By Julie Lawrence Special to Published May 27, 2009 at 11:40 AM

The prominence of the green movement has already affected many of the mainstream sectors of our lives. Many of the everyday decisions we make -- the food we eat, the cars we drive (or don't drive) -- are in some way impacted by a growing concern for our environment.

A new Milwaukee apparel company is now doing its part to help people make smarter choices about the clothes they buy.

With the slogan "Today's Apparel for Tomorrow's Environment," Rain Tree Gear launched in December 2008 as a local source for 100 percent organic cotton T-shirts with screenprinted designs using non-toxic water-based inks.

Co-founders Marc Colwell and Eric Sanchez say they are passionate about sustainable business, which is why $1 from each product sold goes toward The Conservation Fund. On June 15, Rain Tree Gear will total up the proceeds and cut a check to the national environmental charity. Next, the company is looking to partner with a local charity.

"We wanted to give back," says Sanchez of his business model. "It seemed like we were doing the right thing for our company, our community and for the environment."

If you're wondering why Rain Tree Gear is willing to pay the premium for organic fibers, its Web site's "Organic Facts" section can break down the reasons for you:

  • Organic cotton farming avoids the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers
  • Organic farmers use untreated seeds as opposed to genetically modified seeds
  • Weeds are physically removed as opposed to being killed by chemical means
  • Pests are controlled by natural predators and strategic planting

Plus, there are health benefits that come along with wearing green: traces of chemicals left behind from synthetic pesticides can be potentially carcinogenic.

Thankfully, they don't jack up the prices for the customers. Adult shirts are priced at $18 and children's at $16.

Sanchez, the self-described "artistic one," designs and prints the men's, women's and kids' shirts that depict gentle images of nature -- trees, butterflies and the company's playful logo.

Although the company sells its wares in Milwaukee at Sweeney Todd Salon & Fair Trade World Bazaar, 2999 S. Delaware Ave., the majority of its business is done online via the Web store.

When Rain Tree ships its orders out, the packaging materials used are made of between 92 and 100 percent post-consumer recycled content and the cartons themselves are 100 percent recyclable after the customer receives them. The green ink used to print Rain Tree Gear's logo on the cartons is water-based and copper-free. 

The long-term goal, however, is to have a brick and mortar store in Milwaukee, and eventually Chicago. For now, the company is working on partnering with more local businesses that share its earth-conscious values.

A May 16 fashion show at Aura was a chance for Rain Tree Gear to introduce itself to Milwaukee's fashion scene and highlight its new products, such as organic bamboo baseball caps and organic cotton polo shirts. Next up are organic tote bags.

Keep your eye out for Rain Tree Gear at summer festivals, including RiverSplash on Saturday, June 6 hanging out with Chicago's Kingfish Band

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”