Green Heroes – Rachael Howard Of FUND
In the first of our new series on brands, people and businesses who are underpinning everything they do with a green ethos, we meet the woman who creates knitwear that is not only made with entirely natural fibres but also helps feed children living in poverty across the world.
When was your green lightbulb moment?
I have always wanted to run my own business, even at school I knew that it was going to be important for me to create something of my own. I have never been driven by money but instead have always been drawn to work, people and brands with a social and environmental mission, where the motivation is doing good in the world. My lightbulb moment came when I was teaching English in a remote region of Nepal. I saw the huge difference having an education can make and so decided that my business would need to make a contribution to this in some way. For many children a free school meal means they are able to attend school rather than being made to stay at home and undertake household chores. Education empowers people and fosters positive change in communities. It is a ladder out of poverty and will lead to a more sustainable future for all.
What green business practices are you most proud of?
I wanted to find a way of making the clothing we wear more meaningful. On average consumers only keep and wear a jumper for a couple of years which is very unsustainable. The reason for this is largely down to the quality of the knitwear. Most items of clothing contain synthetic fibres which gradually break down during the washing process so that over time the item loses its shape and softness. These tiny micro-plastics then get washed into our seas and oceans causing untold damage.
As an antidote to fast fashion I looked to create an heirloom piece of knitwear made entirely from natural fibres that you would cherish and keep for many years. We started by creating a simple beautiful unisex jumper that looked good on everybody. In a way it is a blank canvas and our embroidery is the colourful paint that adds meaning, depth and a story to each piece. All our jumpers are made from a super soft lambswool called Lamaine. Wool was the perfect choice because It is a naturally sustainable fibre – it is warm, flexible, water resistant and anti-bacterial. Which means it retains its shape and softness and requires only gentle occasional washing. We only work with independent farmers to ensure that the highest standards of animal welfare are adhered to.
What makes you feel positive about a sustainable future?
From the start FUND was centred around our mission; to do good through ethical luxury. We FUND 100 school meals, for children living in poverty across 26 countries, with every jumper sold. We do this because reaching our sustainability goals as a society will come from equality and education. It’s not just about providing daily sustenance it’s about a more equal future for all. From a business perspective a lot of people at the start of journey said I was crazy because the donation reduces our profits quite considerably however it was so important to me that I simply replied that without the donation I wouldn’t want to run the business. Now it is the focus of what we do and people love and support us because of it. It gives me hope in a sustainable future because I see people becoming invested in our brand and others who have a similar ethos.
And what are the facts that make you fearful?
Sadly, the fashion industry is one of the major polluting industries in the world. The textile industry is the second greatest polluter of local freshwater in the world, and is culpable for roughly one-fifth of all industrial water pollution. Some of the main factors that contribute to this industrial caused pollution are the vast over production of fashion items, the use of synthetic fibres and the agricultural pollution of fashion crops. We haven’t got time to sit and be scared by the current situation, we’ve got to be positive, hopeful and innovate so we can bring about change. At FUND all our knitwear and packaging is 100 per cent plastic free, we only work with wool which is a low impact, biodegradable fibre so we feel we are providing a good example for other businesses to follow.
Who is your own green hero?
I am a big fan of Aras Baskauskas. She is the founder of a fashion brand in the US called Christy Dawn. They make the most beautiful dresses out of dead stock. Many of the larger fashion brands order in vast swathes of fabric, for a certain dress or skirt style which ends up being discontinued and the fabric is then wasted. Christy Dawn buys this beautiful fabric and upcycles it into vintage style dresses and one-off pieces.
Your favourite product– and tell us why we can feel good about buying it?
We are extremely excited to just launched with Harrods on 1st March and alongside our own collection, have also created a collection of exclusive, limited-edition jumpers. The colours are so eye popping and fun. The statements on our jumpers are all inspired by longer quotes from notable figures that have a profound meaning. A new favourite from the Harrods range is DEPENDS which is a vibrant blue jumper with bright red embroidery. It was inspired by the David Attenborough quote, ‘The future of our planet and indeed all life on earth depends on us.’
Can producing anything new really be called sustainable?
That is a very interesting question, sustainability is the quality of being able to continue over a period of time. It is about managing our footprint as a brand with the aim for it to be as small as possible.
Where do you source your materials?
Our yarn is spun in Scotland, it’s a beautiful old mill on the edge of an ancient loch. We source our wool from ethically reared sheep and use natural dyes and recycled water from the local Loch to colour it into a beautiful array of bespoke colours. The wool is very soft because the water is gentle and so our jumpers feel like cashmere. We have an expert team of British weavers who knit our seamless knitwear from a single thread, we do this to avoid any fabric offcuts and waste. Once complete the jumpers head to our embroidery workshop near the Cornish coast, it’s where we live so I go every day to see the colourful new creations. The team hand-finished each piece which can take up to two hours to complete, every piece is made with lots of care and love.
Name three other of your favourite brands who are doing the right thing and why you like them?
Elvis and Kresse is a British brand that makes bags using the finest rescued leather, decommissioned fire-hose and reclaimed parachute silk lining. I think they are great – they offer luxury products using materials which would otherwise be discarded. There is also a jewellery brand called Soko that creates minimalist, striking jewellery made by a network of independent artisans from Kenya and other East African nations. Through technology they give their makers the tools needed to produce the jewellery and scale their own businesses empowering those involved in the process. They also use eco-friendly and locally sourced materials. Patagonia is a pioneer in achieving what many said couldn’t be done: they have built a successful business with equal commitment to people and planet.
Should we be green shaming the brands/companies who are doing nothing to change their ways?
It’s important for us to acknowledge that there is so much positive change happening and consumers are really starting to look into the manufacturing process and environmental credentials of the brands they are purchasing from, but this is often a confusing and lengthy process to have to navigate. The more that people understand the power that they have as a consumer via their purchasing the better – where you put your money is really a vote for what you want to see in the future of not only fashion but all industries. Rather than shaming, we should be pushing for all brands to offer full transparency across their business so consumers can easily look into their ethos and make informed decisions.
What are the biggest challenges in running a sustainable business?
It took us a year to refine our process, because we don’t use any synthetic backing in our embroidery we had to develop a completely new way of embroidering with wool on wool. Even now we have to prototype each design a number of times and make small alterations in order to create the perfect finish.
What advice can you give to other businesses who are wanting to do better?
Start with what you hope to achieve. For me this was having a brand built of having a positive impact. It’s not about money, it’s about people and a sustainable future for all. Our customers are always telling me how much they love their new jumper because they are making a difference. That is what inspires people to support us and share our story.
Will you sign up to going carbon neutral (or even negative) by 2050?
We are already a carbon neutral business, we have a very low carbon footprint because every part of our process, from the wool we use, to the way we knit our jumpers, to the recycled packaging we use is considered. We only work with British suppliers, it is very important to us to support British manufacturing now more than ever. It took time to find good people who shared our belief in sustainable luxury. We also make a monthly donation to the carbon trust. We are looking to become a B-corporation business this year.
Three things we should all, as individuals, be doing to help in the climate change fight?
We should all watch David Attenborough’s documentary A Life on Our Planet. He is brilliantly honest but hopeful too. He suggests that we should not waste things; not food, not electricity. Buy less and buy well, choose things that you love and that will last a lifetime. Invest in people and in education and look after the natural world by rewilding and learning to grow food in smaller sustainable areas. The earth is the most precious thing we have and we all have a part to play.
Where can we read more about your sustainable practices?
You can visit our about page at fundjumpers.com.
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