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  • Writer's pictureBethan Lloyd

My ECO STORIES with AW Hainsworth

Updated: Jul 11, 2022

Welcome to My ECO STORIES, our interview series, where we chat to different fashion and textile industry practitioners about their thoughts on sustainability and the future of fashion.

We spoke with Julie Roberts from textile specialist Hainsworth. An iconic market leader established in 1783, weaving British heritage at their woollen mill in West Yorkshire for apparel, costume, and interiors. Hainsworth is responsible for the look of iconic England all the way back to the scarlet uniforms of the battle of Waterloo.

Can you talk a bit about the mill and its heritage?

A fully vertical woollen mill, we manufacture our cloth onsite, using the best possible fibres and our water supply. We carefully select only the best quality fleeces from Australia and New Zealand, matching the fleece and fibre qualities to the end use of the fabric, ensuring a stunning finish that no other mill can match.

The collaboration of Hainsworth's heritage and the world of modern design ensures beautifully structured garments that make a lasting impression, with a quality and appearance that never fades or dulls. The stunning and true colour palette offered by Hainsworth is utilised by designers crafting not only garments but statement pieces. Many famous images used worldwide to celebrate Great Britain are from Hainsworth cloth, including the Striking Scarlet of the Royal Guards, the ceremonial uniforms worn by the Royal Family during state occasions and the military uniforms worn during the Charge of the Light Brigade.

We are proud to work with all levels within the fashion industry, all the way from students to global fashion houses and every business in between. Our cloth is regularly seen on the world's most famous catwalks as well as in the work of small luxury brands and aspiring designer collections.

What does sustainability mean to the company?

True sustainability is a complete 360-degree effort; we take the responsibility to the current and future generations seriously. Perhaps because we are a family business, this view comes more naturally to us than most. As a family business, we have always followed an ethos of fairness and equality and a commitment to the environment and the community. The company was naturally aligned with the ever-growing requirement for sustainability before the growing demands from our markets. It is about operating a model that renews rather than depletes resources, balances the will for growth with the need to conserve and that provides stability whilst adjusting rapidly to changing market conditions. Acknowledging that decisions have an impact and that you can choose to make these positive or negative on people, communities, and the environment.

It is about being mindful when making decisions and constantly asking, "Is this the right thing to do? What is the impact of this choice? How can we balance and give back?"

How does the company make its practice sustainable?

Our sustainability activities aim to support the communities in which we operate while satisfying the necessities and ensuring that our customers receive only the best products and services. We believe that acting responsible regarding sustainability strengthens our company, encourages growth and is the base for Hainsworth to remain a successful independent family business for generations to come.

Our diverse approach to sustainability not only covers the more obvious environmental issues but has a significant focus on people and communities. Education and opportunity combined with a work-life balance opens doors to individuals finding their own path to achieving sustainability.

What responsibilities do you feel the mill has to the environment, and how do you activate these?

Hainsworth has fully committed to multiple projects to protect our environment and future generations' resources. As a business, we have established an Environmental Team to ensure this remains a priority. As a genuinely vertical mill, we are uniquely positioned to minimise our carbon footprint, processing our product from raw fibre to finished cloth entirely onsite. This means that the environmental impact is vastly within our control to improve and perfect, with minimal miles applied to the product.

As a business, we apply a five-tier approach to waste management. This enables us to assess opportunities to reduce waste, not only for ourselves but also for our customers to improve their sustainability credentials. We have implemented numerous environmental activities such as the reduction of plastics within our mill, improved wood and card recycling, lighting efficiency as well as investing in new machinery to reduce energy consumption and emissions. As a textile manufacturer, we do use chemicals within our production process. We comply with all REACH regulations to always ensure safety and minimal environmental impact.

Outside our production responsibilities, we have added green areas to mill grounds. We started with a space for chickens and ducks where colleagues could access fresh eggs and take family members to feed the animals. Allotments were introduced for colleagues to grow their own vegetables, and more recently we have taken the step to add beehives to support the global bee population.

Can you elaborate on the company's social responsibility practices?

As a family-owned business, Hainsworth is mindful of interacting with local and global communities to set an example for the long-term benefit of the communities we touch and our business. Our strategy for interaction with society is based on respect, support, and education. Creating opportunities and delivering a positive environment for generations to come. Our critical social focuses are on expanding knowledge, strengthening our local region, creating prospects for those internally and externally, respecting our local community and offering access to affordable housing; we have multiple projects running to support these aims.

The company supplies for various industries; what do you think makes your wool such a versatile and timeless fabric?

Wool is a naturally occurring and sustainable fibre. It has multiple inherent benefits that cannot be matched by any artificial fibre, which makes it the perfect fibre for many different industries. It is renewable, recyclable and biodegradable. Wool is naturally durable, dirt-repellent, and anti-microbial; it also absorbs contaminants or air pollutants, it will not re-emit them, even when heated. It has been estimated that a wool carpet combined with wool interiors such as curtains and furniture can help purify the air for 30 years. It is inherently flame retardant and has a far higher ignition threshold than many other fibres, will not melt and stick to the skin, causing burns, and produces less noxious fumes that cause death in fire situations. Wool is naturally anti-static – it generates very little static electricity because of the qualities of its natural fibres. Static attracts lint, dirt, and dust, so its anti-static properties keep it much cleaner for longer. The list of benefits goes on and on.

For garments, wool resists wrinkles – like a spring; it has a natural crimp that allows it to return to its natural shape even after being stretched by up to 30%. Its complex coiled structure gives it remarkable resilience against becoming flat and hard, so you can count on wool to keep its shape. It reduces the opportunity for odours to develop because it quickly absorbs perspiration and evaporates it into the air. Unlike synthetic fabrics, wool does not retain odours and will freshen just from airing out. In addition, the outer layer of wool fibres has a high concentration of fatty acids, which have anti-bacterial properties.

What advice would you give to someone starting a responsible brand?

Research, investigate and stay close to your suppliers, understand who they are and how they work, ensure that your principles are aligned, ensure that your intentions and messaging are clear and authentic and that there is no hidden greenwashing in your supply chain that can undermine you should it come to light. Stay true to your beliefs, don't compromise on your standards, and ensure you know your target customer inside out!

What is your hope for the future of fashion and textiles?

We support the Slow Fashion movement, which is about the entire supply chain, from fibre to consumer, making the conscious decision to design, manufacture and consume fashion in a manner that connects environmental, ethical, and social responsibility and results in beautiful, well-made garments that last. Garments that bring true pleasure through their quality and thoughtful manufacture that remain in wardrobes as perfectly wearable for generations.

We hope these principles become widely understood and adopted throughout the industry and by consumers.

Written by Bethan and Julie @theecostories

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