In his 1979 masterpiece, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, author Douglas Adams offered up perhaps the finest words ever written in the English language—about towels. The quotation is so good it’s worth reprinting (almost) in full: “A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth ... you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal and, of course, dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.”
Adams’ sage advice has been a staple of geek culture for the last 40 years. He also cites a number of other uses for a towel. It can be deployed as a blanket or a mat to lie down on, or as a sail, a makeshift gas-mask in emergencies, or even a weapon in hand-to-hand combat. Brianna Kilcullen probably knows even more, having just recently gotten into the towel business herself. The Jacksonville-based 29-year-old is the founder and CEO of ANACT, a hemp-based textile startup with a vision firmly rooted in the spirit of the times.
This is a busy month for Kilcullen and her company. ANACT’s Kickstarter campaign went live last Tuesday, followed by the company’s official launch party on Thursday. It was the culmination of nearly two years of intensive thought and diligent effort. The event was held at Brick & Beam in Springfield. After just one week, ANACT has already reached close to 20 percent of its fundraising goals. It’s a hot start for a pretty cool product, one that was conceptualized during a career working in California and Latin America for high-end apparel companies like Under Armor.
So far, all products are available in one color, which is the natural color of the fibers, kind of an off-white/light tan/ecru hue. “This is undyed,” Kilcullen said. “We could’ve picked colors, but we didn’t, because we felt that it just kind of diluted the purpose of what we’re doing, which is trying to bring awareness to the sustainability and the performance features of hemp and organic cotton. So I just felt it was counterintuitive to put chemicals and dyes on top of that.”
ANACT currently sources product from artisans in China, but that may change. The recent passage of the Farm Bill by Congress has had a number of salubrious effects for local entrepreneurs. Most relevant to this story is the bill’s wholesale unleashing of the commercial power of the hemp plant, which can now be grown legally across the United States. This is certain to have a transformative effect on the textile trade across the board, and it will likely lead to a rush of new competition for Kilcullen and her crew. But she’s not worried, not one bit.
ANACT currently has three products available for individual sale: washcloths ($10), hand towels ($20) and bath towels ($40). You can also buy the full set for $60, which is $10 less than if you’d bought each piece separately. This is a good bit more than what one might pay for such things elsewhere but, as the saying goes, “You get what you pay for.”