Inside The Factory: Working Hard To Do Things Differently
In recent weeks, news publications and social media has been filled with conversations relating to retailers selling clothes at rock-bottom prices. Sometimes, these prices are so low you wouldn’t even think they could pay for the buttons! So, we thought you may be interested in knowing a bit more about the inner workings here at Protected Species.
Now, I’ll start by saying we are a small brand, which means we haven’t the finance to do everything we would like to, but it does mean we can be nimble in responding to our discussions we have with you, our customers. Manufacturing ethically, responsibly and sustainably, I would hope would be most clothing brands’ driver these days, with larger businesses, such as Patagonia, doing an amazing job with their environmental strategies. However, no matter what you’re producing, you can’t avoid using resources, making a carbon footprint and impacting the earth in some way. As we tirelessly recycle, at some point the question must be raised about how much we actually consume. In an ever-growing population with much of the world following the consumerism habits set by the West, is the only real answer to sustainability buy only what we truly need and therefore consume less?
Our philosophy, here at Protected Species, has truly grown with our continual two-way conversations with our customers. From the start, we always set out to create products which are the antithesis of the cheap throwaway “wear it for the weekend” culture prevalent in certain sectors of the clothing trade. But when we started on our journey five years ago, the most exciting part was creating something that looked good, had a true multi-functional benefit, and was manufactured to last.
A few years on, with our customers reporting back to tell us how long they’ve had their coats and how regularly they wear them, we’ve been able to do lots of reflection. One of the key ways we can truly reduce waste is by developing clothing not just for this season but for years to come. From the start, we knew we wanted to create iconic modern designs, rather than faddy ‘here today; gone tomorrow’ fashion. As we grew as a brand, the idea of modernising and adding performance to iconic, classic shapes that are culturally rich and have stood the test of time seems so obvious. The Waterproof Mac and the Waterproof Parka are two shapes with a true performance heritage and as such have become iconic staples in our wardrobes, delivering style over fashion, and consequently standing the test of time. Do we really want to change our clothes because someone tells us this season’s colour is yellow, pink, or something which simply doesn’t suit us or the rest of our wardrobe. As Coco Chanel famously said: “fashion fades, only style remains the same”.
So, onto the frontline and a snapshot of our manufacturing base. There are many misconceptions about clothing manufacturing process and procedures, this is a sticky subject and I won’t pretend to have all the answers. I have never worked in fast fashion, so have thankfully been in a place where my relationships have not been fraught by driving rock bottom prices, or dictating impossible deadlines, but I have visited many factories in many far-flung parts of the world and I have witnessed first-hand what makes some of the issues to do with international manufacture so grey. Interestingly, and encouragingly, I have seen things change radically over the years working, travelling, and being fed such things as live shrimps and piglet trotters! What I have seen is no longer a master and servant relationship, with a picture, not of a sweat shop, long hours, unruly practices, but of ethical, inspiring places with strong social comradery, expertise, efficiency and dare I say it a sense of fun. Believe me, I know not everyone benefits from this type of workplace which is why it was so important for me in forming our relationship with Carrie, who owns the boutique factory based in a small town in China where our collection is made.
We, like so many other brands, produce in China primarily because we cannot do what we do closer to home. New innovative performance fabrics have evolved in the Far East, and as a result, so to the people and machinery with the skills to manage these fabrics. Carrie is a young entrepreneur making a difference in her local area. Her machinists are her friends and their partners who she has expertly trained in every process to complete an entire garment from start to finish. As they all live locally, Carrie and her family work and socialise with her team and it’s really good to feel a happy, harmonious environment which all the corporate check lists in the world cannot capture. Carrie and I have a mutual respect, and I trust her implicitly. When Carrie says she can’t do something, it means she can’t do it, I know she will have exhausted all avenues. She describes her work as “art” and I would agree. From my time studying at the London College of Fashion many moons ago, a pattern can be cut or it can be crafted, the true value experienced in wear. Having a small collection, we work together pouring over minute details, and there is genuine excitement between us when someone has a lightbulb moment.
In my former life working as product director for the golf brand PING, I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the top tour players in the world. I bring this up as you might like to know the Protected Species collection has derived from this work developing fabrics essential in their ability to offer zero restriction in movement, protect from the elements on some very wet and windy Scottish 18 holes, and at the same time look smart. I was privileged to hang out on many a beautiful golf course around the world, but my true love is getting my hands dirty working alongside my inspirational colleagues based in the far east.
So, as I said at the beginning, we are a very small business and are still driving to realise all of our dreams. New performance products are in the pipeline (extremely exciting) which have our signature all over them: multi-functional, performance and style-led. We are looking at new ways to minimise packaging, and use biodegradable materials. Our fabric mill, managed by Greta, uses eco-energy, eco-materials and eco-engineering. Their business achieves Oeketex standard, is Blue Sign certified, and they declare their carbon footprint and have the testing required to show that no harmful substances are used or released into the environment.
So, we are working hard to do things differently, like most businesses we have a long way to go but we will continue down our path of producing products that we believe are for the long term, clothes which can be worn not just to work or play, but for both. As we speak I am sitting in a new pair of trousers trialling them for quality, longevity and comfort… and frankly, I can’t wait to see what you think!
Rebecca Mcelligott, Owner