By  on August 20, 2008

Blink and you might think it was 40 years ago, when T-shirts flashing peace symbols, doves and the planet Earth were commonplace. A closer look at the burgeoning eco-brand RVL7 reveals a 21st-century flavor: organic cotton and a message of sustainability and fair trade printed on the inside of graphic Ts, where a label would otherwise be sewn.

Founder and chief executive officer Joe Tomlinson was in New York as RVL (sounds like revel) 7’s two-month-old mobile eco-shop was making its sixth stop on a tour of a dozen summer concerts, this one Aug. 9 and 10 at the All Points West Music & Arts Festival in Jersey City, N.J. A 400-square-foot structure built with a recycled aluminum facade, bamboo-paneled interior and solar panels, the mobile shop was conceived as one route the company can take to get out its message of sustainability and positive energy, Tomlinson explained.

“We want to impact pop culture’s view of what makes a brand relevant — green and positive,” he added. “You can put on a T-shirt and look good and feel good about what you bought. It can be fun.”

RVL7 was spun from a desire to blot out a “dark energy” Tomlinson and his wife, Amy, perceived among some youths, including a moment during a family shopping trip a few years ago when their 15-year-old daughter wanted to buy a T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “I stole your boyfriend, bitch.” In June 2006, the brand, conceived as “American fashion with green DNA,” was launched.

So far, Re:volve, the Park City, Utah-based parent of the green-infused brand, has made an investment in the high-single-digit millions in The RVL7 Eco-Shop, building it with recycled or sustainable materials, transporting it with a biodiesel truck supplied by Penske, and staffing it with 10 people a stop, three of them permanent employees. A 10-foot-deep deck wraps around the store, dotted with seats and planters filled with live bamboo.

LCD screens, hung amid T-shirts on the mobile shop’s back wall, tell the tale of the brand, and a pair of kiosks equipped with Apple Air laptops enable shoppers to visit rvl7.com, join the site’s Web community and post a blog entry.

The casualwear collection, comprising mainly graphic Ts and fleece hoodies, is adding thermal tops and beanie caps for the holiday season and is poised to expand next spring into woven tops and denim bottoms. “Joe’s made a big investment in branding RVL7 with a very modest product range,” said Todd Katz, founder of Kudo Collective, which signed on in the past few weeks as sales agent for the eco-label. These attempts to gather some marketing momentum before broadening the collection, Katz added, are “unlike most cases, where you’re just going out with a line of product,”

Tomlinson talks of his brand’s commitment to globally sourced organic cotton, garment dyeing at Los Angeles Dye & Wash (a global organic textile standard-certified shop) and cut-and-sew work done domestically — and he’s quick to say he wants to avoid the stain of being greenwashed. “We are doing everything we can not to be stuck in that greenwash box,” offered the Re:volve ceo, who was wearing RVL7’s Speak Peace T atop his jeans, a shirt showing a woman emitting peace symbols from a megaphone. “We’re trying to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.”

The walk is entering new territory, with the design and marketing of a Vote T-shirt and creation of voter registration ads shot by photographers like Danny Clinch, for HeadCount, a nonprofit organization that registers voters at concerts, and the development of a T-shirt, with Ethel Kennedy, to commemorate the renaming of New York City’s Triborough Bridge as the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge, tentatively scheduled for Nov. 19. Proceeds from sales of the bridge T, which is expected to portray images of both Kennedy and the expanse, will go to the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial, a Washington-based human rights organization, said Jeffrey Buchanan, the group’s communications officer.

The Vote T and public service announcement ads began to take shape in June, when Tomlinson met HeadCount co-chairman Andy Bernstein at the Bonneroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn. The red, white and blue stencil-lettered Vote T recalls Robert Indiana’s enduring Love print (1965) and is being sold at HeadCount.org, The RVL7 Eco-Shop, and may be available in stores carrying the eco-brand, such as Macy’s West and Fred Segal, which is offering exclusive RVL7 items in its Ron Robinson shop. HeadCount will receive a fee from the sales. Public service announcements featuring portraits of musician Jack Johnson and Waterkeeper Support director Mark Yaggi, among others, are headed for newspapers and weekly magazines, starting in September and continuing through Election Day, Nov. 4.

While RVL7 believes its green message has been resonating with teens and young adults, the 44-year-old Tomlinson envisions a broader audience, noting, “There are a lot of people like me and older than me who are coming from the same place — what can I do to participate in this moment?”

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