My guest is Lucretia Bohnsack, Executive Director of Esperanza Threads, an organic, sustainable fiber clothing manufacturer that combines comfort and fashion with socially environmental values. Located in Cleveland, Ohio they make products for adults, youths, babies (and people with multiple chemical sensitivities) as well as bed and bath items. Founded by Ursuline Sister Mary Eileen Boyle in 2000, Esperanza Threads is a non-profit training facility teaching those needing skills for employment how to sew on industrial machines. . Currently Esperanza Threads is collaborating with the Cleveland Catholic Charities Migrant Refugee Services to train newly arrived people from around the world. Other agencies in the area such as El Barrio Workforce Development Center, and neighboring Churches refer individuals who are in need of skills for employment. Esperanza Threads also helps with job placement at sewing facilities in the Greater Cleveland area as well as currently expanding a new apprenticeship program for promising sewers in their manufacturing facility. Lucretia Bohnsack accepted the role of Executive Director in October, 2012 after serving on the Board of Directors from the beginning. We’ll be talking about how they make organic clothing and why choosing organic clothing is an important toxic-free choice for our health and the environment. www.debralynndadd.com/debras-list/esperanza-threads
TOXIC FREE TALK RADIO
Organic Clothing for Women, Handmade in the USA
Host: Debra Lynn Dadd
Guest: Lucretia Bohnsack
Date of Broadcast: June 24, 2013
DEBRA: Hi, I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. And this is Toxic Free Talk Radio where we talk about how to thrive in a toxic world.
And there are toxic chemicals all around us in consumer products that we use every day, in all kinds of things that may be in our homes, out in the environment, and the air we’re breathing, and the food that’s on the store shelves. But there’s something we can do about it.
We can make better choices about the products that we choose to put in our homes. We can remove toxic chemicals from our bodies. We don’t have to drink water with toxic chemicals or eat food with toxic chemicals because there’s a toxic-free alternative to everything that’s toxic. We have a lot of control and choice over this in our lives. And that’s what we talk about here on this show.
It’s Monday, June 24th 2003. And I’m here in Clearwater, Florida where it’s a beautiful, sunny day. We have no thunderstorms—at least not until around this afternoon.
My guest today is from a wonderful website where they make beautiful, beautiful clothes out of organic fabrics. And they’re made right here in the USA. So we’re going to talk to her in a minute.
But first, I want to talk about something that I saw at a supermarket I happened to be wandering through—not buying anything, but just walking through. It was a headline on the cover of Real Simple Magazine. It said, “Is your house making you fat?”
Now, I know something about houses making people fat. What happens is there are certain types of chemicals called endocrine disruptors. And they are all over your house unless you’ve chosen products that don’t have them.
One of the endocrine disruptors is bisphenol A, also known as BPA. And what these endocrine disruptors do is they can make you fat. And because your ability to lose weight or retain weight is governed by certain hormones in your endocrine system, when your endocrine system gets disrupted, then it makes it really difficult for your body to lose weight, and people gain weight.
There’s actually a word for these types of chemicals. And it is obesogenic.
And so, I bought this magazine, Real Simple because I thought, “Oh, this would be a great article to talk about on my radio show.” Real Simple Magazine is showing where the toxic chemicals are in your home that make you fat.
But sadly, it had a big headline that said Is Your Home Obesogenic? Then they had a little asterisk, and they said that the definition of this word is that it’s something that causes obesity.
And when you turn the page, it says, “re-arrange the food, stock your food choices smarter, ditch the giant containers, vinyl salad plates…”
Now, none of these things have to do with toxic chemicals. These are all good habits that you should change. But here, they used the headline like Is Your House Making You Fat? like being exposed to something in your home make you fat. Then they used the word obesogenic which is often used in the world of toxic chemicals to refer to chemicals that are endocrine disruptors. And then, instead of talking about using those terms and phrases to talk about toxic chemicals, they’re talking about changing your eating habits.
So, I think it would’ve been great had Real Simple Magazine actually wrote an article about the subject. But I’m also concerned about people using phrases and terms that relate to toxic chemicals and using them incorrectly. And that’s actually a whole different subject of people being able to read and understand words and having vocabulary.
But I just wanted to make the point here that there are toxic chemicals in your home that can make you fat. In fact, there’s a whole article on my website about this. And you could find it by going to ToxicFreeTalkRadio.com. Across the top, there’s a menu bar that says Health Effects. If you click on there, and then scroll down the page, under Health Effects, it says “obesity.”
And if you click on that, there’s a whole article about how toxic chemical can be making you fat. If you’re having trouble losing weight or you’re gaining weight, then that’s a great article to read.
So now, I want to introduce my guest. Lucretia Bohnsack, she’s the executive director of Esperanza Threads. Lucretia, are you there?
LUCRETIA BOHNSACK: I am! And thank you for inviting me on your show today. In Cleveland where we are located, it’s bright and sunny too. We’re having a wonderful day.
DEBRA: Oh, good! Good, good, good. I drove through Cleveland once, but I’ve never spent any time there. But I have to! I see Cleveland on television sometimes, and I think, “That was like a nice place to live.”
LUCRETIA BOHNSACK: Yeah, it’s a beautiful area. We’re right on the Lake Shore. I can probably look out the window and see the lake right now. So it’s a great place to live. I’ve lived here my whole life, so I love it!
DEBRA: Well, tell us about Esperanza Threads. Tell us what you do just in a nutshell because we’ll talk about the details of it later. But just give us a general description and how it came to be.
LUCRETIA BOHNSACK: Okay! Well, it’s a long story. We started in 2000. And an Ursuline sister by the name of Sister Mary Aileen Boyle began this process. She had connected with some people in New England who were making organic clothing, but their main focus was to help people become entrepreneurs—learn how to sew, learn how to manufacture, learn how to market clothing, healthy clothing, and make it into a home industry or even expand it.
And so, Sister took that idea and brought it to Cleveland and started Esperanza Threads. What we did is exactly what she said. We started little, having people, gathering people to be with us and to learn how to sew. We were doing a lot of sewing in people’s sewing rooms, in their homes, in basements, teaching people to sew and hopefully sending people on to become entrepreneurs.
Well, two things happened. The first was some of the husbands said, “You got to move this out of our house. We want our houses back.”
And so, we did just that. At the same time, the Vincentian Sisters of Charity offered a space on some property they owned in Bedford, Ohio which is a suburb of Cleveland. And we moved our business over there.
Sister also began to realize most of the people she was training were not entrepreneur-minded. They wanted to learn how to sew. They wanted to manufacture. They loved the idea of creating. But they also wanted to move on into businesses where they could get jobs.
And so, we kind of morphed our whole process into more of a training facility. And so we do two things here. We train people how to sew. And then we help them, along the way, to get jobs. We also help them to actually create and make clothing that we are selling which helps us to further our ministry and our mission of teaching about organics and why organic clothing is so important to our society—
Also, helping those people to get jobs who, otherwise, are lacking jobs many times because they don’t have skills, they’re out of work. We have a whole myriad of people we work with. We talk with charities that gives us people. They refer people to us.
They’re refugees. And we also have people who are from the neighborhood who are unemployed. Churches send us people. We have a couple of agencies that are working with the welfare-to-work programs to help us to get that moving forward. Really exciting!
DEBRA: Yeah, I am very excited about it. And after we come back from the break, we’re going to hear more about why it’s so important to wear organic clothing and why it’s so important that you’re teaching people to sew it.
I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. My guest is Lucretia Bohnsack from Esperanza Threads. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio.
DEBRA: This is Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. And my guest is Lucretia Bohnsack, executive director of Esperanza Threads. And before we go any further, I want to just tell you that you can go directly to their website at EsperanzaThreads.com where you’ll see their beautiful clothes. Oh, my God, are they beautiful. You know, when I went to the site, it’s just the kind of clothes that I wear. I just wanted to buy everything.
LUCRETIA BOHNSACK: Well, I’m glad to hear that.
DEBRA: So, tell us why it’s important to wear organic clothes. Why is what you do important to your organization?
LUCRETIA BOHNSACK: Okay! One of the things that I don’t think people realize is how much—well, specifically, our main product is cotton fibers. We do use wool. We also use silk hemp. But our main product is cotton. And the amount of chemicals that are used to process a simple pound of raw cotton, the one pound of raw cotton, it’s going to take one-third pounds of chemical fertilizers. And that’s not counting the insecticides that are spayed on them and things such as that.
And in the processing, we add more chemicals because the raw cotton isn’t pure white. And of course, people like pure white.
And even for dying purposes, they need to get to a pure white color. Well, they’re using heavy metal dyes to dye these items.
And many of those chemicals are being washed into the soil. They’re being flushed into our sewer systems and things such as that.
All of that, first of all, it’s impacting our natural water and pure soil resources. But then we’re taking all those chemicals because it’s impossible to get them totally out of the fabrics. And we’re putting those against our bodies.
We know how many people have chemical reactions and people who don’t understand where their rashes coming from. “Why am I itchy?” And many times, it’s the very clothing we’re wearing that is causing us to have reactions.
DEBRA: I agree. And there are so many chemicals too that are used in finishes, things like formaldehyde-based resins that are used on permanent pressed cotton. It’s just a joy to go to your website and see all these things that are so hard to find.
I’m looking at a page right now that has organic cotton sweat clothes. You could get a hoodie. You could get drawstring sweatpants, [elastic] sweatpants. There are two kinds of sweat shirts. I mean you just can’t find these in stores. And even if you find them online, a lot of times, they’re mixed with a certain amount of synthetics or lycra or something to make it more stretchy.
I can’t tell you how many sites I go to where they come up as organic cotton in say a Google search. But then you go there, and it’s 87% organic cotton or whatever. I know that those people think that they’re doing by having it go in the right direction because they’re using a lot of organic cotton. But then they use these other synthetics which some people react badly to those synthetics or they are uncomfortable.
I just have to commend you for putting together a line of clothing that is so attractive and so pure. It’s very unusual. It’s very unusual.
LUCRETIA BOHNSACK: Yeah, we try to keep our workshop isolated from any of those other kinds of chemicals and things, insofar as we’ve even asked our employees not to wear perfumes to work, so that none of those things are actually getting on to the fabrics—and it’s healthier for our employees as well, to be not exposed to all these different chemicals.
And that kind of flows into the environment we like to have here. It’s a peaceful environment. People are happy to work here.
We are hopefully fulfilling some of their needs and being responsive to their needs as well.
And part of what we also do—I am the executive director. Unfortunately, Sister had a heart attack about a year ago. And we realized at that point that she was way overextended. And so we took some of her roles away. I took on the business end of it.
But Sister still talks about fair trade.
We always think about fair trade coming from outside the country, but we are very firm here to make sure that our employees are being paid fairly, that they’re treated in a fair and kind manner. We also work at trying to educate people about all of these.
Sister Mary Aileen goes out on the weekends to churches and takes some of our products with them to share them with people and explain why is organic so important, why is fair trade so very, very important because nobody else is really talking about—and along with the product.
I think you hear it in the news. So what can I do about it? Well, we have a solution as far as purchasing things that are manufactured in the United States. The cotton we’re getting, most of it is from the United States.
Unfortunately, we’re running out of land that is pure. And that’s a very definite thing that, in order to get organic cotton, the soil has to be pure. And it takes an unbelievable amount of time for the chemicals to leave the soil.
DEBRA: Yes, yes. But it really does take people like you deciding that you’re going to do things in a certain way, offering products and educating the public and making a different choice available. We can educate and educate all we want. But if there aren’t then products that you can go buy that are actually doing these things, then it makes it a lot more difficult.
We’re going to talk more with Lucretia Bohnsack, executive director of Esperanza Threads after this break. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio.
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. This is Debra Lynn Dadd. And we’re here talking with Lucretia Bohnsack, executive director of Esperanza Threads, an organic, sustainable fiber clothing manufacturer that provides comfort and fashion with social and environmental values. They’re in Cleveland, Ohio. And you can go visit their website at EsperanzaThreads.com.
Lucretia, during the break, I was just looking at your website more because I just love looking at the clothes. I know I’ve been saying that over and over again. But I’m just so thrilled!
You have clothes available for women and men and children and babies. And people with multiple chemical sensitivity can wear them. And you have them in all kinds of sizes, everything from extra small to extra, extra large. I know that it’s difficult for larger women to find organic clothing, especially in styles that would look good on them.
So, I think that, for many, many reasons, your website really is a find.
LUCRETIA BOHNSACK: The points that you just made about the sizing and how difficult it is for some people, because we are manufacturing individual piece here on site, many times, we’re able to adapt to people’s special sizing needs. And we pride ourselves in that, that someone can call us and we are willing to work with them to try to get the sizing right for them.
It’s difficult! It’s difficult for a woman or a gentleman to get something that’s comfortable, looks nice, is nice fabric, but in a size that normally is not off-the-rack in the stores.
DEBRA: Yes, it is.
LUCRETIA BOHNSACK: And our prices, we really work hard to try to keep our prices competitive because, obviously, when you go into a store—it’s very difficult for us because things that are coming out from sweatshops out of the country are being priced hundreds of times their value where we can’t do that. We try very hard. The fabric is expensive. We try to be very aware of what the fabrics are and try to keep the cost within people’s budget. I think that’s a hard thing to do because of that.
So, sometimes, when somebody says, “Whoa! This is a little expensive,” not really when you consider the cost of the fabrics and the cost compared to things that are—I keep referring to this as sweatshops because that’s where many of the things—even to the finest clothes we’re wearing are made in sweatshops. That’s why the fair trade aspect of our business is so important.
One of the things we’re doing right now, and can hopefully make things more readily available to you, we are looking at going into a bit more of a wholesale model where we will actually be placing our products in stores. So, people can go to a website in the future, and there will be a link there that will tell them to go to—I’m trying to think. Revel is one of our area stores. Go to Revel, and they will have our products there. You can purchase that right on-site as well because people like to touch and feel and know what the fabrics are like.
DEBRA: Oh, yeah, yeah.
LUCRETIA BOHNSACK: And that’s really an important thing.
And also, along with the good quality organic fabric, we’re also working at teaching people how to sew, giving people the opportunity to have a future and have a skill that they can take to a manufacturer. We’re working with many of the companies in Cleveland. We have some major manufacturing companies in Cleveland who are hiring our people and helping them to get those jobs and to go on for further training. So they’re able to get insurance. They’re able to get a job where they can help their family and provide for their family without assistance. And that’s a very important thing.
DEBRA: That’s so wonderful, that you’re offering training for a job that exists in your community. And in the process of offering that training, you’re also producing a really excellent product that those trainees are making.
LUCRETIA BOHNSACK: Mm-hmmm…
DEBRA: I want to go back and just talk about pricing again for a minute because I think that people are, in general, looking for the lowest priced thing. They’re going to stores that sell cheap products, and they say, “Well, that’s all I can afford” or whatever.
And I understand that. I’m not a wealth person. I have to budget my money and figure out how I’m going to spend it.
But a long time ago, I realized that it was better—even if I only had one shirt. It was better to have one shirt that was organic and well-made and that the people were paid fairly. I was participating in a real economy that is based on what things really cost instead of an economy that’s just a throwaway economy. It’s cheap goods, and people aren’t being paid enough and all those things.
What you’re doing is you’re looking at “Here’s the real cost of a good piece of fabric and has environmental benefits to it. And the person who’s making it is getting a wage that they can actually live on.”
LUCRETIA BOHNSACK: That’s correct.
DEBRA: That’s such a different model. And we, as consumers, need to stop saying, “Well, I don’t have very much money. I’m going to buy this cheap thing,” and instead say, “I’m just going to buy less and buy something that’s good quality” or say, “I’m going to make more money.” And usually, what I do is I say, “I’m going to make more money.”
It’s just people don’t know how to budget for things anymore. They buy things on credit cards and stuff. Btu the way to do it is that you figure out what is the amount of money that you need to live, you budget for things of good quality that you want to buy, and that’s what you buy.
And I don’t think that your products are excessively priced.
LUCRETIA BOHNSACK: Oh, no.
DEBRA: I think that your products are—we’re talking about all these, the quality and fair trade and stuff. But I think that your products are extremely reasonably priced. It’s not like going and buying something at a discount place, but it’s not expensive.
LUCRETIA BOHNSACK: Right! And we find, without naming name brands, we’re probably much lower than many of the prestigious name brands that we’re going to see.
One of the things we were talking about costs—I don’t know if you saw our linens that are online. We have a towel…
DEBRA: Actually, we need to take another break.
LUCRETIA BOHNSACK: Okay, great.
DEBRA: We’ll come right back, and then we’ll talk about your linens.
I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. This is Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m talking to Lucretia Bohnsack, executive director of Esperanza Threads. We’ll be right back.
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. And we’re here with my guest, Lucretia Bohnsack, executive director of Esperanza Threads. And they make beautiful organic cotton clothing for men, women and children.
And Lucretia was just about to tell me about the linens before the break. So, go on with that.
LUCRETIA BOHNSACK: Yes! One of the nicest things we have is energy-efficient towels and wash cloth. They’re a waffle weave fabric. They’re organic. We preshrink them. But what I love about them is, first of all, they’re a little bit rougher than a terry. And so they’re nice for exfoliating your skin. And also, the beauty of them, we call them energy-efficient because the waffle weave allows the water to leak off of them. So when I take my shower, and I hang my towel up, in a few minutes, it is dry. So we’re not getting that mildewy smell that so often you get.
And so I’m able to use my towels for several days without having to wash them (of course wasting a lot of water and soap or whatever I’m using to wash with). When I wash them, and I put them in my dryer, they’re going to dry even quicker. So we’re saving tons of energy that way, plus having a pure product next to our skin, especially when our skin is so vulnerable because it’s wet and the pores are open and everything. We have a pure product that we’re using on them.
And then, we actually do make bed linen on special request and for people that have some sensitivities. And most people rave about that. That’s not one of our bigger sellers. But when people do buy them, they love them.
DEBRA: Do you do custom work? If I wanted to send you some fabric, would you sew my fabric?
LUCRETIA BOHNSACK: We would if it was organic. We do have an area that’s away from our main selling area that if somebody wanted something made that was non-organic, we would work with that away from everything else.
But if you had real organic fabric, we would definitely work with that and help you to get something that you would love to have and enjoy.
DEBRA: Because I know periodically people will write to me and ask me if I know anybody who can sew for people who are chemically sensitive. Particularly people with multiple chemical sensitivities have difficulty finding clothes. And I see on your website, you have a whole page devoted to talking about working with people with MCS.
And also, I just noticed that, on each product, it says sample swatches. So are those pictures or you’ll actually send physical swatches?
LUCRETIA BOHNSACK: Yes. And if someone were to call and ask us, we’d actually even send them samples of the fabric so that they could feel it and know what it’s like, what are we using, and find out if it’s something they would like.
Our t-shirts are a heavier fabric than you would normally get in most stores. So it’s a little bit different. It’s a little bit more luxurious to be honest.
DEBRA: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely, absolutely. Wow!
So, tell us more about some of the people who are actually sewing your clothes.
LUCRETIA BOHNSACK: Okay! We have a number of different people from different areas. As I mentioned earlier, Catholic charities, migrant refugee services in Cleveland actually sends us people to work with. We’ve had people from Bhutan and Burma and Sudan, different areas in Africa. We’ve gotten a lot of people from the African nations who are refugees, and unfortunately, with some very sad tales to tell of abuse and things in those countries—Iran, a lot of the Hispanic areas, Cuba, Costa Rica.
We also work with an agency that happens to be about two blocks down from us that is actually—they’re called the Centers for Family & Children. And they work with the County Assistance Program. So they’re sending us trainees to work here to learn skills while they’re on assistance, so that when they get off the assistance, they have a skill to go and get jobs with. We also have many of the churches in the area sending us people.
We happen to be in a Hispanic neighborhood. So a lot of the people that are coming to us are Hispanic. They’re learning many skills because, many times, they don’t speak English. So we’re trying to work with them to emphasize the need to start learning English, beginning to speak English. So when they go out and apply for jobs, they’re more “marketable,” to use that word. So they’re able to get job.
A lot of people have never had jobs in the United States. And so we’re trying to teach them the culture. So to be a good employee, what do you need to do? Culturally, in many cases, we’re very different. Something as simple as, in many countries, lowering your eyes and looking at the floor when an authority is talking to you is a sign of respect. In our country, “What’s wrong with them? Why aren’t they looking me in the eye? What are they hiding?”, something as simple as that.
So, we’re teaching people how to work in an environment with multi-cultures. And we have some wonderful volunteers that come in and help us. I don’t know what we’d do without our volunteers. And so it really is making a difference for us to achieve what we want to achieve, training people.
We have people who are home seamstresses that volunteer. We have people that are retired professional seamstresses that come in and are sharing the skills that they learned for 30 or 40 years in the sewing industry. So it’s really a wonderful thing.
DEBRA: I want to ask you a question. And I think that probably some people are thinking this which is why I’m asking. I haven’t actually seen your clothing except see it in pictures, but I’m assuming that it looks professionally sewn when you receive a garment, that it’s professional quality.
LUCRETIA BOHNSACK: Oh, definitely.
DEBRA: If I tried to sew something, it would like I was a home sew-er.
LUCRETIA BOHNSACK: No, we’re not teaching home sewing. We are actually teaching industrial sewing which is different than home sewing. And our head seamstress worked for years in the sewing industry throughout Ohio, throughout the Cleveland area. And as I said, we have women that are volunteering to teach people the skills.
Home sewing is very different. We always think of when our moms used to make us homemade—which is something not as professionally—it doesn’t have some of the little nuances that you need for the things to tuck down properly and things like that. But no, what we create—as I’ve said, we’re selling them professionally in stores right now. And so those people would not take something that look like it was something that the person who had one course in highschool is now sewing.
DEBRA: So what is your favorite item of clothing?
LUCRETIA BOHNSACK: Oh, I think probably my favorite is our t-shirts. They’re so soft and cuddly. They’re just comfortable.
When you put them on, and when you wash them, you’re going to get the same quality out of the shirt. It’s just a soft, luxurious kind of feel to it.
And we do them in all different styles, from camisoles to lady tees to high neck and short and long sleeves.
We also have a variety of imprints. We have a local transfer company that actually transfers on to our shirts. And we can even do shirts for a person. If somebody have a picture they just love—someone recently (around Christmas time) had all their grandchildren put on a shirt.
DEBRA: Oh, good idea.
LUCRETIA BOHNSACK: I mean, we use a different kind of dye process with those shirts. It’s really a direct print. So there’s no run-off. There’s no heavy metals. It’s a much more environmentally-friendly process.
DEBRA: One thing that I do want to mention about your products is the page with the jackets. I have had so much difficulty finding natural fiber jackets. I mean you might be able to get a linen jacket, but then it has this synthetic lining. And I really like jackets that are just loose and unlined. And you have some beautiful jackets.
LUCRETIA BOHNSACK: Right!
DEBRA: And right now, they happen to be on sale.
LUCRETIA BOHNSACK: Yes, they are!
DEBRA: So, if anybody from XS to XXL needs a natural fiber jacket, I would suggest you hurry up and go over to EsperanzaThreads.com and look at their jackets. These are so difficult to find. The styles are so beautiful. I just think that anybody would enjoy wearing these.
LUCRETIA BOHNSACK: And a lot of those are our silk hemp jackets. So they’re soft and flowing. They’re very pretty.
DEBRA: Yeah. Well, we’ve come to the end of our time. It’s been such a pleasure to talk to you, Lucretia. You’re doing wonderful work. I so appreciate that you’ve been on with me today.
LUCRETIA BOHNSACK: And thank you so much for inviting us. We really appreciated it.
DEBRA: Thank you. You’ve been listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd.