Episode #43 - Meet the business kickstarting a sportswear revolution

Show notes

This week, we're in the company of Rob Webbon, a man who has combined his passion for cycling and sustainability to kickstart a sportswear revolution with Grn Sportswear.

Over the last 50 years, the way companies produce fashion – and the way in which we consume it – has changed dramatically. 

The so-called fast fashion retailers argue that their model has democratised, and made ultimately accessible, fashion. No longer is it the reserve of the rich or elite to be able to afford the latest trends. Now, everyone, everywhere can experience that short-lived thrill of buying new fashion items and have the pleasure of wearing something new on a regular basis.

And it is this model that has driven large fashion retailers for so long, certainly in the UK and the US, and increasingly elsewhere.

To start, fast fashion was all about increasing the speed of production and cutting the time it takes to bring designs to the shop shelves. And rather than having just two collections a year, this speedier production process made it possible for companies to continuously rotate their product lines all year long.

And, of course, the ultimate is to then sell many more products and decrease the trend cycle – to have something new for consumers all the time.

The other big success for fast fashion has been reduced prices. 

In fact, fast fashion is now less about the speed of production and more about sales – shifting more and more products as quickly as possible.

And that means producing a lot of stuff at as low a price as possible, which puts pressure on suppliers to make huge volumes at a low price to tight deadlines.

It’s clearly a model with a big problem. And in the last five years, a real and growing movement has gathered pace against fast fashion as the status quo. 

And this has coincided with a number of the established high street retailers making public commitments to reduce their environmental impacts, as well as get their social and community story straight too, particularly along the supply chain.

The question is whether fast fashion can ever become sustainable – something the Ethical Fashion Forum defines as "fashion that maximises benefits to people, and minimises impact on the environment". If the high street brands are able to use their weight and influence – and put as much effort into dealing with things like water use in agriculture, human rights abuse, poor factory conditions and pollution as they have into developing fast and efficient production process – then there is hope.

But the industry must first address the big elephant in the room - that fast fashion as has grown up during the last decade is inherently unsustainable. The commercial drivers of the businesses that work within the current system are in conflict with reducing environmental impact, and looking after workers and farmers further down the supply chain. Something’s got to give.

A wealth of great new businesses have sprung up in the last decade, to hold a mirror up to fast fashion, to make it realise what a mess the model is creating.

And we meet one of those businesses this week.

Grn Sportswear, operates in a rather niche market, producing cycling gear for corporate and team events and clubs. But it is a great example of a company keen to rip up the rulebook when it comes to fashion and apparel.

And there’s loads of great takeaways from the founder of CEO of the business, Rob Webbon –from the materials used in the products, to the local manufacturing, to the ethics behind Rob’s model – that sportswear is to be loved, kept and cared for, rather than thrown away – something the sector he is operating in has been notoriously bad it.

Enjoy the show.

You can find out more about Grn Sportswear here.

Rob (left) with Peter Littie, Grn's chief peddler.

Rob (left) with Peter Littie, Grn's chief peddler.

Episode #23 - Mid-year snapshot: What's getting the world's green journalists most excited right now?

Show notes

Spening time with my fellow journalists got me thinking. Few people know what's going on in the world of better business better than journalists who spend their days talking to the pioneers making things happen across the globe, week in, week out.

So, this week I called up some of my mates, plying their trade in sustainable business journalism to get a mid-year snapshot of what's happening out there. Which companies are getting them most excited, who are the entrepreneurs impressing them the most and what single piece of government policy would help to stimulate the transition to mainstream better business models.

Maxine Perella

Maxine Perella

Jen Elks

Jen Elks

Mike Scott

Mike Scott

A big thank you to Maxine PerellaJen Elks and Mike Scott this week for sharing your thoughts and wisdom with our audience. And I encourage you all to check out the good work these guys are doing in sustainability storytelling (just click on their links to see their work).

We also catch up with Vikki Knowles for a full weekly news round-up, featuring stories on adidas, Marks & Spencer, China's wacky new buses and the UK's Brexit debate. The two pieces I reference on Brexit are here (James Murray) and here (Mike Scott).

And I've also written a piece on Brexit for Ethical Performance, which can be found here.

Episode #12 - Buy Me Once, for products designed to stand the test of time

Show notes

Thankfully there has been a bit of an environmentalist backlash against the current epidemic of over consumption. Episode #10's Tom Cridland is a great example of a business building things to last (in Tom's case, t-shirts with a 30-year guarantee) and this week's guest, Tara Button, is challenging companies to really get on top of the "crap and clutter" that makes up people's lives by encouraging them to buy less and buy quality.

BuyMeOnce.com is a website showcasing all the companies that offering products that are built to last – from Le Creuset kitchenware and Dr Martens shoes, to Feelgood beds and Mason Pearson hair accessories.

Tara's mission: to make buying things that are built to last easy. And through accompanying blogs, she offers a range of tips on how to take good care of things and to repair them if necessary. “We want people to buy just a few great things they love rather than huge amounts of clutter,” she says. Ultimately, she wants her business to start challenging manufacturers to build products that last longer and shift our culture of consumption – from ‘throwaway’ to ‘keep’ or ‘pass on’.

Check out the website here.

Episode #8 - Rype Office, disrupting how we buy (and throw out) office furniture

Show notes

A central theme in the circular economy conversation is how companies are starting to think differently about how they deliver products and services to market – and whether customers would be happy to share, lease, hire goods and services, rather than buy them outright – giving companies a huge opportunity to save on resources, strip out costs and really find efficiencies.

Have a look at a company like Ricoh and Kyocera, which have completely transformed their businesses in the last ten years. No longer do they sell big bulky photocopiers that are thrown into a skip once they are no longer useable. Now they sell access to large scale printers, photocopiers and office equipment; they charge a monthly fee and now take care of refurbishment, repair and the continued reuse of machines for much longer, rather than simply selling, installing and walking away.

And of course, the FMCG sector or other industries selling food stuffs or high turnover goods, will struggled to adopt similar models.

But one sector that is ripe for disruption and a new model is office furniture.

This week's guest on The Better Business Show is Greg Lavery, the founder of a business called Rype Office. Greg has been a sustainable business consultant for many years, producing numerous white papers and academic research highlighting the untapped potential of remanufacturing. The Next Manufacturing Revolution, co-authored by Greg’s consultancy practice Lavery/Pennell, with the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Manufacturing, identified huge opportunity for remanufacturing in the UK, as well as barriers to adoption. For example, the profit and social benefits of remanufacturing versus traditional manufacturing using virgin resources – shows a 2.75 times profit margin – purely because of that huge reduction in input costs.

And it was this research and learning which prompted Greg to set up Rype Office – a company hoping to shake up the way companies buy – and get rid of – office furniture in the future.

Enjoy the show.

Below, you'll find some pics of Greg and the various products he sells via Rype Office, as well as some of the office installation he has carried out. You can find out more about Rype Office at the website.

IKEA's rug-making video, mentioned during Vikki Knowles' segment of the show, can be found here.

A more detailed explanation of EasyJet's hybrid plane, have a look at this graphic:

And The Guardian's take on Italy's attempt to get people on their bikes can be found here.

Don't forget: you can follow Vikki @_VikkiKnowles.

And you can subscribe to the show via iTunes here.