Sustainability - ‘the ability to continue or be continued for a long time’ (OED)
What does this mean to a business like ours? How are WE being sustainable?
It’s no secret that the clothing industry is a global polluter, massive user of water and often responsible for working conditions that fall far short of acceptable in the 21st century.
I am passionate about UK manufacture and have always been. I started my career in the clothing industry 37 years ago, and I’ve seen a lot in that time. Working conditions so appalling that I have walked out, blatant copying of garments, and loads of waste fabric.
When we started Redhound 11 years ago, I made everything. I didn’t really have a plan, didn’t know what would happen, how it would grow, IF it would grow. But grow it did and the need to expand has happened at a pace we have managed, but with growth comes more challenge with sustainability.
I have always hated waste. Old enough to remember milk in bottles that were reused, and the days when the only place you could recycle paper, glass and cans was in a public car park. Sustainability matters to me.
It is inevitable that there will be fabric waste. We minimise this waste as much as we can by:
We use a lot of fleece. Yes, it is made from recycled plastic bottles, but this is balanced by making garments of high quality, that are long lasting if well cared for, and repairable if needed. If washed in a bag there is a significant reduction in the amount of fibres that end up being flushed out into the drain.
For many years I have been searching for an alternative to fleece. Recently I thought I had found it. Organic Cotton Fleece. I was so excited. BUT, having sampled it we have found it’s not a viable alternative. The fibres shed, it does not make as well and most importantly it shrinks when washed. The shrinkage itself could possibly be overcome by amendments to the pattern if we could be sure it only shrank on the first wash, if it weren’t for the fact that the fabric also does not wear well and after one wash looks like it is many years old.
These are not sacrifices but we willing to make. Our products are high quality. Durability is a priority, and the cotton fleece simply is not an alternative to the one we currently use. And if it were to continue shrinking in the wash it won’t be long before the jumper is no longer fit for purpose. This shrinkage issue also gives us a problem with use as a coat lining as it would put the coat out of shape after just one wash.
We have been getting our waxed cotton from the same supplier for 11 years. They have a traditional way of fabric manufacture, going back 6 generations. Although the process of waxing the cotton takes a lot of energy it is still a natural fabric and the coats we make from it will last for many years, with potential to pass onto others if no longer needed.
This fabric is supplied by the same company we get the wax cotton from. They have developed this lightweight water resistant finish through skill and knowledge. When cutting our macs there is very little waste, the pattern pieces slot so neatly together. What we do through away gets incinerated.
We use Cotton Jersey, 95% premium cotton, 5% spandex which is necessary to allow the garment to stretch and keep its shape. It is Oeko-Tex certified.
“Oeko-Tex certifies non-hazardous end-products and all of their components. Products that carry the Standard 100 label have been tested and proven free of harmful levels of toxic substances.”
We are moving all our tee shirt fabrics across to this type as in the past our tee shirt fabric did not carry this level of certification.
We moved away from imported quilted fabric, to have the fabric quilted in the UK, supporting another business as well as our fabric supplier. The quality is superior and we make clothes that will last a long time and have many wears from it.
Fabric that might otherwise be wasted by large companies is passed onto fabric suppliers who offer it to businesses like ours. This fabric is referred to as ‘Dead Stock’
We use a lot of ‘Dead Stock’ fabric. By making it into practical clothing that will last we minimise wastage. This is why certain items are made in limited runs – the Whitby Coat is a good example of this, we had one roll, when it was gone, it was gone!
Most of our packaging is now compostable bags, and we are looking for alternatives to the plastic ones we do use for the bigger coats – these items have to be protected in transit and hopefully a new use for them can be found on delivery.
So, if we go back to the definition of ‘sustainability’ we are continuing the life of fabrics by making garments that will last a long time. We have a repair services should your dog damage an item. We don’t make ‘throw away’ items, our prices reflect this, our products are not mass produced we just hold manageable amounts of stock. We sale off items that don’t sell well and everything is made within 20 miles of our studio.
We are not 100% yet, always looking at areas for improvement but our biggest contribution is making quality items that will be worn and worn, then passed on when no longer needed.