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RAPANUI Clothing: wearing sustainability in a fundamentally different way

RAPANUI Clothing's picture

Organic and recycled materials are the basis for every cloth that RAPANUI designs and produces in our ethically accredited wind powered factory. You'll also find cutting-edge low waste printing technology here, and incentivised material recovery. Most importantly, you can trace the origins of everything we make, from seed to shop.

Background

Started in 2009 in their backyard shed, the two brothers Rob & Mart decided to build a clothing business that made a real contribution to sustainability and solved their youth unemployment problem at the same time. A year later, the first collection was ready to be commercialised and the first achievement in terms of sustainability started slowly to arrive by giving 50% profits to Marine Conservation Society for sales deriving from a special edition MCS t-shirt.

Just two years after the launch of the first clothing line, RAPANUI developed interactive trace maps so our customers could see where our clothing comes from, and how it is made.

The traceability maps (developed in collaboration with Carbon Trust) tracing product supply chain are available for each product in the RAPANUI collection. This provides details and images right back to the people who pick the cotton in the fields, pictures inside the factory where the cotton is cut and sewn, plus the full journey from truck, to boat, to warehouse in the UK.

To push traceability forward, RAPANUI developed an Eco-labelling scale for its products. It consists in an A-E rating system in the same style as the highly successful EU energy rating label that helps consumers shop quickly, with a conscience. The eco-labelling system currently used in RAPANUI is represented in the table.

Table with the A-E eco-labelling scale

Rating

Explanation of rating

A

Made from organic material in an ethically accredited, wind powered factory

B

Made from either an ecological material or made with renewable energy, in an ethically accredited factory

C

Made in an ethically accredited supply chain

D

Some of the above but lack of traceability, or traceability and none of the above

E

None of the above

This system has been presented to the UK Prime Minister in 2012, and presented  to the European Union in order to encourage implementation a European system of eco-labelling across all Member States. (see: "Towards a Single Market Act", COM(2010) 608 final/2 of 11.11.2010 and "Single Market Act Twelve levers to boost growth and strengthen confidence" COM(2011) 206 of 13.04.2011).

RAPANUI also engages in developing further technological improvements within their supply chain, such as the T-Shirt printing API (Application Programming Interface)

Process

To produce the t-shirts and other clothing, RAPANUI uses organic cotton, made from GMO-free plants that are grown in northern India without the use of any synthetic agricultural chemicals like fertilisers or pesticides. Less fertilisers, pesticides and machinery means less carbon. The cotton is often transported from the fields to the ginning plant by camel.

The dye, cut and sew factory has its own array of Vestas V52 wind turbines. Excess is sold to the Indian grid, which is predominantly coal fired.

Our clothing is shipped to the UK, and we print everything using low-waste print technology in our factory in the UK, which is powered by the local renewable energy company Good Energy. Now over 90% of our t-shirts are printed in this way, halving waste and allowing us to reduce prices.

The biggest area of work is post-purchase, as 80% of the carbon emissions from a t-shirt come from washing and drying. We changed our wash care instructions to wash cool, hang dry. At the end of life we recover old products for recycling, through the BacktoRapanui.com service through which a customer can freepost the old Rapanui garments and receive store credit back.

Effects/Results

Organic cotton certification means fewer chemicals, increases biodiversity, a higher cotton price and a more sustainable farming business. Furthermore, synthetic fertilisers are carbon intensive. Switching to organic can mean large CO2 reductions, since to making one tonne of nitrogen fertiliser takes one tonne of oil and one hundred tonnes of water, resulting in seven tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Facilitating factors

Alternative source of funding, such as project funds, and from a practical point of view, the attitude and culture shared by the funders, have been factors enabling RAPANUI business and products to come to life. We train staff on the same culture as we believed, and that made the difference, resulting in a problem-solving attitude, where staff members are actually finding solutions on the problems they encountered. Another facilitating factor towards the success of the business is represented by a well-defined organisation of work.

Barriers/challenges

Barriers and challenges faced by RAPANUI are the same as those encountered by majority of businesses. Main problem has been financing business innovations, when first started and trading since a couple of years, it was difficult to find the right loans, avoiding for example very high interest rates. It is recognised that in the last couple of years there seems to be more money available. For example, there have been a couple of proposals related to social and sustainability improvements, as well as the Regional Growth Fund.

Getting the right people, and in the right place, has been difficult. For example, during the development of proposals it would have been helpful to find the right support at the right time.

Finally, absence of expertise for training which resulted in self-teaching and self-assessment. Apart from the remarkable support by Cornwall industry experts, provided by a network of companies that had cool training means for knowledge transfer.

Lessons learnt

Culture in the workplace makes the difference to succeed in a challenging business environment.

Further details

How was the green solution financed?: 
Would you characterize the green solution as: 
Low capital intensive investment (i.e. €500 - €3,000)
Capital costs description: 
Started 200£ each in the shed, but then when we got the factory, that was a fairly large investment.
Operating and maintenance costs description: 
Not really, like everybody the highest cost is personnel cost but the rest of it is not that expensive.
Emission reductions description: 
RAPANUI CO2 per product is around 80% lower than the average t-shirt in the supply chain with a study made by The Carbon Trust
Operating and maintenance costs: 
Yes, low O&M costs
Water consumption savings description: 
We try to reduce the impact of high water consumption by making sure that 95% of water is sourced from local
Technical and capacity requirements?: 

Be passionate and ready for the daily challenges of an innovative business

Regulatory framework prerequisites and constraints?: 

- Making sure that the right certification in the supply chain is allocated;
- Public awareness has helped the business;
- Slight change in 2008 with different organic standards and Global Organic Triple Standard for organic cotton.