Running to recycling

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Running enthusiast Jeremy Litchfield got his inspiration for a business after sweaty, red dye started oozing from his new workout gear.

“I had just started training for a marathon,” Mr. Litchfield says. “I went on a run on a typical hot, humid Washington day. When I started to sweat heavily, the red dye dripped from the shirt all the way down to the lower half of my body. I thought, ‘What kind of chemicals are being absorbed into my body?’”

Several, it turns out. Mr. Litchfield did some research into how most polyester performance gear — which is designed to wick sweat away from the body and dry quickly — is made. He says he found the amount of petroleum, heavy metals and chemical-laden dyes needed to produce such shirts unacceptable.

Mr. Litchfield and a business partner, Michael Hall, soon founded Arlington-based Atayne Sportswear and are hoping their shirts made from recycled plastic bottles will be big sellers among environmentally conscious runners.

“Plastic bottles and polyester are both No. 1 plastics made from the same chemical compounds,” says Mr. Litchfield, 31, who has an MBA from American University and a marketing background. “You can break down the plastic from the bottles and build it into polyester yarn.”

A plant in Vancouver manufacturers the shirts, which bear environmental messages such as “Run Hard, Tread Lightly.” Atayne began selling the shirts last summer — $38 for short-sleeve and $44 for long-sleve. The shirts are sold via their Web site (www.atayne.com), at races and they are working on getting a spot in local running stores.

In addition to using plastic bottles for the shirts, Atayne also has added a new textile derived from coconut shells. It replaces chemicals often embedded into yarn for speedy drying, odor control and SPF protection, Mr. Litchfield says.

Bryon Powell, a local runner and running blogger (http://blog.irun far.com), says he tested an Atayne shirt on a typical, Washington summer day and found it performed just as well as chemically treated models during a long run.

“After some use, it doesn’t smell any worse than technical shirts that are treated with silver or antimicrobial chemicals,” he says. “In other words, it is a fully functioning tech shirt that comes without a hint of the guilt that comes from buying a petroleum-based shirt, and the wearer is not exposed to any potentially nasty chemicals.”

Mr. Litchfield says Atayne also is trying to build a reputation as a socially responsible company by giving back to the running and environmental communities.

Marathons and other races can be big garbage spots, with lots of crumpled paper cups, water bottles and orange peels littering the area. Atayne has gathered “Team Atayne” to work as recycling and trash volunteers to try and corral some of the garbage.

Team Atayne members worked at four races in 2008, and has more planned for 2009. At a race in Gaithersburg, they ran at the back of the pack, with recycling bins placed in jogging strollers and picked up trash as they ran.

“The most impressive thing about Atayne is how they honestly put the planet first,” says Andrea Vincent, marketing director for RunTerra, which organizes environmentally conscious races. “They aren’t just trying to sell shirts. They truly, deeply want to help the environment.”

About the Author
Karen Goldberg Goff

Karen Goldberg Goff

Karen Goldberg Goff has been a reporter at The Washington Times since 1992. She currently writes feature-length stories on a variety of topics, including family issues, pop culture, health, food and technology. Follow Karen on Twitter.

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