Rob and Mart Drake-Knight, founders of the organic high-street fashion brand, Rapanui, may have grown up riding the surf along the shores of their native Isle of Wight, but in their latest venture the entrepreneurs–and thrill seekers–are taking to the winds. The U.K. brand recently opened its first factory powered entirely by wind energy.
The factory, a re-purposed hangar inside one of Isle of Wight’s once famous, now derelict shipbuilding yards, has become the company’s new printing hub where the brothers foster local talent and finish their range of men’s and women’s organic cotton and bamboo T-shirts.
From a business standpoint, Rob Drake-Knight, the elder brother by two years, said building a factory was a surefire way to increase stock efficiency, increase margins and reduce stock wastage for the long-term. “With our own factory we can be more flexible with when and what stock and what we invest in,” he said.
Garments are sourced from audited wind-powered factories in Southern India and then shipped to the U.K. where the brand’s creative team creates designs using water-based inks. Heat given off by the print dryers is then re-circulated to heat the factory.
Whereas in the past Rapanui would have held bulk volume in each individual line, it now prints to order. “We don’t have the traditional fashion industry problems of cancerous stock and therefore forced seasonal sales. We simply don’t make a product until we have sold it,” Drake-Knight explained.
The factory is just the latest breakthrough for the company that turned shopping for clothing into a globetrotting journey through its award-winning trace mapping tool. Each garment featured on Rapanui’s e-commerce site is equipped with a traceability map which enables shoppers to track a garment’s life from seed to shop online, and in doing so, sparking conversations about substantiality, energy use and ethical choices between consumers, brands and their suppliers.
As Drake-Knight noted, sustainability is a discussion taking place across the supply chain from designers inspired by environmentalism, to suppliers looking for an advantage, but for his company, the place that matters most is the conversation between brands and consumers. “With traceability and better information, we are seeing consumers respond to our brand with more informed choices,” he said.
Now, with the new factory shoppers will not only have more choices, but they’ll see them a lot more quickly. The company plans to run new collections every eight weeks. Drake-Knight said that quick turnaround will help keep consumers engaged–essential for any business, sustainable or not, in appealing to Millennial-aged high-street consumers–and enable Rapanui’s designers to hone in on the right fashion trends, be more flexible and stay atop consumer trends.
As the company evolved how it delivered information to its customer base, Drake-Knight said shoppers responded by buying more of the more sustainable products the company made, and less of the least sustainable products. That demand from the consumer end, he said, is a powerful demonstration of how sustainability can reshape the textile industry and force suppliers to change their systems.
It has even led the brothers to have product shipped rather than aired. “Carbon embedded in the supply chain is important to us, so anything we can do to affect it, like choosing to ship rather than air freight is a no-brainer,” Drake-Knight revealed. It takes four to five weeks to arrive by ship rather than three days by air, but since the company runs a lot of products with blanks, the sell-through rate data is very accurate, making it easier to estimate quantities and lead-time.
Despite their carefree ethos–the brothers hosted a kegger to celebrate the factory’s opening, where there is also a skateboard ramp on premise–the brand has proved to excel at planning. The Isle of Wight factory was built to grow infinitely large. Drake-Knight said the company has lined up more units in the current hanger to expand and with hopes to become bigger than major U.K. brands, like Journey, Rapanui is ready to take its sustainability and social business global.