investigating the ingredient breakdown and their impacts on the earth and body.