From scraps to caps
Sans Pareil sat down with Jess from Kiwi label OFFCUT to find out how they’re taking sustainable fashion to the next level and re-imagining textile waste bound for the landfil into must have caps.
Can you tell us a little about your background and how your experiences growing up have influenced your passion for sustainable fashion today?
All four of us co-owners (Hannah and Jeff Ward, and Jono and Jess Riddell) grew up in some pretty thrifty families. Hand-me-downs and op-shops were part of the norm. That continues today as we each have three young kids of our own to dress who are growing rapidly. Not only is it kind to our wallets, it’s also kind to the planet. All of the resources it takes to manufacture anything has already happened, and you’re extending the use of an item and keeping it out of the landfill.
When we can’t find what we’re after, we try to support ethical clothing companies, such as Liminal Apparel (where Jeff works). Offcut and Liminal did a hat collab a few years ago which is how we got to know the previous Offcut owner and ended up having discussions about a potential at the end of 2019.
Offcut has declared a war on waste. How important is it to reduce textile waste in our landfill?
So important! Every year, millions of tonnes of fabric end up in landfill. In Aotearoa alone, fabric waste is the equivalent of every single New Zealander throwing away 150 T-shirts each every single year. Not only is there a massive problem with us (as customers) throwing away clothing we’ve brought, the fashion industry itself sends 10-20% of its fabric to the landfill. That’s brand new fabric which is cut and thrown away. Those offcuts are what we use to make our hats.
We need to move away from fast-fashion trends, consume less, and make clothes that truly last due to their quality and their timeless appeal. We want to make sure our hats are loved by their wearer and are of the highest quality so customers have them for life.
How does your label maintain your ethics of sustainability and fair trade?
Inherent in our name “Offcut” is our commitment to making our products from offcut material that’s destined for landfill. The first step in reducing human over-consumption is to make use of the resources we’ve already invested in making. However, we know that in our manufacturing and shipping we’re using resources too, so we also offset some of our carbon emissions by planting a tree with every product sold.
In terms of being fair trade, our hats are made in Auckland, Aotearoa (when we collaborate with local brands) and near Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam (when we obtain fabric in Vietnam). The Vietnam manufacturers have been audited by the Fair Labor Association, and visited four times by Offcut. In the next few years we would like to become a certified B Corp business. B Corps meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability. They’re all about using profits and growth as a means to a greater end: positive impact for their employees, communities, and the environment. That’s something we’re aiming for too.
What motivated you to take on Offcut from founder Adrien Taylor and have you stayed close to the original philosophy of the brand?
The four of us are passionate about business being used as a force for good. When the opportunity to take on Offcut first arose, it really aligned with our personal values and sparked a lot of ideas about how the concept could grow. We really admire what Adrien has started and the Offcut philosophy. We’ve developed that into three core values: kaitiakitanga (protection of the environment); manaakitanga (showing respect, kindness and care for people); and harikoa (joy). Basically, we want to continue making products that have a positive impact on the environment and people, and spark some joy along the way too.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to anybody wanting to establish or take on a zero waste fashion label?
Just do it. Sometimes we can overthink things and it prevents us from taking action (analysis paralysis!). We’ve only very recently taken on Offcut (a few days after Aotearoa went into Level 4 lockdown!), and while the timing might not seem perfect, or we might doubt our skills in an industry that’s pretty new to us, we’re excited to just be giving it a go. As John Lewis said, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”
Where would you like Offcut to be in ten years time?
Ideally, we would like to see the fashion industry using resources more efficiently so there is no offcut fabric for us to turn into hats! But while there are still offcuts destined for the dump, we will be doing our best to turn them into something useful. We’re motivated to do more collaborations with NZ brands and have more of the manufacturing done locally. Eventually we’d like to have a physical space here in Ōtautahi so people could see their hats being made. Other than that, we’ll keep our ideas under wraps for now! But watch this space.