Em and Cat’s great sustainability journey

(Are we nearly there yet?!)

 You’re loving our sumptuously soft Smalls next to your skin. And you care about sustainability so you can’t help but wonder: can something this gorgeous that comes all the way from New Zealand really be sustainable?

Yes it can. Founders Em and Cat have done all the hard work so your conscience can be clean. 

Sustainability always mattered to us. Our ethos is to be responsible and know exactly where things come from. Fast fashion is an alien concept. Instead we believe in considered purchases: investment pieces whose beauty, quality and durability more than justify the price tag. 

Back in the 70s new wonder-fabric polyester was all the rage; its true environmental cost still decades away. But for Cat and Em, growing up in New Zealand, our childhoods were wrapped up in wool: timeless, coveted hand me downs passed through generations; granny’s beautiful hand knits (some more successful than others); wool was innately part of our culture right down to the beautiful and durable carpets under our feet.

So when we launched Smalls, we declared a radical manifesto:

  • Only New Zealand merino wool.
  • The lowest possible carbon footprint.
  • Sustainable production with a fully traceable process.

Lesson 1: Don’t believe everything you read on the label

Our first hurdle was to ensure we were using traceable New Zealand wool. Turns out, although bales might be labelled “NZ”, in fact they could be mixes from multiple sources.

 The best way to ensure we know exactly where our wool is from was to choose bales with ZQ certification. The ZQ standard ensures a better quality of life for the animals, for our planet, producers and consumers. The wool is only available through exclusive supply agreement contracts between ZQ and our farmer partner. (Find out more about some of the wonderful farmers we work with. 

 Lesson 2: You can’t just ring up a factory and make an order

 After two years designing finding and sorting a solid supply chain, and a few good years working together, our original makers in Fiji closed down and the fabric production was relocated from NZ to Vietnam, our minimums went up and our fabric started doing too much of a round trip! After much more research, we moved production to Lithuania, attempting to stick with our original New Zealand-founded fabric company … until we discovered the crazy carbon footprint our garments were racking up (multiple stopovers from New Zealand via China and Vietnam).

 This might be the way of the clothing industry but it’s not our way. It wasn’t just our Smalls clocking up the air miles: keeping tabs on production meant we were also spending waaaay too long in departure lounges. We needed to stamp out our carbon footprint. There must be facilities producing the best Merino nearer the UK?

Lesson 3: You’ve got to be on the case. ALL the time. 

 So, Lithuania. After a series of butt-freezing tours we chose a company which had seamless (pun) working conditions. Unfortunately, the factory they secretly (out of agreement) subcontracted our order to didn’t. This was one of our lowest moments. The coffee stains we found on our garments along with upside-down heat transfers were the least of the problems with that batch…So we needed to slash our carbon footprint AND control the process better.

A happier moment on the butt freezing tours

Lesson 4: What’s meant for you won’t pass you by

 Finally, after a ton MORE research, we heard about a mill in Biella, Italy. We found our perfect fit! A family run business with an amazing story, they are so passionate and rightly proud of what they do. Their process is weaving rather than knit, and everything is done within 30km: carding, spinning, the lot! Crucially, they are totally upfront and transparent – which resonates strongly with us. And the Italian owner claims to part Kiwi because he loves New Zealand that much!

Mill with a view
Assessing other aspects of our Italian Mill, like the food and the Wine

At an exhibition we found a Portuguese manufacturer. We clicked immediately – nothing to do with the lovely wine served at the lovely lunch they threw for us. Again, it was a perfect fit. Like us, they are small and ambitious; they’re on a similar sustainability mission; and they offer total visibility - so our values are completely aligned.

Meeting these fantastic partners was one of the truly high points, making all our efforts totally worth it. 

Lesson 5: Don’t worry if you’re a lone voice. If you know you’re right, stick to your principles 

 When we launched, very few clothing brands were promoting true sustainability like us. With our backgrounds (did we mention we’re a pair of stubborn Kiwis?) we were determined our Smalls would reflect our heritage: we knew a better way was possible.

 And it’s paying off. Traceability matters to you and you trust us to deliver the goods. As for the rest, they are catching on! Fast fashion has lost its gloss and considered purchases are stepping back into the spotlight. 

Which is why we were invited to Dumfries House as part of a campaign to promote wool and spent the day meeting The Campaign for Wool patron, His Royal Highness the future King Charles III; Max Whitlock (rocking some Olympic moves in a stretchable wool Paul Smith suit); and His Royal Hotness David Gandy (now that’s a high point – Ed).

 So slip on your Smalls with a clear conscience. We’ve got you covered. Sustainably. link to previous story 

 Got any questions about our commitment to traceability? We’d love to hear from you! Just drop us an email hello@lovemysmalls.com x