When we see clothes we like, we generally worry first about our wallet. Should I treat myself with this? It’s a pretty cool [insert piece of clothing]. What should be our first thought is: “But who made my clothes, where are the resources coming from?”
Realistically we don’t. We selfishly think about our bank account, turning a blind eye to the impact. Gnarly Tree chose not too. Inspired by the sea, nature and all things outdoor, the brand decided to question the physical origins of what we dress ourselves with and developed their products with the goal to make it sustainable and ethical. We chat to founder Jonny Schofield:
Easy one to start with. Could you please introduce the brand.
I run Gnarly Tree, an ethical outdoor clothing company based on the south coast. We love everything outdoors, sailing, snowboarding, hiking, cycling but our biggest passion is for surfing. At Gnarly Tree we source high quality organic cotton garments and hand print original designs on them here in house.
What made you want to start a clothing brand and where did the name come from?
Primarily, I just really enjoyed designing and wanted to make clothing which didn’t look like a garish billboard as some surf brands do. I always knew if I was going to take the plunge with the company that the clothes would have to be produced in the most sustainable way possible and guarantee that those manufacturing the clothes were treated with dignity and paid fairly. I wanted to make responsibly sourced clothes more accessible to the everyday consumer. Plus, I wanted to be my own boss so I can travel and surf whenever I want.
The name Gnarly Tree comes from the shape of Chichester Harbour’s many inlets and channels which when looked at from google maps resembles a gnarled old tree. But it also represents the life of those passionate about the outdoors, like a gnarled tree battered and bent by all the elements around it our lives are influenced by tides, swells, winds and snowfall. We, like the Gnarly Tree, are shaped by nature.
How do you source your materials?
After a lot of research we found a great supplier who is affiliated with the Fair Wear Foundation, a non-profit organisation that works with companies and factories to improve labour conditions for garment workers. They use the highest quality organic cotton and their factories are regularly monitored and graded by the Fair Wear Foundation to ensure the manufacturing process is indeed ethical.
What has been the most difficult part about creating your own ethical and sustainable clothing brand?
The hardest part is the question above – guaranteeing that the production of the clothing is ethical. As I said, we have a great supplier affiliated with the FWF but as we look to expand as a company and broaden our product line it is difficult to find the accountability which the FWF provides. Many manufacturers have ethical policies but use wishy washy statements such as ‘we will never knowingly use materials or products made by child labour/sweat shops etc’ . These types of policy do not inspire confidence that manufacturers are asking the difficult questions of their supply chain.
What would you say to someone who thinks about running their own business?
Go for it. You never know until you try, its a scary step but its never been easier to start a business and it might save you from a 9-5 office job!
What’s next for Gnarly tree? Where would you like it to go?
We’re currently working on a great looking winter line which will be available very soon, though not before a little surf trip to France in the van! We’re also looking to get into a few local shops and to keep spreading the word about Gnarly Tree’s ethical threads. One day we’ll be on the high street and it will seem obvious that it’s not okay for children to make you cheap clothing!
How would you describe you relation with the ocean?
This is a difficult one to answer without rehashing tired cliches or sounding like Bodhi from Point Break. I love the ocean, I’ve been around it my whole life and it always makes everything better! The south coast of the UK may not be the North Shore of Oahu but I’m lucky to be so close to the sea and a surfable coast – I definitely feel slightly claustrophobic when I’m landlocked.
You can check all their clothes here : www.gnarlytreeclothing.co.uk