Doing business responsibly can often mean business first, responsibility second — thinking about ethics or sustainability only once trading is well underway.
“At Mighty Good Undies we flipped that around”, says Hannah Parris, co-founder of the new eco-fashion underwear line, based at Impact Hub Brixton. “We started our brand because we wanted to prove that using ethical and sustainable supply chains in the garment industry — the second most polluting in the world and notorious for worker exploitation — is commercially viable for a mass market, and scalable”.
Hannah, a former environmental activist in her native Australia, sees it as “a sort of a business version of being an activist — proving it can be done”.
Co-founded in 2015 with Sydney-based entrepreneur Elena Antoniou, Mighty Good Undies was inspired by a desire to create an everyday product that would educate consumers on conventional cotton farming, while promoting the use of more sustainable practices.
The result was a brand that offers quality men’s and women’s underwear with strong ethical and environmental principles. All products are certified by both the Fairtrade Cotton System (the same people who do your coffee) and the Global Organic Textiles Standard. All production takes place in India in a fully-certified supply chain that involves just two organisations: Chetna Organic (the farmers who grow the cotton), and their production partners, Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills.
“We are so proud of using a supply chain that is certified under these two standards — they are considered the world’s best practice in ethical textiles”, explains Hannah.
The startup is also experimenting with carbon offsets: pairing each pair of undies with a 1kg carbon offset. It’s not ideal, says Hannah: the goal is to become certified carbon neutral. But becoming carbon neutral is very expensive and requires a whole lot more paperwork — as a small business, that’s currently beyond their resources. Initially struggling with having to compromise, Hannah then took the advice of a friend, who told her: ‘Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good’. “That was really helpful… I realised that on the way to our longer term goal, I could still take a small step in that direction.”
The biggest challenge, so far, has been crafting and selling their story.
“We have a complicated story”, says Hannah. “We are organic, fairtrade, carbon offset, comfortable, soft undies and we are also starting off a relationship with a Kolkata-based charity. It’s a bit of a mouthful”, she admits. Developing and refining a few key phrases to capture what the business does has been crucial — the final favourite is:
We are Mighty Good. Our aim is to make super soft toxic-free underwear made from organically grown, Fairtrade cotton, sewn by adults who get paid a living wage, at a price you can afford!
It sounds good now, but Hannah laughs that “this is the result of about 4 or 5 people, including our creative film maker, tossing around ideas for weeks and editing each others email. I’ve lost count of how many versions there were — but the key is to keep re-working until you are happy”.
Hannah moved from Australia to London just three months ago, for her husband’s work. While she’s been settling in, Mighty Good has been preparing to launch a crowdsourcing campaign during Fashion Revolution Week (18-24 April) — the week that commemorates the collapse of the garment factory in Rana Plaza, Bangladesh in 2013 and celebrates eco fashion.
A busy start to the year, then — but the Hub Brixton community has seen Hannah through an “exhausting” few months.
“I came to London practically knowing no-one”, she says. “At the Hub I have found a like-minded community of interesting people pursuing entrepreneurial projects for making the world a better place. I feel like I’ve found my people”.
Written by Hannah Parris
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