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Disruptive Suppliers Giving Big Business Boost Towards Achieving Sustainability Goals

Rapanui printed limited edition t-shirts for Brita's 'Don't Be a Waster' campaign. | Image credit: Brita

Isle of Wight-based ethical apparel startup Rapanui has come a long way since its conception in 2009, when brothers Rob and Mart Drake-Knight launched with a mere £200. Now, with almost a decade of experience under its belt, Rapanui is helping other UK businesses achieve their sustainability goals.

Each year, businesses in the UK spend an average of £120 per employee on uniforms and promo wear. While often overlooked, company apparel offers a significant area in which companies can reduce impacts. In addition to using organic fabrics made in ethically accredited, wind-powered factories, Rapanui created unique, interactive traceability maps that allow consumers to see where their clothing comes from and how it is made. The traceability tool was a hit with customers, but the startup soon realized its potential for procurement professionals.

“It’s not that people don’t care about this stuff, it’s just super hard to know what is the right choice when you can’t see where stuff comes from or how it’s made,” said James Gray of Rapanui. “It turns out that many buyers out there experience this frustration every day. We’ve been delighted to help them achieve their goals by supplying more sustainable products at accessible prices.”

The last part, affordability, is where Rapanui shines. In addition to commanding industrial volume price breaks to pass on to the UK market, the startup has heavily invested in manufacturing technology to automate large parts of the printing process. The efficiencies absorb the normally higher cost of being a certified organic company, making the products competitive with basic, low value merchandise.

Through its subsidiary, uktshirtprinting.com, businesses choose Rapanui as their wholesale supplier, thereby ensuring that their promo wear and uniforms are printed on organic, sustainable and responsibly produced materials. The best part? It’s economical for both small businesses and companies of scale — Rapanui offers short runs of 1–50, as well as bulk orders — making sustainability an easy and accessible option for all. Brita is one of the big-name brands to have both tapped the forward-thinking startup for the production of promo wear, printing limited-edition t-shirts for the company's 'Dont Be a Waster' campaign.

“The sum of marginal gains across the technology aspect of our business is what makes it possible to produce ethically made, yet highly competitive printed promo wear and uniforms for the UK’s top businesses and charities,” Gray said.

The company’s use of organic cotton and renewable energy to power their factories give the purchasing business a quantifiable CO2 reduction figure and a strong sustainability story to tell. Co-founder Mart Drake Knight revealed to Sustainable Brands that, according to the company’s Sustainable Clothing Action Plan footprint, carbon emissions are estimated to be approximately 80 percent lower from the use of renewable energy and organic materials, while a Carbon Trust report based on the same overseas supplier found emissions to be reduced by nearly 90 percent from 6.5 kg to 0.65 kg for a men’s large white t-shirt.

“We think this reflects the growing awareness that simply burying your head in the sand on sustainability is no longer acceptable to consumers,” Gray said. “Businesses know we must take responsibility for our supply chains. At uktshirtprinting.com, we’re looking forward to continuing to help share the progress we’ve made with businesses looking to do something about sustainability in the UK.”


Launched in 2006, Sustainable Brands has become a global learning, collaboration, and commerce community of forward-thinking business and brand strategy, marketing, innovation and sustainability professionals who are leading the way to a better future. We recognize that brands today have… [Read more about Sustainable Brands]