A conversation with Sustainabili-T: Can we normalise sustainability?

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Sustainabili-T was built upon the foundation of a longstanding friendship, with a dream to change the planet for the better.

“If there is a more eco friendly way to produce our clothings, why isn’t everyone doing it yet?” -Nathan, Founder 

We are so inspired by our conversation with Dario and Nathan, the founders of Sustainabili-T, that we love to share some of the content with you guys! These individuals are looking to revolutionise the future of fashion one step at a time and they’re sure confident and positive about it. For every purchase, Sustainabili-T is planting 1 mangrove tree in East Java, Indonesia.

If you’re inspired by their journey, drop us a message!

What made you decide to start your journey toward sustainability in the fashion industry?

Dario: I’m studying a PhD in recycling medical waste, so a lot of my background and everyday activity is sustainability focused. One day, with Nathan my co-founder, we were just talking on FaceTime about what I’m working on. We kind of just played on the word “sustainabili-T” and as I said that, I grabbed my Tee shirt. That was when Nathan looked at me and went like, we could make something out of this.

So we looked into it a little more and found out that there was a gap in the market: the current fast fashion is on the high street and even if there’s a slow turn, the choice of T-shirts made out of recycled material is very limited and they’re very basic items.

Nathan: Just adding on to that, what we really want to see is for sustainable fashion to become a norm. When we see fast fashion companies produce at such a fast rate with no care for the environment, and when they do actually produce any organic cotton or recycled clothing, they market it as if they were taking such a bold step towards it… If there are options to make organic cotton t-shirts and use recycled materials for our clothings, then why aren’t we just using that as a norm?

What we are trying to do is to recreate the fashion brands to give people opportunities to just walk into a store knowing that everything they’ll buy will have a sustainable background to it. It removes the guess work, and they don’t have to latch on to a promo for a couple of organic items from a large brand…

What are the main challenges you experienced throughout your entire process?

Nathan: We had a close look right down to our production lines: reducing the carbon footprint of our travels, obviously the creation of our clothes, the amount of water etc. We fine tuned every little process to the point where it comes across seamlessly but of course initially it wasn’t that simple.

For instance we chose drop shipping to start with because it enables on-demand production but then, it was difficult to find drop shippers that match the criteria on sustainability and source sustainable materials for us.

So one of the biggest problems was supply networks: we couldn’t afford to have our own warehouse and make our own organic cotton and there’s just not enough brands out there utilising these materials for dropshippers to have them on hand. Then we would find a company, but they would only make t-shirts – their product range wouldn’t necessarily branch over to like hoodies or jumpers.

What kind of verification or level of transparency do you look into to make sure your products are sustainable?

Nathan: We have a code of conduct that we hold all our suppliers to, just to essentially make sure that they’re meeting the sustainability standards that we need them to meet. What this looks like would be ensuring that:

  • they choose the right materials that involve lower emissions compared to more conventional materials,
  • they manufacture by hands,
  • they ship by sea, and
  • they use renewable energy powered processes.

Unfortunately because of COVID, it’s been more difficult to go visit factories but we have conference calls with them, quarterly updates to ensure that they’re treating their staff right, to see if there are any issues that needs to be addressed or changed… We also perform annual audits to ensure that the best business practices and standards are being complied and met.

On top of that, we also expect our suppliers to comply with the international labor organization standards, including freedom of association, effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, elimination of forced or compulsory child labor… All those things that fall into that bracket. It’s important for us that not only is our supply sustainable, but that the workers as well are treated responsibly. I mean, at the forefront, we’re looking to create a positive planet. It’s also important to us that we have a positive workforce behind that as well. Everyone’s carrying the same mission.

Dario: Adding to what Nate said, one of our main dropshippers also carries a certification of ethical practice within their workplace, their products being environmentally sourced and green as well. So we’ve forwarded that to our secondary supplier to also see if they can participate in the audit. All in all, there might be some scope for us to receive similar certification. I feel that as we grow, we will produce more reports of our life cycle analysis and be very transparent with our customers.

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On that note, how much do you think your customers care about you being sustainable? Do you think it’s something that people in your generation don’t care enough about?

Nathan: I definitely don’t think people care about it enough, considering the ratio between fast fashion and sustainable brands. It is a positive thing for our sales because the competition is very minimal. But overall when we look at the bigger picture, it’s not so positive. Not many people are pushing out the idea that we can reform not just the fashion industry, but products, beauty, skincare, right down to food, and how things are being produced – there’s definitely a lot more improvement to be made.

We understand as well that, individually, we are so far away from perfection – not just our company, but us as people. There’s a lot more that we can do as sustainable representatives to move towards a more sustainable platform for all sorts of consumer basis.

I also think that our generation itself understands a lot more about what the world needs us to do to create a more sustainable future. Again, I don’t think it’s enough as of yet, and there’s definitely a need for improvement.

Dario: So based on my daily research, there’s this ticking time clock date of 2030, where there’s so many targets that we want to happen by 2030 – I actually think some might be achievable now. Even in the fast fashion industry, they will have targets themselves of things to achieve by 2030. I think not only our generation but the world is going to see a lot more progression in the next five years around being sustainable, you know it will actually look bad if you’re not being good for the planet. You’ll look like someone that’s pouring petrol on the fire, if you’re not partaking in being sustainable.

What would you recommend to other people who want to do something, but don’t know where to start?

Dario: I might be slightly biased, but my day-to-day as a PhD student is research. So anything that I’m unsure about that I’ve read in the papers and I don’t understand certain words, I’d just Google it and research about it. There’s definitely a lot more topics up there than there was say 10, 20 years ago.

I think the important thing is you’ve got to break it down and attack it one little segment at a time. You’ve got to always ask why. The more you ask why, the further expanded your search can be.

Nathan: About a year ago, I didn’t really know the positive impacts of having a more sustainable wardrobe. When I came across you guys planting mangrove trees, it absolutely shocked me how much carbon a mangrove tree removes, I just couldn’t believe it!

For someone else who is looking to enter a more sustainable market or they’re keen to help more, it’s definitely research, know your stuff and find out how such a small being on the planet can make such a big impact to a more sustainable future.

Both of you mention research, however for most people it can be quite overwhelming with all the information we have access to out there. What advise would you give to them?

Dario: I agree, it can be overwhelming. You have to start as broad as possible. You’ve got to live through your day-to-day and think: what can be done sustainably?

Nathan: Not to create an absolute advocate for you guys, but for those that are daunted about the sustainability journey, it’s finding yourself a company like Handprint. One that allows you a transparent view to see exactly how you contribute, to choose what project you want to contribute to, and then to see that positive impact grow. I thought that was incredible. That was one of the reasons why we gravitated towards you guys. I found Handprint, and I introduced you to Dario without you guys knowing. I like how you guys differ to most companies out there that would say “Pay us and we’ll plant the tree for you”, but there was no transparency. For all I know, they could be planting a blade of grass in the middle of an English field. I could have paid X amount of money for a tree, but I don’t see a journey there. I don’t see an impact. I don’t see how it’s helping the community that’s around.

With you guys, it gives such a transparent view, especially for a client. For a rookie like myself, Handprint allows me to help and contribute and know exactly where my contributions go, in with very little knowledge around the subject topic.

Definitely if you’re new and if you’re a fresh start, it is to find a trustworthy company like Handprint and to help you make that impact.

You guys mentioned briefly about Sustainability-t becoming the norm for fashion. Is that the ultimate goal or do you have an even bigger vision for your brand?

Dario: We’ve discussed that, we’d like to grow to a stage where the top brands of the fast fashion industry recognize us and they may be coming to us and seek advice and collaboration, so we can help influence the larger companies and create a larger effect. I think that that would be a dream.

Nathan: For us, it’s about growing and in five years, just being recognized as being a sustainable brand by a large portion of people. Having customers come to us and not even think if we are selling half this and half that or is everything on this website sustainable? That’s our goal. That’s our mission, essentially.

In 10 years we can completely save the planet! 😜