Peri Drysdale, founder and CEO of Untouched World™, talks to The Register on creating a sustainable business…
‘Sustainable’ and ‘ethical’ are the words on everyone’s lips at the moment, as conscious consumers are on the rise and demanding more from companies. But we wondered, what is it actually like running a sustainable business? Elly Strang chatted to Snowy Peak and Untouched World founder Peri Drysdale to find out more.
Untouched World produces sustainable designer knitwear, apparel and accessories that have been spotted on the likes of former US president Bill Clinton and the incumbent, Barack Obama.
The now infamous picture of President Obama in an Untouched World sweater.
Source: Pete Souza / The White House
It also only works with suppliers whose values align with its own clean, green vision.
But before sustainability was getting the attention it’s getting today, Drysdale was addressing the issue 30 years prior.
She and her team decided sustainability would be a core aspect to their business before they’d even heard of the word, Drysdale says.
When Untouched World’s parent company Snowy Peak was founded in 1981, she says she decided to work with natural New Zealand fibres and manufacture the majority of Snowy Peak’s clothes in New Zealand.
Untouched World was launched as a Snowy Peak collection in 1995, and as a brand three years later.
If any clothes are made overseas, Untouched World makes sure employees have good working conditions and a fair wage.
Drysdale thinks most clothing brands should want to have a clear understanding of their supply chain.
“Depending who you talk to, clothing is one of the top two or three dirtiest industries and has some of the most hideous human rights is-sues going on the planet,” Drysdale says.
“I don’t understand how people can shut their eyes to what their business is and it impacts on human beings.”
The point where Untouched World decided to really hone in on sustainability was in 2000.
Drysdale says she had her eyes opened to what was going on in the world, socially and environmentally.
“I was travelling a lot and noticing that there was huge change going on globally from year to year,” Drysdale says.
“When you live in one place you don’t necessarily see it happening, but when travelling you see things going on, like signs appearing by a river saying don’t swim here as it’s polluted. That was the trigger.”
The company now has several systems in place that ensure sustainability.
Its clothing designers must know the life cycle of each material they use and whether the material is recyclable or not.
Untouched World makes sure overseas suppliers allows its staff to visit factory staff unannounced.
“That’s the only way to be sure, as any piece of paper can be bought,” Drysdale says.
“It’s finding out on the ground what really happens.”
Peri Drysdale, Founder & CEO, Untouched World™
A portion of the profits made from Untouched World clothing go into the Untouched World Charitable Trust.
The trust funds education programmes that teach leadership for a sustainable future to teens.
One of Untouched World's leadership programmes, held at Blumine Island
Another leg to the trust is ProjectU, where Untouched World clothing is made in India in a social enterprise scheme.
Indian women are given double the current going rate for sewing and their children get an education to keep them from going into sexual slavery.
She says these three important prongs in place ensure sustainability.
“It’s looking at the product life cycle, making sure people who work on your clothes are being treated well and what you do with the profits, which for us go into a charitable trust.”
However, despite various accolades declaring it best in business, such as being the first fashion company to be recognised for sustainability by the United Nations, Drysdale says its business model isn’t faultless.
“I would never say everything we do is sustainable – it’s a journey,” Drysdale says.
But any difficulties are worth it, she says.
“For me, it’s the motivation for getting out of bed in the morning and continuing to do what we do, because it’s so exciting and so worth-while to see change can be made,” Drysdale says.
“Our customers really like what they buy because it’s having an impact on the planet, the dollars they spend is making them feel good as a consumer.”
Untouched World has recently teamed up with Child Labor Free, an accreditation process that certifies companies supply chains as free of child labour.
Drysdale says Untouched World thinks it’s great such an initiative has come out of New Zealand and her team wants to support it.
“It’s much broader than making sure no children work, it’s making sure families don’t need children to work to survive,” Drysdale says.
“If you went and said no children working, you might make it worse for families in the short term, so Child Labor Free makes sure they’re paid enough and there’s education and support.”
Despite a growing consumer interest in sustainable products, Drysdale says it’s important to realise it isn’t the be all and end all to a great product.
“The bottom line is the style has to be right, the colour has to be right, the price has to be right and then sustainability is an important underpin. Sustainability on its own isn’t enough for success,” Drysdale says.
Here's her tips on how to take steps towards becoming a more sustainable company:
- The first thing to do is to get a common understanding or a common agreement about what sustainability means to your company. We started by giving everybody in the business from supervisor level up a whole bunch of books to read on what sustainability is.
- Get a really good sustainability advisor to take you by the hand to start with.
- Get assistance through New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development. There are really good programmes in place to measure what you’re doing.