"I decided it would be good to use today’s values of environmental sustainability to provide ethically sourced products in America."
Ramblers Way is an ethically sourced, American made sustainable clothing company set up in 2009. This week, Emily O’Dowd spoke to Tom Chappell the Founder and CEO of Ramblers Way to find out how he is looking to rejuvenate America’s textile industry by producing garments in the country rather than importing or exporting materials. Chappell’s business idea emerged when his successful Tom’s of Maine business was sold to Colgate Palmolive for $100 million. To celebrate, Tom and his son went trekking in Wales and discovered that there was no suitable clothing for the wet and cold environmental conditions they endured. As a result, this inspired him to set up his family run business involving three generations. Based in America, the company have spent the last seven years making the finest fabrics and garments which are locally sourced and can prepare any individual for cold climates. At the moment, 70% of America’s home grown wool is exported. However, all of Ramblers Way's products are made from 100% natural fibres. The clothing company uses Rambouillet wool which provides the finest fibres in the US. Tom’s vision was and still is to manufacture high-quality products with sustainable manufacturing practices. With both an online business, three stores and another three to come, the company are going from strength to strength.
Emily O'Dowd (EOD): ( @BioBasedEmily ) What has led you to this role?
Tom Chappell (TC): I grew up in the textile industry. I’m originally from New England where my father had his own clothing business but I felt an emotional loss when it was eventually sold. I decided it would be good to use today’s values of environmental sustainability to provide ethically sourced products in America. Ramblers Way ( @ramblersway ) started just after I had sold my previous business called Tom’s of Maine which made natural personal hygiene products like toothpaste and deodorants. We had the leading personal natural care products in the country and I then sold it to Colgate Palmolive in 2006. However, I felt too young to retire and I wanted to work with my family. So now Ramblers Way provides for three generations of my family. My daughter designs the women’s products whilst my son runs marketing and the e-commerce side of the business. My son-in-law then helps manufacture and source the sustainable fabrics.
EOD: What do you enjoy most about your role?
TC: For me, it’s having a concept that I hope will make a difference in the world. I like putting a team and products together to work towards achieving that vision.
EOD: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced in the industry?
TC: In the last seven years the biggest challenge we have faced has been the limitations of finding an American supply chain for fine wool fabrics. Then secondly, we needed to find a suitable partner to share the same vision as us - it is so important to find the right suppliers. For us, it was essential that the quality of the cut and sewing operations had to cater for the high quality impression that has been at the heart of what we do. Another challenge that faces many in this industry is raising enough capital at the beginning of a business venture. It is particularly hard for sustainable clothing companies because they have a high risk reputation in the investment world. Fortunately, I had some of my own capital that I could re-invest into Ramblers Way to get it started. In terms of competition, we are lucky that our advantage lies in the fact that we provide high standard products that are produced sustainably with responsible waste treatment systems.
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EOD: What advice would you give for someone starting work in the sustainable industry?
TC: I would say that it is a combination of factors - having a lot of capital, professional designs and the appropriate supply chain that will conduct high quality work for you.
This experience has been a real learning curve for us. Since the business first began we stopped selling to independent retail stores and we now sell directly to the consumers online and at our own Rambler’s Way stores. This takes the independent retail store out of the equation which allows you to be more flexible with your margins and consumer retail prices. From our experience we have found it difficult to work around the usual distribution systems, so the more control that you can bring to your marketing the better. Additionally, I strongly recommend a good website for e-commerce.
EOD: What single change would help develop the sustainable industry further?
TC: I think any advert to bring attention to the importance of sustainability and clothing is really necessary, whether that comes from the media; a network of sustainable brands; or from government attention that are able to stress this change on a bigger scale. Sustainable clothing is all about changing how you do things and we have to realise that the textile and apparel industries are the second biggest polluters on the planet. It is vital that we stop making cheap products, stop using harmful chemicals and stop paying insufficient wages.
EOD: Where would you like to see your company in 5 years’ time?
TC: I would like Rambler’s Way to have a very robust brand and I’m sure that we will find a reason to start doing business in Europe. It’s a very exciting marketing plan that we have going forward. We are confident with our business strategy and know the most effective way to source sustainable fibres. The more we can do with sustainable practices without sacrificing product appearance or product quality the better.
EOD: What is your favourite bio-based/sustainable product aside from your own product range?
TC: While we have been paying attention to organic certification there is a parallel standard called Responsible Wool. This is also a certification process that requires people like me to buy from branches that have been approved of because of their treatment of their sheep and land. I would like to highlight Patagonia as one of these highly committed brands sourcing responsible wool.
EOD: Thank you for your time today Tom, we wish Ramblers Way success when it enters the European market.
Last week's 5 minutes with... 5 minutes with... Alex Baker, COO of Leaf Resources.
Next week's 5 minutes with... Tom Cridland, co-founder and CEO of Tom Cridland
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