After writing a column and posting an article on "greener" alternatives to the traditional cotton or cotton/polyester blend towel, I received an interesting e-mail from someone who had a negative experience purchasing organic cotton towels. She purchased them from a vendor that had exhibited at a trade show in Las Vegas. Here is her story, in her own words (I will not reveal her name or the vendor):
"Thanks for the article on towels. I appreciate all you say and want to add that after dealing with some natural fiber products there is one more aspect that makes a green product green. That is not only are the workers treated fairly but does the company deal with sustainable integrity and honesty. I bought towels from a maker called (name removed) that imports from (name removed) Turkey. I bought the towels as they were supposedly organic and made in a certain weight. The vendor boasts that his are the best towels on the market. I never got my entire order and to this day have had no success in getting part of the order that was not shipped. This was even though the company was showing at a reputable market in Las Vegas. I was asked to send my money ahead to a Turkish Bank account and bypass U.S. banks. However, when I asked for the shipment and was told it would be sent I did not get it.
"The U.S. office owner was abusive and argumentative. I have had to take my complaints to the Turkish authorities and no one can do anything without me spending a lot more money—both here or in Turkey. Yet (name removed) sells to some large companies in the U.S. However, I am not the only one he has tricked. This has happened before to others. All I am saying is that if the process is not organic then the product and reputation of the company is spoiled by the way they treat their customers as well. Organic should mean that all persons in the process are happy with the outcome. I am out over $7,000 and my experience has taught me that even if a company is in supposedly reputable trade shows it may still be disreputable. Incidentally, I sent some of the towels he did send me to be examined in Turkey and found they were NOT the ones he advertised. This is also false advertising and again detracts from the product integrity. Thanks for listening and heeding my warning regarding this towel company."
Lessons learned here? ALWAYS ask for solid references. ALWAYS ask for documentation that proves a product is what it is. Does the company have an actual office with a street address? Has the product been certified by a reputable third party? ALWAYS think twice before sending money overseas. ALWAYS ask for samples before making a major purchase. Most suppliers in our industry are honest and reputable. Unfortunately, just because someone sells a green product does not mean that person can be trusted.