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Alternative Apparel's Erik Joule Advocates For Sustainability on a Corporate Scale

Photograph by Jack Alice 

It may be small, but San Francisco is a city that continues to matter,” says Erik Joule, whose company chose to open the third location of Los Angeles based Alternative Apparel here, back in January, to make a point. “This city has always led the way with innovation,” says the 43-year-old Russian Hill resident. He deems the environment just right for “a brand like ours, whose goal it is to lead in a transparent and responsible way.”

Born in France and raised in the Bay Area, Joule has always managed to find himself in close proximity to the next big thing. His career has taken him from humble beginnings as a Gap stockroom associate during college in Virginia to merchandising and design roles at Gap Inc., Quiksilver, and Levi’s. It was at this last company that he really shone, launching Levi’s Workshops to foster community engagement and reinvigorate the brand’s focus on craft; the Commuter collection, aimed at the urban cyclist; and Water<Less jeans, reducing water consumption in denim manufacturing. Joule can also take credit for converting Levi’s T-shirts to all-organic cotton. The message: Sustainability on a corporate scale is possible.

“Business should be a source of economic wealth, but it must also be a source of social change,” says Joule, president of Alternative Apparel, which is known for its top-quality cotton basics and commitment to responsible practices. This season, the 19-year-old brand continues its collaboration with Made in Peru in an effort to bolster the nation’s struggling manufacturing industry, which is losing business to lower-cost outfits in Asia. The brand also fosters relationships with independent designers who share common core values, such as Lauren Moffatt, Apolis, and Current Elliott.

As might be expected, Joule and Alternative Apparel are personally engaging the local community. Last November, the company organized a bicycle tour of historic SF sites (Joule is an avid cyclist). And via the corporate program Alternative Grants—which supports independent community improvements—he awarded $1,000 and a yearlong TechShop membership to designer Aaron Rowley, whose desktop 3-D printer The Electroloom can produce clothing without the waste and environmental impact of traditional supply chains.

“I wouldn’t be the way I am without San Francisco,” he says. “I’m thrilled that Alternative Apparel has a stake here as things continue to percolate upwards for the city.” 

This article was published in 7x7's March issue. Click here to subscribe.