"...there is a disconnectedness between what we wear and where it comes from along the production chain. There isn’t an appreciation for the effort that goes into producing just one item of clothing!"
Is a sustainable school uniform something you have ever considered for your child? If so, then you will probably have found that the number of options available in shops were very limited. Two mums in London rather than just accept the issue decided to do something about it, and clothing company EcoOutfitters was launched. For this week’s 5 Minutes with, Emily O’Dowd spoke to Irina Price who along with fellow co-founder Marina Petrova began the company in 2012. As mothers themselves, they were dismayed at the lack of comfortable and allergy-free options in a market dominated by polyester. Whilst sustainability and green issues are now part of the UK school’s curriculum, Irina and Marina were surprised that there were no easily available alternatives to the traditional uniforms. They wanted to have the choice to buy their son’s school uniforms made ethically, with natural and planet-friendly fabrics, without chemical additives but couldn't find what they wanted. So recognising a gap in the market for sustainable school uniforms for those aged 4-11 a business was born and today we get to an exclusive insight into this fast-growing sustainable brand.
Emily O'Dowd (EO'D): Thanks for the time today, so as an introduction, what inspired you to set up EcoOutfitters?
Irina Price (IP): I studied Anthropology at University College London. Whilst I was already concerned about the sustainability, my degree made me more aware of the negative impact that textile industry have on local communities and the environment. I knew that something needed to change. As a mother myself, I always dressed my children in natural, organic fabrics and wondered why school uniform couldn’t be the same. We chatted to other mums and realised that they have similar concerns. Although Marina and I had no previous business experience we decided to take the risk because it is something we feel very passionate about. We are determined to deliver an alternative school wear that is ethical and sustainable in it is creation, as well more comfortable and less irritant for children’s skin!
EO'D: What do you enjoy most about your role?
IP: I feel like I have a greater purpose, as, I believe, it is imperative to educate new generation on the perils of the textile industry, and school uniform seems like a great place to start. We work on normalising the notion that uniforms can and should be produced ethically and sustainably, from natural organic fabrics. In addition, we often have heard mothers complain about their child’s eczema and various skin conditions, so we are thrilled to be offering something to help them. Our business idea is still very niche so it is always great to hear that our products are being well-received and much needed.
EO'D: How do you balance quality with affordability for your products?
IP: At the moment, large retailers use polyester to make uniform because it is cheap and convenient. In the past this used to be cotton, which was grown organically. Our mothers and grandmothers would have worn cotton uniform to school – so why can’t we make it popular again? The quality of our products is something that we take pride in and obviously this comes at a cost. By contract, consumers expect uniform to be cheap, but with the production costs and overheads we always wonder how retailers make profit from selling such cheap items of clothing! Unfortunately, it gives us some indication into how little the production chain get paid. EcoOutfitters’ products are certified by GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) against their strict environmental and social criteria, which ensures, among other things, that the workers in the production chain are paid fairly.
EO'D: How do you select your suppliers?
IP: We only work with certified suppliers that we trust. We try to make the whole production chain as local as possible: our organic cotton is grown in Turkey and India where most of our garments are produced, with some of the range manufactured in Portugal.
EO'D: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced in the industry?
IP: I think the biggest challenge is trying to change the perception that clothing should be cheap and disposable. Unfortunately, polyester is far too convenient for most textile manufacturers. Plus, we live in a throw-away culture – this is the biggest obstacle of them all. In the media, key celebrity icons are always seen to be wearing new outfits and this reflects outward in society. Not enough people are aware of the environmental impact of such a culture and its effects are hidden from the public eye. Instead, we need to promote the ways that clothes can and should be sustainable.
EO'D: What advice would you give for someone starting work in the sustainable/bio-based industry?
IP: It is important that businesses look into the environmental impact of each and every decision they make. Secondly, be aware of the right people in the production chain and don’t cut corners! It is important to be honest.
EO'D: What single change would help develop the bio-based/sustainable industry further?
Irina: Consumer mentality. It is so important that as an industry we collaborate to educate as many people as possible. New customers always seem shocked that our products are more expensive than those from a large retailer. We do our best to explain the reasons for this on our website and in person but it just reinstates that attitudes need to change. As I said before, a huge part of the problem is the throw-away society that has been created; this means there is a disconnectedness between what we wear and where it comes from along the production chain. There isn’t an appreciation for the effort that goes into producing just one item of clothing! We believe it is important to educate the consumer about how things are made so people are not desensitised from the process and come to expect cheap and poorly made clothing.
EO'D: Where would you like to see Ecooutfitters ( @ ) in 5 years’ time?
IP: We hope to continue growing organically and raise as much awareness as we can along the way. In five years’ time we aim to increase our product range and customer base.
EO'D: And finally Irina, what is your favourite bio-based/sustainable product aside from your own product range?
IP: One of the products on the market that I think is so useful are sustainable sandwich bags that are supplied by Kids Konserve, company that is focused on reducing the waste generated by school packed lunches. This is a great idea for children’s lunchboxes!
EO'D: Thank you so much for sharing your advice and expertise with Bio-Based World News today, we look forward to watching your progress over the coming months!
*Do you have a little one in your life that would like these clothes? Then take a trip to www.ecooutfitters.co.uk
Bio-Based World News will bring this new 5 minute feature to our readers every week. This will able to put a face to the brand and provide established businesses and new start-ups the crucial advise they need in this industry. If you would like to be interviewed about your own bio-based/sustainable business then please email: email@example.com
Last week's 5 minutes with... 5 minutes with... Leif Löf, Vice President and Founder of Kemibolaget.
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