“In order to make sustainable practices global we need to start thinking about sustainability as an opportunity to make a profit.”
Just three years ago, Tom Cridland founded his sustainable clothing company on just a meagre £6,000 government start-up loan, fresh out of university. With no experience in the sustainable industry and just a passion for fashion the Tom Cridland clothing brand was born. It is now listed as the world’s number one sustainable fashion brand which has been managed by three people. Whilst there is an additional third party team, most of the business is achieved by Tom, his girlfriend and his business partner and together they have had a great impact on the fashion world attracting high media attention from the likes of The Guardian, Forbes and Huffington Post. When the company was first set up, the Tom Cridland brand primarily sold chinos on their website but now they have broadened their clothing range to shirts, jumpers and trousers with the hope of opening their first shop. In 2015, Tom launched the 30 year sweatshirt, a fun sustainable fashion project with a 30 year guarantee to get consumers thinking about the clothes they bought in the long term. Emily O’Dowd wanted to hear more about the Tom’s fashion journey amid of his busy schedule, and what his ambitious plans are for the next five years.
Emily O’Dowd (EOD): What has led you to this role?
Tom Cridland (TC): In 2013 I graduated from the University of Bristol with a degree in modern languages, but I had always been driven to do something entrepreneurial. What first led to me to creating my sustainable brand was from watching Andrew Morgan’s documentary ‘The True Cost’. This was one of my main inspirations because it got me thinking about the industry that I wanted to work in and how I could make a positive impact. It helped me see the opportunity. Now is the time for emerging designers to do things differently and lead fashion in a new direction. In order to start making sustainable practices global we need to start thinking about sustainability as an opportunity to make a profit. As someone trying to make it in the fashion industry it was a great way of getting my brand out there to try and engage the mass market with sustainable fashion. That led me to create the 30 year sweatshirt which has a 30 year guarantee that aims to lead an industry trend towards making durable clothing to protect our natural resources and encouraging consumers to think sustainably when clothes shopping. That concept really changed things for the business from being a start-up into establishing ourselves as an emerging brand.
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EOD: What do you enjoy most about your role?
TC: Although I’m finding that the days just slip away from me, it’s as fun as it ever was. I enjoy the freedom to travel, that fact that I am doing something entrepreneurial as well as doing something good by promoting sustainable fashion. Additionally, I really enjoy receiving such great feedback. We had an overwhelming response to the 30 year sweatshirt and t-shirt – I could never have dreamed anything like that! But there is still so much left to do.
We were a finalist for Fortune Magazine and I was awarded with the Huffington Post’s Young Entrepreneur of the Week. It’s such a great feeling! But it comes second to making general progress in the business.
EOD: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced in the industry?
TC: It was a struggle to start up the business which such limited funds, so even when you have a great idea executing them can be difficult without financial backing. This is one of the reasons why we started up our PR agency as well.
To overcome this I then tried to develop a fun way to frame sustainable fashion as easy choices for consumers. I achieved this with our 30 year sweatshirts. Whilst a simple concept, it became the opportunity to kick-start my whole career.
Fortunately I’ve never had to worry about competition because we are still very small. However, we are always needing to come up with reasons why consumers should shop with an independent brand like ours as opposed to fast fashion retailers.
EOD: What advice would you give for someone starting work in the sustainable industry?
TC: I think an important thing to realise is that by going down the sustainable route you can’t cut corners because you need to spend a significant amount of money getting products made and carrying out ethical practices. Additionally, people in the sustainable industry are often concerned that their business may not be organic enough, or ethical enough – but I think if you are trying to do the right thing by being as sustainable as possible then this is a great start.
EOD: What single change would help develop the sustainable industry further?
TC: Having recently watched Leonardo DiCaprio’s ‘Before the Flood’ it touched on a point that I have made many times which is that people lead very complicated lives. As a result, sustainability won’t always be the top priority for consumers when they are choosing what food or clothes to buy. It is important to make sustainable businesses easy to engage with so it doesn’t feel tiring for consumers as though they have to make a big change. We need to begin framing arguments in a way that is easier to digest – this would be the best place to start.
EOD: Where would you like to see your company in 5 years’ time?
TC: I am keen to grow my PR agency and we have just started working with a sustainable energy company. For the Tom Cridland brand however, next year I want to expand our brick and mortar presence because we are only an online business. I am also looking to increase my team and monitor this so I can grow the business gradually. I want to keep things lean without trying to get ahead of ourselves because it’s working well the way it is.
EOD: What is your favourite bio-based/sustainable product aside from your own product range?
TC: I really like the sustainable energy company Pavegen – they convert footsteps into energy. For example, they have just used these slabs under a football stadiums which can then be used to light the building. These innovative ideas are my favourite because they are completely different to the field that I work in.
EOD: Thank you Tom for fitting this into your busy schedule, we wish you continued success and hope it sets an example for other emerging fashion businesses.
Last week's 5 minutes with... Tom Chappell, CEO and Co-Founder of Ramblers Way.
Our next 5 minutes will be back on the 6th January!
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