Back then in the 1980’s, Troy was in his early 20s, building his first company B.U.M. Clothing into a $120 million entity. Troy’s ambition was not driven by fashion, but a simple love of people; an inherent attachment to those he saw and met worldwide - from the rural US where he grew up to across the developing world. These were people without much hope, money or education, people who reminded him of where he had come from and whose shoes he had walked in. The situation he could easily still be in today, had he made different choices.
This impact, however, previously focused heavily on job creation, doing what Troy calls ‘giving a hand up, not a hand out’ by providing people who are willing to work hard an opportunity to better their future and that of their families. This heart for people is what Troy believes makes or breaks a business. His own development of businesses that give people a voice, starting at the grass roots level, was in action long before a whole science, now termed ‘impact investing’ or ‘social entrepreneurship’ evolved.
And then things changed, taking building a business around people to a whole new level. A few years ago, Troy was suddenly challenged to question why his passion to positively change the world omitted the environment – the water, the forests, the very elements that these communities depended upon for their survival. The question originated from a friend’s belief that without attaining environmental stability, you simply can’t ensure long-term impact within many of the sorts of communities that Troy’s heart cries to help. Most significantly, without reversing the negative land use change that is at the root of much human despair. Such communities – across Latin America, Asia, Africa, and beyond – have traditionally lived in non monetary societies, depending upon and existing in harmony with the land.
But population pressure, combined with an ever approaching agricultural frontier has jeopardized the ability for a dependence on natural resources to continue to be a lifestyle choice for millions of forest dependent people. A negative feedback cycle that has become further compounded by the effects of climate change and its impacts on lives, rich and poor.
Over the next few months Troy’s answer morphed from ‘I want to change lives, not trees’ to a deep understanding that without providing sustainable alternative solutions, the downward spiral from flourishing smallholder livelihoods into poverty is ultimately inevitable.
Simply put – forests, and the ecosystem services that they provide, from water cycling, to healthy soils, to maintaining a microclimate that smallholder farmers understand – represent life for many rural communities and ultimately, our planet. And yet increasing global demand for timber and wood products continues to put pressure on such forests and the millions of people dependent upon them. Troy’s solution – sustainably grown bamboo – addresses many of these issues.
Co-founded in 2010 as a truly triple bottom line company, Troy’s latest venture, EcoPlanet Bamboo is built upon the philosophy that the upfront financial cost of developing strong social and environmental standards and policies pays itself back multiple fold over time. That what many companies see as an unnecessary cost, a marketing tool, an intangible asset, is in reality converted into a highly tangible long-term asset. Why? A work force dedicated to the Company, providing significantly less turn-over, local community support, which in turn provides stronger central government support, cost and time savings related to having fewer social and environmentally related legal issues and ultimately a clear conscious, confident that you are making a real difference in the lives of people and the planet. The result is that EcoPlanet Bamboo’s model proves that you don’t have to give up the ability to earn a strong and commercially competitive financial return to do good – a theory commonly believed amongst a growing field of social entrepreneurship and impact investing. On the contrary, you can do and achieve both.
And with a solid company culture and commercial plantations developed on degraded land in some of the most remote parts of the planet, Troy was able to once again turn his attention to the fashion industry. Viscose and rayon – fibers that commonly make up approximately 30% of non synthetic clothing, are produced predominantly from wood fiber. Wood that currently comes from the deforestation of old growth and ancient forests; Canada, Brazil, Indonesia and beyond – we are using trees that take hundreds of years to grow, processing them through chemically intense and environmentally disastrous facilities, and treating the clothes they end up in as disposable items.
Working hand in hand with conscientious retailers committed to change, EcoPlanet Bamboo is combining a source of sustainable, certified raw fiber, with the development of innovative closed loop and chemical free manufacturing technologies, to provide a textile product that can meet the demands of today’s growing consumer society.
And Troy? His humbleness and desire to be on the ground with the people whose lives he is changing continues to define him. Behind the fine lines of stress and responsibility of building a multi million dollar company, across multiple continents, Troy’s blue eyes twinkle as he answers the question what do you do for a living ‘I’m just a farmer, a bamboo farmer.’