James and I spent a weekend down in St Agnes, Cornwall, a couple of weeks ago to take advantage of the hefty swell that Storm Abigail was sending our way. We surfed with a seal down at Carbis Bay, sampled the finest in local beer at Driftwood Spars Brewery, and generally had the most relaxing, lovely time despite the grim weather.
After our morning surf on the Saturday, we decided to check out the Wheel Kitty Workshops in St Agnes which we knew were home to the Surfers Against Sewage and Finisterre HQs.
Surfers Against Sewage is an environmental charity which aims to monitor, prevent and clean-up the pollution of British seas and coastline, and Finisterre is a clothing brand focussing on keeping cold water surfers toasty warm – whilst keeping their environmental impact to a minimum.
We had a peek in Finisterre’s workshop and had a chat with some of the team. When I got home, I emailed Debbie Luffman, the Product Director, to ask a few further questions about Finisterre’s product and the environment…
Finisterre stands for, and commits to, three things: Product, Environment and People. How do you ensure the brand has minimum impact on the environment?
As a brand in the business of creating product, we know that all our sourcing, design and manufacturing decisions will have an impact on the environment, but what we can do is select fibres, processes and products which have the least impact possible. This is not a simple selection however, but it comes down to three essential design questions:
- Fit for purpose? A product which is designed to perform to its required needs and built to last will be more durable and last over time and will not need to be replaced by the user. This is the most sustainable design achievable.
- Is an alternative fibre available? When we develop new fabrics, where possible, we source organic, cellulosic or recycled fibres.
- Can it be easily repaired/recycled? We design product with components which can be easily broken down and repaired, and we offer a repair service at the Finisterre workshop. We also try to select fabrics which can be recycled.
- Can it be produced closer to point of manufacture? We are committed to shrinking our supply chain, this sometimes means working closer to home, but also sourcing the best fabrics and components from the same region as the factory assembling our products. This minimises processes, transportation and the overall carbon footprint.
How do you go about sourcing sustainable and durable materials?
We work with some of the best mills in the world, including Belgium, Italy and Japan. Japan in particular pioneered the business of recycled polyester and nylon, and also carbon-free membranes and water-repellent finishes, through our longterm relationship with our Japanese mills, we are able to improve and control the chemical processes used in our products.
Back in August, in accordance with your iSpy transparency programme, you announced that you’ve moved some of your production to China. It caused quite a stir, especially with some of your Facebook fans. Is there anything that you do to try and minimise that carbon footprint?
The move we made was in the assembly of our garments, for some reason the standard and accepted label on all garments ‘made in’ only calls to question where product is assembled – Our fabrics and zips were always sourced from China and Japan and therefore we were shipping these fabrics and components to Europe for garment assembly. There is a larger impact on made up garments, but our products use lightweight insulation and don’t weigh as much as heavy jackets and we minimise this impact by shipping, rather than airing goods. We are also committed where possible to sourcing fabrics and components closer to our China factory to minimise transportation impact within the supply chain.
Unfortunately we live in a society where ‘fast fashion’ has fostered a love for large wardrobes at low prices. Finisterre clothing may be considered a little pricey, but it’s built to last. What goes into ensuring that Finisterre clothing has that lasting quality?
We don’t believe our products should only last a season, so we avoid prints and fabrics which have a fleeting aesthetic. We work with our suppliers to develop the highest spec fabrics to ensure durability and all fabric is testing against pilling, stretching, fading and shrinking. We don’t believe in washing fabrics to create pre-aged or distressed effects and prefer that our products are delivered new and can be worn-in individually to the wearer.
British wool is at the centre of Finisterre’s fabric development. What’s so rad about using wool?
Don’t get me started! It is fair to say we are a little obsessed with wool. It is just the best fibre for building products designed for surfers and suited for the British climate. It handles moisture incredibly, whether from an activity point of view, absorbing and moving away moisture from your skin, as well as externally – holding onto humidity in the atmosphere and converting it into heat. It maintains the perfect body temperature, creating a personal climate system for the wearer. This fibre lends itself perfectly for next-to-the-skin baselayers, weather-resistant chunky knitwear mid-layers, as well as technical warm and waterproof outer layers. Wool is naturally biodegradeable and we work closely with all suppliers to ensure that animal welfare is at the heart of all our wool sourcing and to ensure full traceability.
I visited your factory in St Agnes, Cornwall this weekend and was blown away (almost literally, it was so windy) by the beauty of the location you work in. What’s the best thing about working in the Wheel Kitty Workshops and St Agnes in general?
I feel lucky to work and live in St Agnes, Cornwall. It is a special place and the perfect testing ground for our product. We are all very active people from surfing to dog-walking, the team are a bunch of outdoor nuts and our product is designed around constant feedback and improvement. The workshop can be a very buzzing, dynamic and frenetic environment to work in, but at the end of the day when it is time to switch the lights off in the workshop there is always the welcome sight of the beautiful wild coastline and ocean right in front of me.
You’ve collaborated with some fantastic, innovative brands recently, such as Dritek. Are there any other brands we should be keeping our eyes on?
We have a number of new colabs underway at the moment, but I’m afraid I can’t give away too many details just yet, but keep your eyes peeled for an innovative new umbrella project, an original cap concept, more PVC free luggage and a very exciting longterm shoe colab.
And finally, when can we expect the release of the women’s Nieuwland wetsuit? I’m keen to make it my next winter wetty!
We are anticipating women’s tester suits being ready by AW16. We actually approached the design for the women’s suit adjacent to the men’s. But it was important to us that the women’s wetsuit was given dedicated design focussing on fit, testing, and needs specific to the female surfer, rather than rushing the women’s suit designed around the men’s, so the design is taking a little longer. We’ll be looking for female testers, so watch this space.
Photos borrowed from the Finisterre website.