Working together to protect the environment
When DressCode was still just an idea, scribbled on bits of paper, we thought about what should be our brand values - the things that the business would stand for, the things that we’re passionate about and that we know others are too. These things that are important to us may well bring with them challenges that we would face to ‘live’ and operate with these values along the way.
We felt, and still feel, that we have a responsibility to ourselves and the people who buy our products to make informed choices about how we produce products, being true to what we believe and value.
There’s no denying that the Climate Code project with the British Antarctic Survey accelerated our ambitions, pushing us and our partners outside of our comfort zone, but we have created a greener product, something that we’re really proud of, but what have we done? And more importantly what can we continue to do for the future? Here goes…
Where to start?
Every aspect of the business needed to be considered, here’s what we’ve learnt and adopted into our products.
We’ve always avoided man-made materials because they really are bad. Bad for the planet and the people who wear them. The plastic content of many items in your wardrobe will astound you, take a good look at the care label of what you think are natural fibres and we’d bet good money that you’ll find 20, 30% or more plastics in there.
These are bad for the environment on lots of levels, they increase pollution during production, when they are synthesized from petro-chemical by-products, they add mirco-plastics to our water with every wash, they are harder to recycle and the biodegradation time is many, many lifetimes. They are also bad for you, the plastic doesn’t let your skin breathe, increasing your propensity to sweat and we all know where that leads – yuk!
Lots of questions
There’s no denying that we were sceptical of the other new materials, not because we didn’t think that they would look good, ‘cause they do, we’d already seen that and their production is a huge step in the right direction, but what would they be like to wear? How would they wash? What does a day in your life wearing a Tencel shirt feel like?
Living with new materials
There was only one way to find out, make some, test the materials breathability, wearability and general use before we went any further. So we made a series of shirts and kept diaries, yes simple notes about our clothes and the day, making observations about how the materials felt against the skin, what they washed like and more. Then we started talking with our tailors, asking them what they thought of these materials, personal and professional experiences.
A new direction
The feedback and discussions with our partners were a fascinating journey. Initial reactions were not favourable “this is too weak”, “It’s really bad to cut”, “It will tear really easily” and “it won’t wash well you know” and more. Clearly for those people who are used to handling natural fabrics day in, day out the new materials felt very different and people (in general) are always keen to stick with what they know, change doesn’t come easy and we expected that this would be the feedback.
Try it yourself
So we asked our partners to wear the clothes themselves and see what they thought. We had our views and personal favourites, but let’s keep an open mind and see what the tailoring experts thought.
When we went back and started talking about the materials again the response was much more open, interested and even impressed by what the new fabrics could do. Don’t get us wrong, were some teething issues as we made the change, the cutting took longer, mainly because the new materials are smoother and a little more ‘slidey’ than what we were used to. This wasn’t a big issue and with experience, it has quickly become the new normal.
Time to print the fabric
We already use digital printing because it is so much better for the environment than traditional processes, not to mention it gives a miles better end result, holding fine details and colour vibrancy really well. The next question was, what could we do to reduce the amount of energy used during printing?
Working with our partners we identified two areas where we could maintain the quality and reduce our impact on the planet. The first was using solar power, PV panels significantly reduce the consumption of energy and invests in the future. The other area we could improve was the operating temperature of the machines themselves, by reducing the heat used in the finishing of the material. This is where professional experience was invaluable, as our partners told us that we could reduce the heat of the finishing unit, further reducing the energy consumption and creating a unique finish to the material.
Daily life at Dresscode
Working with BAS on the Climate Code project has had positive impacts on the way we produce our products. We continue, staying true to our values, believing that big, global change comes from lots of small incremental changes along the way – baby steps if you will. The other things that we have done involve using cleaner and greener products in the daily aspects of our the business, simple things that collectively reduce our consumption of resources, things like Smol cleaners to clean our studio and office spaces. We also support the ‘Who gives a crap’ loo roll, and have adopted cycling as our primary mode of daily transport.
In the immediate future, this month, we have a series on environmental events that we’re attending, including the Cambridge CleanTech Conference and the Ice Worlds exhibition at Greenwich before heading to COP26 for more inspiration. Looking at the bigger picture, there’s more that we are actively working on and some bold ambitions for the future, they are documented in our Sustainability & Environment page here.