Our main aim has always been to make the best menswear possible; we want to make menswear in a way that is beneficial to the wearer, all those involved in making a garment and our planet. This means paying close attention to all of our activities throughout the company and ensuring that environmental and social performance are monitored and continuously improved.
The conduct and transparency of our supply chain is something we observe closely. Over the years we have endeavoured to create trusting, open and transparent relationships with a network of suppliers, in order to support workers’ rights and their welfare. It is important to us that the people making our clothes are treated with dignity, respect and care.
By situating our manufacturing in the UK and Portugal we avoid many of the labour issues which are prevalent in the wider supply chain of the fashion industry, such as forced labour, unfair pay arrangements and unsafe working environments. This is not to say that this does not happen in the UK and Portugal and we very aware that the law is not always absolute, which is why we’ve built such close, trusting relationships. The countries in which we produce have tight legal frameworks on employment of garment workers, which in the majority of situations prevents issues faced in less regulated garment manufacturing countries. We visit our factories regularly to meet with management and workers and manage the quality of our products.
The Importance of Fabrics
One of the most important things we can do to improve environmental and social performance of a garment is to use the right fabric. To create enough fabric for just one garment requires significant use of energy, water, chemicals and human-power. So, managing this to ensure energy, water and chemical input is minimised whilst human-power is cared for, is crucial to positive environmental and social performance
Often, when organic cotton is discussed or suggested, it isn’t always clear why making the switch to organic cotton can have such a profound impact.
Conventionally grown cotton in some cases can be one of the most environmentally damaging and socially harmful parts of the fashion industry due to its excessive use of insecticides and water. Cotton accounts for 2.5% of world agriculture, but it uses a disproportionate 16% of world insecticides. Largely speaking, the insecticides used in cotton growing are toxic for humans and the natural environment.
By using organically grown cotton you eliminate the use of harmful insecticides, thereby increasing welfare for the growers and handlers of raw-state cotton. The carbon footprint is reduced through increased soil fertility and elimination of greenhouse gases caused by the application non-organic insecticides and fertilisers. Furthermore, less water is needed, not only through irrigation but also through eradicating water involved in creating non-organic inputs such as synthetic insecticides and fertilisers. Water use is subject to growing regions, but rain fed crops are more commonplace with organic cotton and once the water has been used it will not contaminate sources and can be used again in a productive and safe way.
This is why we are increasing the percentage of organic cotton used in our collections year-on-year. It will not be an easy transition and will take us time to develop fabrics with our current suppliers as well as finding new suppliers to meet our needs. However, we are committed and hope to be mainly organic in the not too distant future.
Wool is one the oldest fibres used for clothing and it still has a prominent place in the world of menswear and the fashion industry as a whole. Good quality wool keeps you warm, is comfortable and long lasting. Wool does have a moderate environmental impact if you only look at the preliminary stages of its lifecycle such as breeding and processing. However, if the wool is of good quality, in most instances this is offset throughout the garments lifecycle, due to reduced washing requirements and its longevity.
Managed correctly, the presence of livestock such as sheep can help build topsoil and soil fertility. This is key for future food production and the storage of greenhouse gases (through carbon sequestration) which further offsets the carbon footprint of wool.
We endeavour to use only the highest quality wools, sourced from historic British woollen mills and long standing knitwear factories. This helps us to create high quality clothing which is long lasting as well as a garment which has a lower environmental impact through its extended lifespan.
All of our wools are processed in Europe (prominently in the UK), meaning they adhere to strict European guidelines of chemical usage. Being a natural substance, when wool is ready to be disposed of (if of course it is no longer recyclable) it will biodegrade back into nature.
Linen is another fibre which has been used for centuries and is known for its soft, breathable qualities. It has a low environmental impact due to its low water and insecticide requirements. This makes it a great option for summer clothing for practical and environmental reasons. Linen plays a key part of our spring and summer collections for these very reasons…. plus the fact it looks great.
Quality is key
Quality garment construction and the use of quality fabrics have always been core values of ours, as we want to create menswear that can be enjoyed and valued for years. Aptly, a garment’s environmental footprint is strongly determined by its quality and usage. Purchasing one quality garment which can last for years, has a significantly smaller environmental impact than purchasing multiple poor quality garments over the same period of time.
One of the greatest luxuries of having physical stores, is when we see different generations of customers wearing Oliver Spencer pieces that have been passed down or given a new lease of life using our repair service, it’s a real testament to the people, fabrics, construction of each item we produce.
As all of our clothes require packaging to protect them in transit we end up using our fair share. By AW18 we will no longer have ’folding paper’ packaged in our garments. This small refinement has the potential environmental savings of 36,934kg of carbon per year! To put that into perspective a London bus emits 20kg’s a day on average.
Although our largest environmental and social impact occurs through our products, our second largest impact occurs through the energy we use (Unfortunately we can’t use our energetic staff as a source of mains electricity!). We have tackled this issue head-on and all of our locations are powered by renewable sources of energy such as wind turbines and tidal energy.
All of our locations offer full recycling facilities to ensure that we do our best to minimise waste and to reduce the need for virgin resources. We are able to recycle metals, plastics, glass, product packaging and we send hangers which are suitable for re-use back to our factories.
As a brand we will continue striving to improve our environmental and social performance on all fronts, and keep this as a core objective for brand development. This will require continuing to increase our use of organic cotton, responsible wool, quality requirements and innovative fabrics, whist caring for our supply chain and the environmental efficiency of our locations.
Your part in all of this
There is only so much that we can do to decrease the environmental impact of a garment. We can provide you with quality clothing using the right fabrics, but what you do is key to decreasing the environmental impact of a garment over its entire lifecycle.
Below we compiled some tips to help you reduce your environmental footprint.
· Wash cold where possible i.e. from general wear where there are no stains.
· Only wash wool if there are stains. If there aren’t and it needs to be freshened up hang the garment outside for a day and then hang inside for another and it should be fresh again!
· Repair old garments where possible. We offer a repair service across our stores, bring any of your OS items in and we’ll give you a hand!
· Hang dry whenever you can
Want to know more?
Contact our Head of Sustainability - Bleue Wickham-Burnham