Eco in Action: TS Designs

This is the final article of three about TS Designs.

Over the last 35 years, a Burlington, NC  company, TS Designs, has created - with boldness, invention, and a bit of dramatic flair - a viable product line, an innovative printing process, and an enterprising approach to altruism that might - as word gets around - redefine the standard of corporate citizenship.

 Home-Grown Organic

In March, a North Carolina manufacturer spun the first yarn from the first - ever - certified organic cotton crop grown in North Carolina. Part of an age-old growing tradition, it's gone on to be knit, cut and sewn into TS Designs' latest manifestation of historic change.  

"We're now in the manufacturing process," Eric Michel, Vice President of Operations, said.

"We expect we'll be able to start delivering printed shirts to customers sometime in June," he said.

The Impossible: Been There, Done That

"The journey of growing organic cotton in North Carolina began about five years ago, when we were told it couldn't be done," said Henry in a recent press release.

"We want[ed] to work with domestic organic cotton producers," he said. "It [wasn't] available. So we're going to places like Pakistan and India to get our organic cotton." (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, 2010) "Most organic cotton is grown overseas, and 50 per cent of North Carolina's cotton gets shipped abroad."

"The global marketplace determines where cotton goes," Henry said. "You don't know if it goes to South America or North Carolina.

We started by making T-shirts from cotton grown in the state with a line called Cotton of the Carolinas,  knowing that eventually we could do the same thing with certified organic cotton grown here."

According to a 2011 CNN Report, TS Designs/Cotton of the Carolinas made 8,500 shirts in 2009, and made 26,000 in 2011.

The Impossible: Doing it Again

"In December, in Nash county, they harvested 40 acres and turned in 25,000 pounds of good quality cotton," Henry said. Two North Carolina farms - Hickory Manor Organics and Parrish Enterprises - harvested the state's first substantial crop of USDA Certified Organic cotton. 

TSD and fellow dirt-to-shirt participant, Mortex, supported the farms in an effort to provide the missing link in their fully-local, transparent supply chain. One aspect of that support was finding a buyer for every single pound. In order to keep it local, TSD hit the street , offering the crop to a few local groups and organizations.

Their goal was to sell enough cotton to make yarn for 3,000 T-shirts. According to the TSD web site, that number would ensure "demand to run a fabric lot...custom made."

"We committed to enough cotton to make about 5,000 shirts, and have pre-sold almost all of them," said Michel.

"It's exciting to see the finished product," Henry said. "To see it, we need to start locally."

The shirts will be "printed with our own, incredibly soft, environmentally-firiendly inks, and dyed with  low impact dyes," the web site said, promoting them as the most sustainable commercially-available shirts on the planet - a piece of history representing "over 700 jobs in NC," the web site said.

"How can people support TSD?  Buy our t-shirts!  We are a custom printed wholesale t-shirt provider that offers the most sustainable t-shirts and the most sustainable t-shirt options.  People can submit a quote from our Web site."  - Eric Henry, president, TS Designs

To purchase individual T-shirts, visit .