business corporate responsibility shopping sustainability

Rapa Nui’s totally traceable clothing

One the of the problems with ethical fashion is that there are several different aspects to it, combinations of environmental and social concerns at different points in the supply chain. You might find organic cotton or bamboo clothing that makes no mention of factory conditions. Or you might get clothing that has been made in a country with better labour laws, but find no information about where and how the cotton is grown. The result can be confusing and contradictory – Fairtrade certified clothing that was made in a sweatshop, for example, because the Fairtrade logo only applies to the raw materials.

Some companies such as Howies or American Apparel have ethical policies across the board, but a new transparency standard may have been set this year by Rapa Nui. Founded in 2008 on the Isle of Wight, the company makes clothes from natural fabrics in a Fair Wear Foundation certified, wind powered factory. Products are designed to last, both in quality and in design. The biggest innovations however, are in their communications.

To make sure you can buy with confidence, the online catalogue has a ‘traceability’ tool. Click on the link next to any item of clothing and a pop-up Google Map will appear. It shows the route that the item of clothing has taken, from the plantation to the factory, and what form of transport was used in between. Clicking on the icons on the map will show you more details of the processes along the way. It’s a unique and innovative tool, and the kind of information that you kind of wish was available for just about everything.

Rapa Nui was founded by two brothers while at university, one studying Business administration, the other Renewable Energy. Their efforts to analyse the environmental impacts of their entire supply chain won them the 2010 Sustainable Business Awards. The next challenge is to push ethical fashion into the mainstream.

“We all know, at the back of our minds, that fast fashion has some quite serious and negative consequences, but it can be hard to find out exactly where clothing comes from and how it is made,” says founder and designer Martin Drake-Knight. “The ranges that clearly are eco-friendly are also clearly not chic. At Rapanui we want to change that, and make it convenient for people to shop quickly, with a conscience.”

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