We spoke to three brands taking part in our 2020 Film Festival RethinKIT exhibition about how their product innovation and approach to sustainability are contributing to a more considered, circular world.
What’s your most innovative product right now and why is it a bit different from others?
Riz Boardshorts: The beach shorts collection we are just about to launch is our most innovative to date, they are the most environmentally friendly shorts we’ve ever made. Not only is the fabric made from recycled bottles (as per all the previous ranges) but so is the thread, the mesh, the cords and the zips on every pair of shorts. That makes them 99.9% recycled. Everything but the nut button and the metal popper. They can also be returned and recycled at the end of their life.
BBCo: We’ve just launched our new Spring/Summer range of Trucker caps which is made from a relatively new material called Repreve. Repreve is a yarn made from recycled plastic bottles so 60% of this product is made from waste material. We find that there’s a lot of headwear on the market but they tend to just be an add-on accessory produced by larger brands and just something to stick their logo on, so very little thought goes into the manufacturing of them. As headwear is our bread and butter, our collections are far more considered so we take the time to research how we can make our products with a better social and environmental impact.
Tell us more about the journey of the product – or your company – from idea and conception, right through to selling point and end of life?
Riz Boardshorts: The idea has always been about creating a product that inspires you and allows you to escape to the beach. As a London-based company, it is this juxtaposition to create a little sunshine that inspires us. This positivity flows through the core of why and how we make our shorts. We believe the fashion industry needs to be cleaner, more transparent and more circular, and it is our mission to help change this. By creating swim shorts from plastic waste we are also diverting plastic from the environment and our playground.
With regards to the life of the shorts, we hope you live and love a long life in them. As mentioned, they are sunshine! We will happily repair them until they are no longer useful, whence they can be returned and resold, or recycled for a discount off a new pair. The idea is to keep the vibe alive. Then the cycle starts again.
'We believe the fashion industry needs to be cleaner, more transparent and more circular, and it is our mission to help change this.'
Bluefin SUP: Our process for all the SUPs is: Research > Idea > Design > Test > Redesign > Test > Feedback > Tweak Design (Repeat until perfect) > Distribute to the customer. In terms of end-of-life for these products, this is something that we are working on. This part of the product’s life cycle is not something we have had to deal with much as they are so durable - they last for so long (hence five-year warranty).
Currently, out of the thousands and thousands of boards we have sold, only 60 are beyond repair. When boards come back to us for repair, we have a designated team who meticulously repair and then test. These then go back to the customer, or out for photoshoots/videos or into staff stock.
The (60) boards that are irreparable – they will be recycled. We have found a company that will recycle our boards, but only in the ton! So, we are not there yet, they are currently taking up a corner of the barn up at the office – waiting to be recycled. So, currently, they are zero waste – which is very exciting.
BBCo: I started BBCo back in 2014. I’d always had a bit of a hat obsession as I’d lived in Colorado as a snowboarder for about four years so I always needed something warm and functional so I must have owned about 100 hats whilst living out there and it just became part of my look. I moved back to the UK and got a ‘proper job’ but just missed the snowboard and surf culture so I decided to gamble everything, pack in the day job and go it alone. It’s not easy but it’s very rewarding when you see your hard work pay off.
The business was formed on sheer optimism and naivety and if I had known what I was doing I probably would never have started it. Having said that I think I’ve learnt pretty quickly and rolled with the punches. I’ve learnt that manufacturing is one of the most destructive businesses for our environment and every brand, no matter how big or small, has to take responsibility for its manufacturing processes; ignorance isn’t an excuse. It is however incredibly difficult to be 100% ‘green’ and I’d say we’re only 50% where we ultimately want to be but we’re certainly heading in the right direction.
'Every brand, no matter how big or small, has to take responsibility for its manufacturing processes; ignorance isn’t an excuse.'
What are your biggest challenges right now and how do you see the future playing out?
Riz Boardshorts: A big challenge still is that sustainable clothing is not fully understood, valued or prioritised by retailers and consumers. It costs more to create and produce but people don’t want to pay extra.
Another challenge is the rise of competition, the mass noise on the internet and the demise of the physical retail stores. If you want to do something really well, niche and with meaning, this has challenges! But these are also the opportunities, which is exciting for the future. We believe in change, and with less consumption and more consideration, together we can change how we think about clothing, how we do business and how we live on our planet.
'With less consumption and more consideration, together we can change how we think about clothing.'
Bluefin SUP: Firstly, industry recognition. We are a fairly new brand in the paddleboard scene. This can be difficult as there are some really respected brands out there and, as we are new, I think sometimes our boards are overlooked. Which is a shame, as we offer the same (if not better in some cases) quality for a much more affordable price. But, this is something that we hope to overcome in time.
Secondly, sustainability. We are aiming to be as eco-friendly and non-impactful as possible. This includes supporting and promoting waterway cleanups, refining and optimising our processes and implementing habits in the office. But there is always room to improve here and I don’t think companies can ever stop working on this.
BBCo: Our biggest challenge is our size; when it comes to sourcing more sustainable materials there’s often a large minimum order so I feel like smaller brands are penalised. We’re considering starting a materials co-operative to help smaller brands club together to buy better materials as there are so many smaller brands out there wanting to be better but, as crazy as it sounds, they just can’t afford to.
Another challenge we have is educating consumers. For example our Cabin range of hats is to many people quite pricey at £40; however this product is made in the UK by a new start-up business that’s taken a gamble to bring manufacturing back to the UK, the farming process is far kinder to the sheep, every bit of this product down to the pin badge is made in the UK, which massively reduces our carbon footprint on this product, but unfortunately it does come at a higher cost to some of the mass-produced polyester beanies made in countries like Pakistan for example where humanitarian conditions within manufacturing are still very questionable.
If we want a better planet then we need to look at the way we consume products. Having said this we are very honest and transparent about where we source our manufacturing and we still have some products made overseas partly because most of the new eco-materials being developed are actually produced in China so unrealistic to ship it to the UK, on top of this we have also lost a lot of our manufacturing in the UK so we’re still very limited even in 2020!
'We’re considering starting a materials co-operative to help smaller brands club together to buy better materials as there are so many smaller brands out there wanting to be better but, as crazy as it sounds, they just can’t afford to.'