If you've been following Oliver Spencer for a while, you'll know that alongside our own collections, we partner with a number of brands who we feel align with our ethos; brands that have committed to minimising their environmental impact and improving their social responsibility, all the while producing outstanding products designed to last a lifetime. GROUNDTRUTH, founded by sisters Georgia, Nina and Sophia Scott is one such brand and then some. The Scotts don't just look to reduce their footprint - they're trying to eradicate it entirely by using post-consumer plastic bottles to construct products designed to never see a landfill site. With careers in filmmaking and textiles between them, they bring a problem-solving approach to the problem we all face today - human plastic consumption on an epic scale. We caught up with Sophia recently to get under the bonnet of the brand to understand what drives them to create a brilliantly unique product, and one we are honoured to stock at Oliver Spencer...
Sophia, tell us about your previous career as a filmmaker, alongside your sister Georgia - what were your films about and how did your experiences catalyse the creation of GROUNDTRUTH?
Having spent the past 15 years making films about people living in extraordinarily difficult situations, across Africa and the Middle East, often fleeing war, we have witnessed first-hand the hardships facing the life of refugees. When we learned that predictions for the near future calculated that the number of people fleeing climate change would soon outnumber the people fleeing war, we felt compelled to try and make a difference. When we were off filming in some seriously remote location we would become increasingly aware of the plastic crisis engulfing our natural habitats. This definitely contributed towards our drive to create innovative solutions to plastic waste and define the goal of GROUNDTRUTH.
As filmmakers always on the move, we never had the right backpack to carry our kit. From smart city meetings, onto planes and out into the field, we needed a bag that could transit with us between our different lifestyles. The time spent out in the field and the travelling we have done has been instrumental in creating the GROUNDTRUTH design ethos.
Sustainability is not a facet of the brand - it IS the brand - can you tell us a bit about the process of development? Finding suppliers etc - I don’t imagine it was easy to find carve out a supply chain that met your standards.
Climate change is real and it is happening all around us. Our planet is changing and it is changing in an unnatural way. At GROUNDTRUTH, we have a purpose, a goal and a plan to achieve a better world. Setting out to find the perfect manufacture proved very challenging. After three trips to China and Vietnam visiting many factories, we were extremely disheartened with the poor working conditions and damaging environmental factors - we really saw first-hand the sweatshops and reality of fast fashion. The prices were competitive but none of the people and planet protection elements that were key for us were present. We finally found a small family-run business in Indonesia that ticked all our boxes – the key was being allowed to take our camera into all areas of the factory. Meeting, speaking and filming with the workers ensured that we knew the people who were making our bags and we could see for ourselves the working conditions. This is really where our investigative documentary filmmaking background came into play - we would leave no stone unturned and no question unanswered.
We have created formulas and have calculated that our current range of bags have removed 480,000 plastic bottles from the environment to date. Considering there are one million plastic drinking bottles purchased every minute globally, and in total we produce 300 million tons of plastic waste a year, we have a lot of work to do. We also calculated our entire carbon footprint, from the manufacturing energy bills at our factory to the shipping and travel we did as founders over the last 2 years of design and development. We are a carbon neutral company and our products reflect that.
Growing up, were you all inherently interested in travelling and exploring? Was there something that catalysed the travel bug?
Although we were born in London, we moved to Berlin as small children with our parents who worked in the theatre world. We then moved to Amsterdam followed by Copenhagen and only returned to the UK for university. We grew up accustomed to moving every couple of years and learned how to adapt quickly, making friends and exploring new cultures.
In my early 20s I moved to Kenya where I worked as a freelance camerawoman for 8 years, traveling across the African continent. Georgia and I then set up GROUNDTRUTH Productions in 2011 and travelled extensively together around the Middle East and Africa, cementing a strong sense of adventure and drive to capture and share people's stories. Nina joined us in 2017 forming GROUNDTRUTH Global and we have since been exploring the world for both design and new sustainable materials and manufacturing opportunities as well as environmental stories that need attention. For us travel is all about storytelling. We feel connected to the world and with our bag company as well as film company we are focused on positive solutions and collaborations that drive change.
Travel has always been a huge part of our life, yet this pandemic has made us look more closely at our local environment here in the UK. It has been refreshing exploring places close to London and has made us recognise the importance of more sustainable local travel - there are wonderful natural places here with fascinating people and projects worth discovering.
Let’s get into the RIKR range - can you tell me about the materials used to create a RIKR bag and describe the design process - who is the range aimed at?
The RIKR range is designed for those of us who want a versatile bag that can transit with you, one bag that fits all journeys. With a modular design concept, our bag is both highly functional and high performing for all weathers, yet slick enough for city travel.
There were many available choices for durable and high performance virgin textiles on the market at the start of our journey, however the choice for recycled textiles was very limited. We wanted to achieve a recycled textile to use throughout our collection that was strong enough for extreme environments. We took inspiration from Dimension Polyant VX21 sail cloth, a high performance 3 layered fabric that has a unique structure that allows you to have a very thin material with very high tensile and abrasion resistance.
We set out on this journey with the objective to design a 100% recycled plastic product that was truly environmentally friendly, from production to shipping with a green and transparent supply chain. We carefully selected our current portfolio of materials and have tried and tested at every step of development.
We only work with manufacturers who are bluesign® approved, a leading system which encourages the textile industry to increase their efforts in sustainable processes and provides a safer and more sustainable environment for people to live and work in.
We spent over 18 months developing our bespoke GT-RK-001 textile and went through many sampling stages to achieve our final batch. For strength optimisation and to increase the tensile strength and abrasion resistance we combined a ballistic weave (a technique of twisting the yarn as it is woven) with a 'tripstop' structure. For a unique look and feel we decided to change the regular square ripstop pattern to a triangular pattern, which we named tripstop. We are now using all the lessons learnt through the development of this material on our next innovation projects where we are taking environmentally harmful substances and turning them into functional and robust textiles and components. The cost is higher, both for us as the producers and therefore also for the customer - but the more other companies follow suit, the less expensive these recycled materials will be.
Our bags are designed to last so that they don’t end up in landfill. We encourage our customers to buy sensibly, and believe in safeguarding the Earth's finite resources.
I gather they’ve been tested in some pretty tough conditions…
An essential part of our ambition to create a durable range of products was to test them in extreme conditions. Our motto is; real people, doing real work in real environments. In 2018 we joined the British explorer Robert Swan, the first man to walk to both the north and south poles unaided, on his expedition to Antarctica. Rob has been working his entire life on the preservation of Antarctica and the ongoing effect of climate change. We spent 2 weeks with Rob sailing around the coastline with daily expeditions to the mainland - continuously putting our prototypes through rigorous tests. Our backpacks survived zodiac excursions, salt water, freezing blizzards and penguin pooh! Through these tests we enhanced our functions, refined the designs and helped advance our ongoing material developments.
Since then Rob and his team have taken the RIKR 24L Backpack on their 2019 South Pole Expedition including our bespoke 100% recycled plastic sledge covers which kept all their bedding, clothing and food safe from the elements. We have also used the bags in the jungles of northern Sumatra whilst filming Orangutan conservation projects which entailed a lot mud, leeches and dugout canoe experiences!
What’s next for GROUNDTRUTH? Are you working on other uses for your ballistic grade fabric or any other innovations in the pipeline?
Over the past 18 months, we have been working on a brand new innovation unique to the bag market, with a new partnership in Canada which we will be announcing in June. We are also currently designing our second range scheduled to be released in Spring 2022 - it will be the ultimate waterproof range. We are working on some very innovative materials, so this bag will be very futuristic. The environmental story attached to this range is all about deforestation and the need to protect the forests and wildlife, so these bags will be tried and tested in Borneo highlighting important work of local conservationists. This story will resonate especially now with COVID-19 and knowing that the encroachment of human activities into the delicate ecosystem gives rise to infectious diseases.
We are excited to be working with an all British team of women explorers early next year on an expedition to the Arctic. They will be using our bespoke sledge covers and specially designed daypacks on a mission to collect black carbon deposits and micro plastics particles. We are continually working on possible bio coatings to replace all our TPU coatings, too. It’s vital that bio coatings are made durable enough to give the waterproofing that we all need, this is something we are exploring with our partners.
It's not just one person fighting against climate change, it's all of us. Small actions can create massive amounts of change. We have to be responsible for our actions on our planet and the time to act is now.