Rhianna Knight founded the sustainable apparel brand Team Timbuktu because she knew that women’s outdoor gear could be made without compromising on functionality, sustainability or style. Here she rallies against the status quo with a passion that’ll make you want to start your own eco-brand (it’s ok though, you can probably just buy hers)
What Is Sustainability?
Sustainability — it’s a word that’s buzzing more than flies do in summer. But what does it even mean? When you think about it, we’re making an impact on the earth purely by existing, and more often than we’d like to admit, it’s a negative impact. So how can we become more sustainable? Or is it just the latest buzzword brands are using to sell you more stuff?
Sustainability is a journey of continuous improvement, rather than a magical place that you’ll arrive at, but it’s an important journey to be a part of nevertheless. The impact of the fashion industry is environmentally devastating, with the industry contributing annually more CO2 emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping worldwide.
As a society we haven’t previously done a great job of looking after the planet, even now we use non-renewable resources and chuck them in landfill when we’re done — out of sight, out of mind. But take a hot second to think about it, we’re literally stuffing the planet full of trash, and you don’t have to be a scientist to know that’s not the solution.
We’ve got our reusable coffee cups and we take our green bags to the supermarket, so we like to think we’re doing our bit. Don’t get me wrong, every bit counts and it’s a great start, but there’s so much more to becoming a conscious consumer.
The Impact Of Adventures
Like me, you probably love getting outdoors, whether it be hiking, camping, climbing, or exploring, but think about all of those snacks you take covered in single-use plastic, what about the cheap tent you only used once, the coffee cups you got on the road trip, or that cheap, poor quality jumper you bought because it was on sale?
It all adds up. And the more you think about it, the more you realise you’re probably not doing the best you could. But it’s a two-way street, customers need to demand better from companies and support those who are doing good, and businesses need to be better.
Moving Towards Sustainability In Business
To me, sustainability within a business is the process of internally evaluating everything the business does, from what it uses to create the product, including fabric, trims, labels and packaging to how it ships and sells the product and how it interacts with people and planet in all the processes in between.
Using this info it’s possible to source better alternatives to minimise impact and then continually evaluate how the business can do better.
For Team Timbuktu that means sourcing materials made from recycled plastics, manufacturing only with makers that we’ve personally met, eliminating most plastic within the supply chain, shipping using biodegradable bags and donating a portion of profits to help those who need it most.
So what can you do to lighten your footprint and be a little better as an individual?
Wake Up The Consumer Within
Whether it’s a piece of clothing, a camping chair or some other gadget that costs the same as your lunch, there are so many materials and processes that go into making things, so how on earth can they be so cheap?
They’ve got to source the raw material, manufacture the product and packaging, pay for salaries, ship it halfway across the world, pay for import duties, pay for the costs of running a business, and eventually ship it to you, the customer. It’s simply impossible to make things as cheaply as we’ve been trained to expect without taking shortcuts: using cheap fabrics, skimping on quality manufacturing, not paying workers enough and damaging the environment.
I know money doesn’t grow on trees, but it’s the people and planet who are getting ripped off — is that the kind of thing you really want to support?
Only Buy When Necessary And Ask More Questions
I’m not saying we can buy our way out of this mess we’ve created, because buying less and using what you already have is the most sustainable option. But next time you really do have to buy something, think about what kind of company you’re supporting. Do a bit of digging and find out.
Is it a quality product that’ll go the distance? Or is it a cheapie that’ll last one wear and a wash before it’s in the bin? What efforts are they taking to become more sustainable? Do they have a plan in place to use better fabrics? Do they use unnecessary plastic for their product and for shipping? Are their workers looked after?
Even if you don’t know what questions to ask, just shoot off an email and ask brands to tell you about their fabrics, supply chain and sustainability efforts.
Support Small Businesses Doing Good And Tell Your Mates About Them
Unless you’ve taken the plunge and started a biz on the side, you’ve got no idea what a rollercoaster ride it is! It’s amazing, stressful, exciting, overwhelming, incredible and scary all at once. To get something off the ground is a tonne of hard work and your support through social media, telling your mates and purchasing is worth its weight in gold to small businesses.
Ask What Products Are Made From
If you’re part of the ‘don’t read washing instructions ever and just throw it in the wash’ gang, then you probably don’t know what fibre you’re wearing. There’s a pretty high chance you’re wearing polyester — one of the most popular fabrics in the world and also one of the most environmentally damaging.
Conventional polyester is derived from crude oil, which clearly is not the sustainable choice. So why don’t we all just wear hemp T-shirts? Because synthetic fabrics (i.e. not natural such as cotton or wool) are darn good for technical gear — when you’re outdoors you can’t compromise with fabric that isn’t durable, sweat-wicking or waterproof.
The more sustainable choice is to wear recycled polyester, enabling the high-performance factors minus the heavy negative environmental impact. Ask companies if they use recycled or organic materials and if they’re transparent with their supply chain. If you can’t find out answers in-store or online, email the brand to find out about what they’re doing to become more sustainable.
Tell Brands When You Aren’t Happy With Their Ethics
If a company only cares about making their board members rich and not much else, let them know that you won’t be buying from them anymore because of this. We’ve only got one planet, so it’s time we started to look after it, otherwise future generations won’t have much left to enjoy.
You, as the consumer, hold so much power that you probably don’t even know about. You have the ability to make individual companies change and in turn, create significant change across entire industries.