The founding brothers of eco brand Rapanui tell Alex Hudson about environmental issues and ethical trade, and their opinion of value retailers.
Why did you choose to go into the fashion industry?
Rob (pictured right): We felt there was a lot of work to be done in this area, especially if you look at the value-led high street players, some of which sell T-shirts for £1. We found out that for every T-shirt made, 17 different sorts of chemicals are released into the soil.
What are the extra costs involved in manufacturing ethical products?
Rob: We have tried to avoid passing on any extra costs to customers. We feel it’s important, so the lower margins aren’t really an issue for us. The main point is that we live up to what we say we are. You shouldn’t have to pay extra for ethically sourced products – they should be a basic requirement for anybody. It seems outrageous that our organisation has become the example of sustainability, when every company should be following these policies.
What about those people who rely on value clothing?
Rob: There are so many factors involved in production, including how the garments are produced and treated. At value prices, someone is getting screwed. The solution is to buy more durable clothes, then you don’t need to go out and buy 10 jumpers a year or 20 T-shirts because higher-quality products won’t wear out.
Are there any good examples of sustainability on the high street?
Rob: We always mention Finisterre, which produces technical surfing clothing in Cornwall, but with regard to the high street it’s difficult. If Marks & Spencer does what it says it will with Plan A then great, but quite a lot of high street retailers are just jumping on the bandwagon.
How did you start your business?
Rob: We started with our own savings, but we’ve grown a lot in the past few months. As a year one business, launched three months ago and planned since June, we’re pretty much breaking even. We haven’t even done a full year’s trading yet. With this growth, there were a few things we didn’t think about. It took a little time finalising the cut of the garments and we also didn’t produce price tags, but now we’ve got most things sorted.
How do you ensure everything you produce is ethical?
Mart: It’s not easy, but if two guys from the Isle of Wight can do it with no resources, it can’t be that difficult. With a little research, all the information is out there so it’s just a case of a little work and thought. The factory we use in India is entirely powered by wind energy. There are hundreds of huge turbines. Renewable energy company Ecotricity has certified it as being carbon neutral.
Our office on the Isle of Wight is powered by renewable electricity supplier Good Energy. That was really easy – we just got in touch with the company. It’s slightly more expensive, but the fact that you can say you have offset your energy or are using renewable sources makes a huge difference. We also give 5% of pre-tax profits to environmental charities.
Do you consider Rapanui to be fashion’s greenest business?
Rob: There are a few T-shirt companies that could rival us, but there is no company that truly fulfils the ethos. A true green brand, if that’s what you are, has more to it than just a clothing company that is itself green.