“Where’d you get that?” is something we commonly answer about the clothes we are wearing. What if the question instead was “where does that come from?”— could you answer? British eco-fashion label Rapanui is bringing you one step closer to that by introducing a new labeling system and online traceability maps that enable you to track your piece of clothing, from field to store.
Using a simple letter-graded rating scale inspired by the highly successful EU energy rating label, Rapanui’s ecolabeling system has gained recognition in the U.K. and inspired other high-street brands to adopt it as well.
Here’s how the labels work:
A – organic ethical sustainable
B – ethical with some work to sustainable
C – ethical
D – not bad, not good either
E – needs improving
F – some organic, ethical or sustainable
G – not organic, ethical or sustainable
Currently, this is only a real-life demonstration of how something like this could work, but Rapanui is working hard to make sure that their vision becomes reality. In the end they believe that ecolabeling should be a process independently verified by a third party. Their aim is to merely lead the development and promotion of this system until reaches the next stage. Rapanui is preparing to present their complete ecolabeling ratings calculation at a parliamentary committee, hoping to eventually submit a proposal to be considered by the European parliament in Brussels. This kind of initiative is exactly what the fashion industry needs, but Rapanui does not stop there.
Besides an admirable organic, ethical and low carbon approach to their supply chain, Rapanui’s truly groundbreaking contribution to sustainability is their implementation of traceability maps for the entire product line. Using the trace mapping tool on the company’s website, customers can find out exactly where their products come from and how they were made — from seed through harvest, processing and transportation, all the way to the store. When perusing the trace mapping tool, you will discover that the company’s carbon-reduction efforts include cutting out airfreight, instead opting to ship by boat, which helped lower CO2 Emissions by 80% overall.
When Rapanui first developed this concept, their traceability maps were the first to trace the entire product supply chain right down to the planting of the seed, the fabrics, manufacturing, energy use and transport, as well as ecolabeling initiatives and post purchase impact. “We provide detail right back to the people who pick the cotton in the fields, pictures inside the factory where the cotton is cut and sewn, plus the full journey from truck, to boat, to warehouse in the UK. You can inspect our supply chain from seed to shop,” says Mart Drake-Knight. “We’re really proud of our supply chain. Traceability opens up the doors at Rapanui and invites you to have a tour around the place, so you can see exactly what’s going on; where our clothing comes from and how it is made.”
So how did a small fashion company manage do to this? Clothing factories will do anything for their customers’ business, they say, especially for large retailers and fashion brands. In order to keep their clients happy, factories would quickly and willingly be able to produce documentary proof of the origin of a garment if requested. “It took literally days to gather all the information about everything in our supply chain. And, to be honest, traceability is as simple as that. There is absolutely no reason that all clothing brands could not do exactly what we have done, and continue to do so, today.”
The ecolabeling system is what will most likely have the biggest impact on consumers’ behavior, since it’s right there, front and center on the label. It’s inevitable that it will have impact, just like similar labeling systems such as Energy Star have transformed they way people buy appliances. When you’re choosing between two seemingly similar options, the sustainability credentials may be the deciding factor. The traceability maps are also great agents of change, because even though only the consumers already interested in sustainability will look at them it promotes sustainable practices on a larger level. If all companies were required to show their complete supply chains, a lot of them would look really bad. Transparency always creates change because when you can no longer cover something up, you’ll be forced to change it.
Rapanui’s new collection for summer that includes tops made from an eco fabric derived from Eucalyptus Tencel – which according to the manufacturer, Lenzing, is “the most eco-friendly man-made fibre in the world” — and T-shirts that are manufactured using wind turbines, as well as Converse-style sneakers made using Fairtrade organic cotton and FSC-certified rubber and are hand-finished in the UK. The webshop offers options for shopping by gender, size, price, color and, yes, eco-rating.
Launched in 2008 by surfing brothers Rob and Mart Drake-Knight in Sandown Bay, on the Isle of Wight, Rapanui was founded with a desire to make a genuine contribution to sustainability, and uses ethically accredited factories that are powered by wind and solar energy as well as cutting edge eco-textiles with a unique natural softness and feel. It’s clothing for young, active people — perhaps inspired by the brothers themselves, both still in theirs mid-20s — that looks great and feels great. In a few short years, Rapanui has won numerous awards for its work toward improving the communication and sustainability of the clothing industry and has already made a substantial contribution to sustainable fashion and created real change in an industry that so badly needs it.
The Drake-Knight brothers currently employ ten people in their beachside headquarters. But growing quickly doesn’t mean they lost touch with their roots, quite the opposite. There’s a skate ramp in the office and a coffee shop out the front. Employees find time for fishing during lunch breaks and when the waves are up in Sandown Bay you may just find them in the water.
Firm believers in the transformative power of fashion, Rapanui uses their casual cool to inform and educate their customers about how much the choices they make matter. “Fashion is like no other medium, in that you literally dress yourself in what you believe in,” says designer Mart Drake-Knight. “Rapanui gives people a choice to vote with their wallet for ethical fashion. We want to use the power of fashion to make eco cool, and design traceable, transparent products that let you shop quickly with a conscience.”
Now, there’s something to believe in.