Save the ski slopes


Thursday, January 24
For all Al Gore's cinematic rabble-rousing, America's response to climate change — which may be the only truly existential threat we face — has been lethargic. We cluck our tongues in disapproval and turn dreary, ominous slide-shows into box-office powerhouses, yet most of us can't even be bothered with mild energy-efficiency, let alone measures of meaningful conservation that might actually entail lifestyle changes.

But four Pittsfield natives are sick of the sidelines. Miguel Lopez, Rob Markwith, his sister, Sarah Markwith-Padgett, and her husband, Matt Padgett, hope to carve out a niche in a promising new economic sector and do their share to turn back the clock on climate change with a single joint enterprise, modest in scale but ambitious in scope.

To that end, the four recently pooled their resources to found a skier- and snowboarder-oriented clothing line, Miro, which received its first shipment of Texan-made T-shirts last week (hats are next up). Padgett designed the eco-friendly shirts, made of durable organic textiles and featuring the company's spare logo, the four noncontiguous corners of a square.

"Pittsfield's slowly turning around, as everyone can see by what they've done with North Street," Lopez told me during a recent interview. "We want to take part in the growth here."

"The city's had a bad rap for a long time, but there are a lot of business owners out there trying to show people that this place has potential," Markwith added. "We're going to show people that a socially and ecologically conscious company can come out of this area."

The first offering took place Sunday at the Brew Works. Local musicians Jess Hume, Pat Mack and The Good Time Family Jesus Band played a free show, and for $20 customers received a shirt and a drink voucher. Three percent of the proceeds will go toward the Center for Environmental Technology, the Surfrider Foundation and the Nature Conservancy.

"That may not be much right now," said Lopez, "but as we grow, 3 percent can become a pretty significant contribution."

And the project's ambitions don't start and end with direct charity infusions. Miro is pursuing a holistic strategy, tying its fortunes to optimism about social responsibility in more ways than one. One of the group's immediate goals is to enlist a demographic they see as natural allies against climate change: skiers and snowboarders, whose athletic medium has proven one of global warming's most visible early casualties.

"We've all been into surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding and skiing for our whole lives," said Markwith. "So we want to stay within that industry in some way, and it also helps us reach a totally different audience that really hasn't been targeted much by environmental organizations and educate people in these subcultures through fashion."

"Raising awareness may be more valuable than any financial contribution," Lopez said.

Sunday's "kickoff party" was designed to jump-start sales and generate buzz in advance of the clothing line's official launch Saturday evening at Bousquet's RailJam, a competitive skateboarding exhibition Miro organized with the active support of the mountain, the Boardroom and Plaine's sporting goods (as well as an unprintably long list of volunteers, friends and donors that also included Whitney's Farm).

RailJam, which is free for spectators and includes a $35 registration fee for competitors, will be "a two-in-one event," said Lopez.

"We're going to try to give kids and adults a fun thing to do on a Saturday evening, but we're also going to educate people," explained Markwith. "We'll have a booth set up where we'll be selling the shirts and offering people information about the effects of climate change on humans and health and ski mountains — you know, 'save the snow' — and also the effects of climate change on the surfing industry. These sports that they love so much might not be around some day."

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Though the shirts will retail for $25, they'll be going for $20 at the RailJam.

"In order to get the word out, grow the business and be able to help donate money, we're basically cutting ourselves out of the profit on the first shipment of shirts so that more people can get them initially," said Markwith-Padgett.

The growing ranks of hybrid cars serve as evidence that "think locally, act globally" is not only an urgent (if trite) moral imperative but a sound business model. Despite investments by government and business, the towering canopy of the corporate green sector leaves ample room for grassroots initiatives to take root.

And Miro is predicating its appeal on another concept that — like "green businesses" — entered the discourse only in the last decade, since climate change replaced first-generation environmental fears like acid rain in the public consciousness: the importance of regional consumption (which has spawned neologisms like "locavore," the vogue term for someone seeking to mitigate the environmental costs of transporting food by "eating locally").

"We're going to try to employ local artisans as much as we possibly can," said Markwith. "For the T-shirts, we looked everywhere: Texas was the best we could do. But everything else is local. We get our wool right out of Lenox. Our hats are being made by a local artist. Obviously, as far as transport costs and fossil fuels go, the more we can do here at home, the better off we'll be."

"We're not just trying to help ourselves here," said Padgett. "We're trying to be enablers for other people, because buying our products lowers their energy footprints as well."

The regional focus also brings more obvious and traditional economic benefits. Since the merchandise is being manufactured using as many local textiles, merchants and materials as possible, Markwith-Padgett explained, "it's not just for people who are environmentally conscious. It's also for people who want to support socially responsible manufacturing and take pride in their local economy."

"I think we're actually going to make a difference," Lopez said with a sense of cautious pride. "Slowly but surely. And that's all that really matters."

If you go ...
What: RailJam, a snowboarding exhibition and launch party for ecologically-friendly Miro clothing.

When: 6 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Bousquet ski area.

Cost: The event is free for spectators; $35 to register as a competitor. T-shirts are $20 apiece at the event and will retail for $25 thereafter.


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