Scott Morrison and Bob Conrad were simply tired of golf apparel made of polyester, so they partnered to create an alternative that also helps the environment
How many credit cards do you have? No, not in your wallet – in your body.
That’s the question you should ask yourself the next time you’re browsing golf shirts at your local golf shop, argue two golf apparel entrepreneurs who want to minimize plastic pollution in the environment.
We ingest an average of a credit card’s worth of plastic — 5 grams — each week, according to a study by Newcastle University in New South Wales, Australia. That’s just over a half pound each year. We excrete most of that, but some stays behind.
Plastic pollution is so endemic to modern life, other studies have found microplastics in every organ in the human body — even in the placenta of newborn babies.
Most comes from the water we drink or the plastics our foods come in, but tiny bits — called microfibers — are shed from polyester garments as we wear and wash them. Those bits find their way into rivers, lakes, oceans, fish and, eventually, into our bodies.
Scott Morrison and Bob Conrad want to change that. Fed up with the synthetic fiber that largely replaced cotton in golf apparel in the mid-2000s, they founded Radmor Golf and claim to be the first brand to eliminate the use of virgin polyester in their products. Radmor makes cotton polos, t-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, shorts, pants and caps.
“This is something we have a passion about,” Conrad said. “We wanted to do something disruptive, something sustainable, so we settled on Pima cotton from Peru. We never liked polyester. We said we’re going to use natural fibers no matter what.”
While the company needs small amounts of polyester for elasticity and waterproofing, Radmor uses only recycled polyester. Their commitment to reducing plastic pollution includes this guarantee: They’ll take back unwanted polyester-containing Radmor garments and recycle the polyester in them.
Conrad acknowledges that “sustainability” is the buzzword of the moment. “Nike and Adidas have launched recycling programs, and all the big companies are talking sustainability,” he said. “But no one is talking why we’re walking around wearing plastic outside our bodies.”
That sentiment is reflected on the Radmor website: “We've always noticed the irony around golf being one of the few sports in the world played outdoors — in nature — on a course carved from earth, surrounded by water, trees, sand, and grass — yet it’s played today mostly by golfers wearing plastic from head to toe.”
Morrison and Conrad founded Radmor two years ago, as the pandemic raged into its third month. Their Seattle operation has five employees and 10 contract workers. Morriison handles design and marketing; Conrad handles investor relations, finances and retail.
“We’re looking for reps, but it’s been a challenge finding reps as a new brand, especially in light of COVID,” Conrad said.
Since production began 11 months ago, Radmor has sold its product through its two Seattle retail outlets, at 30 to 35 golf courses, and via its own website and online retailers Huckberry and Fairway Styles.
Radmor has formed marketing partnerships with the Southern California and Pacific Northwest sections of the PGA of America. In the spring, its clothing will be sold at Nordstrom, Conrad said
Their polos sell for $95 to $115 in golf shops, which puts them at a disadvantage compared to cheaper polyester.
“Some golfers just want a cool shirt, not so much a sustainable shirt, but we hope to educate them,” Conrad said.
In the 1990s, Conrad and Morrison were teammates on the University of Washington golf team. After graduating in 1995, Conrad tried his hand on tour for six years, while Morrison plunged into the apparel business, joining Paper Denim and Cloth, an upscale women’s denim-clothing company.
After reconnecting a few years ago, Morrison asked Conrad to organize a golf tournament for a charitable foundation he had started. Both men complained about the “crappy polyester” that was in the event’s swag bag and the idea for their company was born.
In their research, they were shocked to learn that Americans send an average of 75 to 80 pounds of polyester per year to the landfill, where it can take hundreds of years to break down. A deeper dive revealed polyester’s calamitous effect on our water supply and food chain.
“We want 95 to 100 percent of our product line to be biodegradable,” Conrad said. “If we have to use polyester — in rainwear and outerwear — it has to be recycled. We’re not perfect. We’d like to eliminate our use of plastic to less than 10 percent, so we’re looking at new technologies that add the stretch we need.”
“We’re taking baby steps, but it has to start somewhere.”