#19 | Katherine Maunder - Thread Tales: Champion of Ethical Fashion through Sustainable Practices

In this episode of Sustainability Matters Today, I interview Katherine Maunder, Founder of Threadtales and #Champion of Ethical Fashion through Sustainable Practices.

Thread Tales is a luxury fashion brand that creates scarves, travel wraps and Kaftans using environmentally-sound fabrics.

Katherine is passionate about handcrafted raw materials to create unique designs, so she chose to make many of Thread Tales’ pieces out of their signature Lotus flower fabric.

The Lotus flower grows naturally in lakes in Myanmar and benefits from harvesting, which helps the crop renew each season.The clothes are then produced in Nepal using zero electricity, zero waste, and zero chemicals.

 

Thread Tales were recently awarded the Butterfly Mark by Positive Luxury for their company-wide commitment to strong environmental principles.

 

Please make sure to subscribe to the Sustainability Matters Today podcast to learn more about other sustainability champions like Katherine.

 

I hope you enjoy the episode!

Daniel: I'm joined by Katherine Maunder, co-founder and designer of Thread Tales. Thank you so much for joining me Katherine.

 

Katherine: No problem. Thanks for having me!

 

Daniel: The reason I want to speak with you is that from what I've seen in Thread Tales is a unique luxury fashion brand because what you do is you value ethics and the environment first and we'll talk about what other companies do and how the industry works in general. But I think this ethos really translates into something that I found really interesting, which is the fact that you're one of the very few brands to use the lotus flower to make your garments. So, lots to unpack there. And I'd love if you could just give us some context and level set just by providing a little bit of background on what exactly is Thread Tales?

 

Katherine: Sure! Yeah! So, Thread Tales really began because I was working in Fast Fashion. And I was dismayed with the way that the suppliers are being treated and working to impossible margins being pushed to the point where they could barely operate. I experienced it first time for many years. My career in Fast Fashion was probably the last six years of my career. And it really pushed me towards making a decision internally that if I could find a way to do something more meaningful and more purposeful in my career, I think I would jump on that opportunity. So, it began really with my mother, it sounds a bit strange, but she was my inspiration. She's always been a very inspiring lady who travels to remote parts of the world and trains birthing systems to reduce mortality rates in countries such as Mongolia, Myanmar. And she travels long distances to serve and help and train these women. And she's 70 now and she's still doing it. And she's incredibly strong, motivated, determined, generous woman who also happens to brought me up in nature and appreciating nature.

 

So, there's two values have been very sort of embedded in me from when I was very young. And really, the moment which came to me, why I decided to start Thread Tales was simply that she found this amazing fabric in remote communities in Myanmar where they weave the fabric out of lotus flower. So, it basically, well, I claim it's the most sustainable out there in the world simply because it is every process and every part of the production of that piece of fabric is actually hand produced. The fabric itself has an amazing spiritual story behind it, which really, really intrigued me. So, they basically believe in that spiritual property. As you know, the lotus flower is a very spiritual flower. And of course, you know, the Buddhist culture believes in it - spiritual sort of powers almost. So, therefore, they actually regard it as a sacred piece, which they would donate to the high-ranking monks in the Buddhist culture.

 

Daniel: That is the actual fabric

 

Katherine: That's actual cloth. The finished fabric. So obviously, the fabric is made from stems, hand extracted, hands-on, handwoven and everything about the process of this material is produced by hand. And then the end result is this beautiful fabric that is in it’s actual form. It’s very actually soft to touch. It's kind of like a cross between a linen and a raw silk, if you can imagine that. And me being a bit of a fabric geek and having been very frustrated working in fashion for many years, looking at polyesters and horrible fabrics, I just fell in love with the fabric and the story and the values behind the fabric and everything about the actual meaning and the purpose of fabric itself and made me - drove me to decide to set Thread Tales. And so, that was the simple sort of light bulb moment that came through this fabric that my mum bought back one of her trips.

 

Daniel: Yeah, that’s a cool way to get started. It such an amazing story in terms of – am sure just working with it, it has so much history, not just for you but for the culture as well, which is really powerful I think. To go back, you mentioned sustainable, our most sustainable fabrics. I'd love to go down that rabbit hole a little bit more. In order to provide a bit of context in terms of why Thread Tales is so special, could you let us know a little bit about what exactly is the Fast Fashion? And you mentioned polyester. There is much more to it than just the tools or the fabric used?

 

Katherine: Absolutely! And essentially, it's a business model that was created by essentially following trends off the catwalk and getting them onto the shop floor as quickly as cheap as possible without any consideration for the people or the planet. So that would probably be, you know, a simple summary of it.

 

Many collections are produced a year in order to keep up the trends, and that the price is key. Obviously, the low price, you know, the more competitive you're going to be. So constantly, being pushed on price in terms of the supplier base and fabric doesn't come into it really. It's just about getting that look across. So like I mentioned the polyester, that's probably a big percentage of the collections that you see on the high streets which is obviously in terms of its sustainability is probably, you know, apart from cotton, one of the worst fibers you could possibly make clothes out of so many reasons.

 

Daniel: Interesting! What's exactly about it is, in terms of Fast Fashion in general, what’s the negative impact on the environment?

 

Katherine: Well, apart from creating so many tons of fabric and garments that then just get worn a few times discarded, the landfill issue is one issue. And obviously, using a lot of manmade fibers means that none of these fabrics actually break down or, you know, biodegrade. So, you know, there'll be, in our planet for years to come and wouldn't be but breaking down. And polyester itself and sheds microplastics into the wash.

 

So, it’s also, a big issue in terms of the fabrics that get used. And it's just, this whole mindset that the society now has through the introduction of, you know, this quick fix is that they expect it now and they want it and if it's not there, then, they'll be frustrated because they're so used to being able to find things quickly and be able to look hot without any consideration for the people of the planets, basically.

 

Daniel: I read some as well that the Fast Fashion, perhaps this was what you’re saying, is because of those very intense deadlines. I mean sometimes there’s a new fashion comes out every week, like spreads them I think on average. So, in terms of how much work needs to be done in order to meet those expectations. Not only as the environment we lived in ends up being polluted. It's also really bad for the people working in it.

 

Katherine: Absolutely! Yeah! I mean, at the end of the day, to achieve those prices, you know for some of the very cheap high street brands that we know, you would be looking at £5 T-shirt, there's no way that can be produced by paying a fair wage as we know. And the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh was one of the examples of how the workers are being unfairly treated in terms of the safety of their environment they work in, you know, the hours they're working, the money they’re been paid to produce those goods. None of this is taken into consideration and I've experienced it firsthand from traveling around the world.

 

So I know firsthand what it's really like. So it pushed me more and more to want to do something which took into consideration the ethics in the environment of my business.

 

Daniel: Yeah! So, I think that's such a greater dovetail into how is Thread Tales different from that sad, great picture - what’s the colorful, bright one that Thread Tales?

 

Katherine: Obviously, we're doing our bit. You know, it's a small bit, but it's everything helps towards creating a more positive planet, of course, you know. So, we obviously use natural fibers, which is very important to us in terms of the fact that they can biodegrade. So therefore, the lotus was the beginning of the journey. But the fabrics and fibers we’ve introduced since are sustainably sourced and we use many different fibers. I mean, cashmere is obviously one of them. And it can the most contentious of the natural fibers. So, the issue with cashmere can be that it's become like, not even like an expensive luxury item anymore because it a 70-pound jumper is out there in the market. So therefore, the quality of the cashmere has been reduced and the demand for it is increasing. So therefore, the grasslands are being depleted. And actually, it comes from a goat if people aren't aware. It's actually in Mongolia where the cashmere comes from and it's from a certain goat and it's a certain climate that you know that the goat lived in that produces you know the best cashmere.

 

Daniel: Pashmina goat, right?

 

Katherine: Yes, there is pashmina goat, says all different breeders, even a cashmere goat.

 

Daniel: I just found out about that and I was really excited about I don't know why. It’s just so funny to me that it was a goat. I always thought it was a sheep.

 

Katherine: No, until you actually really study these things, you don't realize. But cashmere itself obviously, is luxury noble fiber, which should be treated that way. And you know, it was always a luxury fiber. Unfortunately, the high-street again have got their hands on it because it says such a popular fiber now to get that sort of mid-price luxury that it's become no longer a valuable commodity.

 

So we intend to use what we – we can only use certified cashmere and suppliers. And essentially, what that means is that number one is that the herders are treated fairly and paid a fair wage. Number two, the flocks, the herds of goats treated kindly because obviously they're being herded around the grasslands and it's how they're treated, and how, in terms of the medical attention they get if they need it, in terms of how their combs for their fur which is not thorn like a sheep. It's actually combed. It’s the soft long hair that's used for the cashmere. So obviously, it's how they comb them. It's also how they manage the grasslands. So, it's about rotating the herds. Once one grass on there has been depleted to some extent and it needs to be rested, and then it needs to be moved to another pasture.

 

And whereas, some companies would just let them roam and they would never manage that side of it. So I guess you know, knowing that the companies you use, do you have all those, you know, practices in place basically means you're getting cashmere that's fairly sourced. So that's one thing. There's lots of stories behind all the fibers we use. We can talk hours it.

 

Daniel: I think it's worth going through some of the other ones, because you said cashmere is the most contentious and I think based on some of the other ones that you use, it's probably the least. I would say perhaps interesting or maybe eclectic.

 

Katherine: Really, it’s such a common fiber now.

 

Daniel: Right exactly! And what are some of those other ones that you’re using?

 

Katherine: We also use the Museling-free Merino wool, and Merino was becoming incredibly popular now in, particularly in the format square because it's got such great antibacterial properties and the regulation of temperature. But we didn't realize until we started sourcing it that actually, I mean, the sheep actually are mostly Australia from Merino wool. The normal practice is to remove the strips of the high end of the sheet without any anesthetic to prevent fly strike. So fly strike can be a big problem in terms of producing enough walls because it prevents the sheet from producing the wall they need. So, we prefer to source Museling-free Merino basically doesn't use that core practice. Obviously, it's a bit more tense in terms of the farming it needs to be. They need to be washed more regularly and cared for more carefully. But in the end, under special diets can prevent fly strike as well, but it's more costly. So that's why it's not such a common and Merino will find in the market. So we have to search for, it's not easy to find.

 

Daniel: So some of the other fabrics we used which I find very interesting are camel and yak.

 

Katherine: Yeah. Again, it's not that popular at the moment, but I mean, for me, it's much more interesting in cashmere. It has an incredible hand feel like you've never felt, particular from the sources we buy from in the Mongolia.

 

Daniel: These are most camels and yaks exactly.

 

Katherine: Yeah. And again, it's the soft underbelly that they comb. So again, there's no sharing of all of your course. You wouldn't share a camel anyway, but they have a very long soft underbelly that naturally sheds at times, certain times of the year, which is then collected. So yes, it's quite a high price yarn for that reason to know if it's not being produced in big quantities at the moment. But for me, it's like a luxury premium parts of our collection. And to add to the appeal, we actually hadn't spin it as well, which means that it has a beautiful texture and it also gives them another income - to actually ladies who I've only really trained in spinning, they're not weavers. They often work on the farmland, you know, when in the right season and then they'll come into the workshops to spin. So, it's an extra income for them as well. So, we like it for that reason.

 

Daniel: Yeah! That’s a good way to support the local community. And I guess moving over to really be kind of crown jewel, I suppose of Thread Tales to the lotus flower, because I think the lotus flower is, I mean, I can understand camel, yak, it’s a big hairy animals that are have to stay warm in pretty extreme climates. But to think of a scarf made from a flower actually like the flower of a water lily, I think is pretty unique. I was watching some videos on how they make it. Can you tell us a little bit about the lotus flower itself and why? How it works? Because until I sort of saw the process, I couldn't really understand what exactly what's going on?

 

Katherine: And it grows in abundance in certain parts of Myanmar in the lakes and actually parts of Asia as well such as Cambodia and Vietnam. And it grows to a very tall length during the rainy season, when the water levels are particularly high. It grows to quite some length. It can be two meters even. And literally, the lakes are washed with pink flowers. So, if you can imagine the site. It's an incredible site and it's a great flower itself because it's not just the stems, which obviously is where the fiber comes from for the fabric, but there's actually a lot of other uses for the flower itself, which is why it's such a sustainable material in it, you know, from the raw material itself. You can pick sample, there's medicinal uses for the actual seed heads. If you can imagine the seed head is actually what you would see in like a potpourri. It’s very young.

 

Daniel: Oh yes. Actually, I will share the screen here, just so we can get. And this is the pink flowers you're talking about here. We're just on the threadtalescompany.com website

 

Katherine: Yeah!

 

Daniel: For the people who are not watching this on YouTube. So, I'll just briefly describe this. There's basically a man or there's a person on a long boat standing on the very edge, like at the very front, like a surfboard. Never understood how they balanced, but in any event, and this person is surrounded by blooming pink for whatever reason. I mean, it’s incredible. And so, you were saying that part of the flower, and I know exactly what you're talking about. My mom has had the same potpourri for like higher life and I've seen these little, I've always wondered what they look like, almost like they're kind of flat and sort of like.

 

Katherine: Like craters.

 

Daniel: Yeah, exactly!

 

Katherine: They’ve got seeds in them that have amazing properties, medicinal properties. I mean, I have to say, I wouldn't be the expert on exactly what they cure, but they certainly do have properties. And the roots,  I also used to eat, in fact I had and was served beautiful Korean cashmere when I was working with my voyageurs there from the lotus roots, which was delicious. The leaves themselves are used to put rice in, you know, instead of plates.

 

So, in fact, you know, and people may say it was bad to pick flowers, but actually, you know, there's so many uses these flowers. And it's not like they don't regrow back very quickly. So I think for that reason it's a very sustainable crop and it doesn't use fertilizers. It grows naturally. So, it's basically picked by hand. And as you can see down, if you scroll down, there's a picture of the fiber coming out. And I do this by hand, so you can actually watch this in the workshop. And there's somebody jobs just to do that.

 

 

Daniel: Yeah! We'll link to this video, it's incredible. I mean in terms of what we're looking at here on the screen, it's basically, the stem of the flower is cut and by a like a knife or a razor and then when you pull it apart, it looks like almost like spider web.

 

Kathrine: Yeah, exactly!

 

Daniel: The strength spider web.

 

Katherine: They've got amazing structure to it and actually which is again, you know, scientific thing which sometimes goes a bit. Over my head because I’m not a scientist, but it is incredible. Yeah

 

Daniel: Is it a very strong material?

 

Katherine: Yeah, it is actually. I mean, it's got great properties in it. I mean, whether you want to believe this or not actually. One of the things is they actually let you wear it and you get rid of all sorts of illnesses, headaches and lung issues and they genuinely walk around with loads wrapped around and whenever they feel sick.

 

Daniel: Okay. They must be something to it

 

Katherine: Yeah. But I mean I think, you know it is reasonably childproof as well, which is something you wouldn't expect from a fabric that looks like a linen and it doesn't really stain very easily. It's very breathable. So I think there's lots of good qualities to it as a fabric. There's obviously been a lot of talk of hemp for many years, but actually, hemp is actually quite a scratchy core fabric. When you feel it and this is not, and it really does feel and more you wear it, the softer it gets. And there's two grades actually as well, which is something quite interesting because when I first went to Myanmar, it was the first time I met the workshop owner, he was showing me what we would call the tourists grade. So they were putting it out for people coming around the workshop.

 

And then at some point on my second or third trip, that was when they believe that I was serious about this business. You know, they went up to the rafters of the – because they're like huts on stilts that they work from the looms are all in these amazing wooden huts. They went up and picked, what would they call the monk and the Royal quality which is much finer than the tourist grade. So we call it the monk and the Royal. Although unfortunately, the Royal is not something that can be trademarks. I believe that it's enough to be name brand and it's a very much more superior quality. It's fine. It's more, you know, they stay, they work it by hand more. They spin it more. They soak it in rice for longer to soften it, which is another thing that they do to get it to that quality. We were really happy of that quality at some point during our relationship

 

Daniel: Yeah, Well, it must feel good to know that they trust you enough to show you basically the stuff in the back.

 

Katherine: Yeah

 

Daniel: In terms of process, in terms of what makes the difference between the monk/royal fabric and the tourist grade, is that mostly about how they processed it or is it actually different types of flowers?

 

Katherine: Yeah! I know it's also to do with the length of the stem I believe, and the time of the year that is picked and the time exactly that is picked. Yeah

 

Daniel: Interesting! Yeah! And how is it easy to work with?

 

Katherine: It's not actually that easy because, I mean, the issue we had with work in Myanmar is a bit of a long story, but it was really unfortunate that that they're not used to working with the Western consumer and the quality and the detail that we require for a luxury brand. So when we were weaving with them, it was taking a lot of time to get the consistent width and the fabrics, for example. Just, you know, things that are important to us, but they may not be used to having those quality issues. So we actually now - I've taken the yarn and we work with it in Nepal - which is where the next story comes in the business. Now, we obviously, you know, had our beginning, which was the lotus, but we were certainly aware that to create a business that was going to be, eventually,  one that could,  have some long standing sort of future. We had to find other weavers that were more in tune to the Western, and I guess, and the quality that is required of that. So I went on a sourcing platform, which is actually to sort called Common Objective, which is the source ethical bias and connect like-minded businesses.

 

Daniel: You said what is called?

 

Katherine: A Common Objective.

 

Daniel: Common Objective, okay.

 

Katherine: And basically, this particular company just jumped out at me from the list of many, many, you know, ethical companies that were on the list, mostly India based, actually fair trade, Indian sort of factories. With this lady who was just a very small workshop in Nepal, who was Italian and she'd been working for social enterprise out in Katmandu for a period of time. And she'd fall in love with textiles and the hand weaving process. And she was very keen to stay. Actually, she made a decision, she wasn't going back to London, which is where she was based originally to invest all of her savings in buying loons to give these people a livelihood again, because actually the textile, the weaving industry has had a decline over the years because of the mass production of cotton essentially.

 

And her idea was that she wants to introduce luxury fibers into hand-weaving and work with them to create a business with actually commercial and would appeal to Western customers. So she bought the looms. She put all her savings into it and she trains them all up to, or has supported them in terms of training them to understand how to work in a business. And she's now 30 people strong and she's an incredible, like you've never met someone that so passionate and given her life to something that's actually very challenging. You know, it's not an easy path to take in life. She tells me sort of stories.

 

But also just trying to work with a different culture, that don't understand, you know, deadlines and very relaxed about everything and you know, just trying to gradually would make them understand, you know, that if you want to have a sustainable vacation, you have to work hard, you have to put all the effort in. And so, I think she's been really, the turning point with Thread Tales because she – and I just completely aligned with our business values in terms of, she was like me only wants to work with natural fibers. She uses eco dye source from Switzerland, from a big company that actually produce probably, you know, 20% of the dyes in the world now. And obviously, there's a big debate, the synthetic dyes versus vegetable dyes. If you want to be 100% sustainable.

 

Myself and a partner in Nepal decided that actually we want to use the eco dyes, which are a synthetic based side. But the difference being that they are free from harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde and harrmful metals such as lead and zinc. And actually, there's some carcinogenic chemicals in the normal standardize as well. So, I think for us, it the most that have the association of which there are two main ones got as one and then archetypes, which is another one. We made sure that we worked with those dyes. So only those dyes, and I've worked very hard to create a collection that is moving these traditional look of textiles forward in a modern way, but still, you know, embracing the old culture, tradition and heritage of that, you know, their weaving, which is different in every country in the world. There's many countries that still have this amazing craft and many companies will try and embrace it.

 

But I think the key is just, you know, putting a modern take on it, but still remaining with a traditional heritage and understanding that these weavers, they're actually artists themselves,  so it's a collaboration and that's the key really to the success of the businesses so that they feel like they have a purpose, and they feel like they're achieving something in life. So that's really where my passion just fall into place because it's textiles, you know, what it means for them as well. You know, it's really what drives me every day. And the same for my partner in Nepal, we have moments where we literally could cry when we’re working together, but we always pull through and we just have a brilliant relationship. And to me, that's key to a successful business. And that’s how businesses should be built really.

 

Daniel: You need to trust partners. You need to work with people who you know that they will do the right thing even if they're not checking in with you. And that trust is absolutely critical. And so, does this partner, is she the one who actually takes all of the yarns from these different sources and then actually puts together the pieces that you end up?

 

Katherine: Exactly! So, she takes my designs. So everything is individually designed. And she helped innovative yarns for me. And she's the one that is also driven to try new things as well. So she's always up for challenge, which is great because we are trying to carve ourselves a niche in the market for being pioneers in innovative yarn. And I mean, I've just been recently been to a textile fair in Italy for that reason to see what is happening in the markets. Always be on top of what the new, innovative, sustainable yarns are in the market right now and what's happening and everyone's trying to improve from what I can see. But I think it's just down to the consumer now really to be prepared to pay the extra price, which is always the hot topic in sustainable fashion.

 

Daniel: Indeed! And we'll get to price in a minute, because I think it's a really important - it's a crucial topic actually because that ultimately does affect a lot of things. And just to give some context before we go there, in terms of the sustainability fashion. And we've talked a lot about the various sources you get it from and lotus and yak and camel and cashmere and goats and so on. And I think one of the things that at least I would be proud of if I were in your shoes or in your scarf, so to speak, would be to have the butterfly mark by positive luxury as a brand to trust. And so, what is this? it's literally just like, it's a little butterfly, that sits on top of the product. What does that indicate?

 

Katherine: I think the consumers need confidence in the company that they're doing what they're saying. They're doing in terms of, you know, there's a lot of greenwashing out there and that is a big problem right now in terms of sustainable fashion. Everyone's jumping on the bandwagon because it's the end thing. But with cost of luxury, you'll get given or allocated host of actions based on rigorous assessments from their side. And you get this slight interrupted butterfly mark that you can click on and see office deductions. So when you go to products, I mean we haven't embedded all the butterfly mark into our website yet, but when we do, you'll be able to click and see the positive actions of those particular pieces.

 

Daniel: Per piece

 

Katherine: It’s more per collection or fabric, you know, so yeah, it's more and more specific to that, but it's basically giving the customers and confidence in your transparency and it's, for that reason, it's great to havea business logical.

 

Daniel: Yeah. I think that's really important because that ties into the question I was asking earlier about how can a consumer you know, make the right choice. And I guess aside from the brand telling their story and you mentioned greenwashing, which I think is a challenge for many consumers who – I went to a sustainable wine tasting yesterday and one of the things I ended up learning is that there are organic vineyards that are actually producing wine in a way that's more environmentally destructive, then wineries aren't actually organic labeled. But the producer cares a lot and just never got the label. And so, it gets, as soon as I heard that just, it just got extremely complicated in my mind. How do I actually pick the correct choice? And so, not that organic is greenwashing, but a mark like the butterfly mark I think is really important to give a signal to consumers that they actually know where to go.

 

Katherine: Exactly!

 

Daniel: And so, out of curiosity, cause this was something that I imagine some of the listeners may be thinking it's a bit of a devil's advocate question in terms of sourcing materials locally versus from kind of the other side of the world, so to speak, is do you ever get this question of is it more sustainable to actually source, I mean, you said you're based in near Oxford in the UK. Isn't it more sustainable to source perhaps sheet that are wolfram sheets that are down the road, for example, than to go to Australia or Myanmar or other part?

 

Katherine: Yeah, I mean there's always going to be the argument of course, but our business was built on supporting communities and those communities happened to be in third world countries. And you know, we want you to help raise those communities. So for that reason, yes we are having to ship our products miles.  It is not, you know, the ultimate situation. But then again, I think the other argument is that, within a product with so many different components, and actually even if you had to produce from the UK, not all of your products are necessarily going to be coming from UK because there's not just, there's the yarn obviously before it gets spun. So if you look at companies up in Scotland products who are producing all products and have been percent you know, family tradition of 20 or so years, they are actually, I think they have their binary on, cashmere from China, but then they're finishing them in the UK.

 

So yeah. And it's the same with the Italian thing, you know, the big brands, luxury brands are manufacturing in China, but then finishing them in Italy, like finishing by putting labels and details, you know, not actually manufacturing the whole piece. So I think, we have to be honest about these things and also there is the trims and the labels to consider the packaging, so yeah, it's a challenge. I mean, it's never going to be perfect, but I think we just have to focus on what our values are and what we are achieving and be positive about that. And the thing we'd obviously do with shifting is that we offset with carbon footprints, which is something we can do at least obviously plant as many trees as possible.

 

The other big thing really is to make the point that we might, we're trying and working towards them, combining shipments. So as we grow, inevitably we will introduce probably another workshop at some point. So we're just sampling, with another workshop, which we - I traveled to Nepal many times to assess myself personally. We might eventually want to combine shipments so that we don't shiptwo shipments. So there is being more careful with the amount of shipments that the ship you do, that’s reducing the packaging when you shit, which is also something we're working on. And then there's the other big point really, which I don't think we've covered, which is that we make to demand essentially by being products, it's handwoven. Essentially, we're not over producing. We make quite small conceives and small runs of things.

 

And that's the beauty of hand-waving. It's not, you know, you don't have to work to high minimums, like big factories. You can see what works and test it and be sure that you're not producing, and if we do, we actually turn it into something else. So I think, it's another topic to cover, but it's a zero waste aspect of the business, which we're working hard to improve on every year. So, yeah, I mean that would be my argument for working overseas rather than locally, but I think, you know, there will be a time when we probably will look at some local weavers in Scotland or Ireland or so many amazing small enterprises around that we could certainly look into do things

 

Daniel: Like you mentioned zero waste and I think that's plus making to order is another really important player when you make to order - there's a lot less waste. The waste that you do have, first of all, you reduce it a lot and what is it exactly that you are doing to prevent that?

 

Katherine: So, the first step which I will just simply take in the ends of the loom, the fabric which get cut off, the off cuts basically and turning them into tussles. So just a simple thing, but it's just a little extra that we like to do to keep the waste to a minimum. And then next season we decided that we would, because there's obviously going to be some pieces that rejected in production, and it has to be, I liked, we liked the beauty of imperfection, but if there's an actual floor that's going to cause a customer to return it, then we have to reject it. So therefore, we want to do something with those pieces that they rejected. So we decided we would turn them into headbands.

 

So, we've basically also given a local seamstress, he works from home an income and extra income as well. So, you know, all of these things benefit all around. So yeah, we've done that for this season. And we've also now I work on a project turning our fabric into notebooks with the local lock to paper, which is made from local lots of plants. And again, it's very sustainable paper and it's all handmade. And the local workshop that I've met and worked closely with. They have a connection with the workshop - the weaving workshop. So they both know each other and they work very well together. So we kind of connecting people, you know, which is also a nice thing connecting communities around the world. And the next most exciting project for me is the collaboration with the London College of Fashion which is going to be happening as of our first meeting with the students and my delegated team actually that have applied for the project and have been selected by myself to work on a zero waste project.

 

With that, they've been given a bit of a free rein on any wastage that we have. They'll be given free rein to turn it into something creative. And it might be another garment, it might be an interior, it might be taking a fibrin and putting it through a recycling process with a mill or you know, we don't know what their plans are, but we're giving them free creative rein essentially and it’s going to be really exciting.

 

And, you know, I also love to support the students and work with the students because this is - you can see there's a big change happening in the universities actually not just in London. I've seen it  in lots of investors around the world. But it's becoming a big thing now for the students to work with waste materials or dead stock or come up with you know, innovative solutions to the crisis that is fashion or fashion, particularly right now.

 

Daniel: And going back to the topic that we promised we talk about pricing of your products because this is an important part of the story. I know it something that you mentioned on your website in terms of the importance of the craftsmanship and the uniqueness of the product and how that ties into the price. Can you give us a little bit of context in terms of the pricing and the pieces and kind of how you got those numbers?

 

Katherine: Well, obviously, we’re using luxury yarns essentially, which are not cheap, number one. Number two is that we're handling them. Essentially, that's going to takeone, two days, even three days for a piece. So you put that into the equation, then you pay the workers a living wage and everyone across the chain, the living wage, if possible.

 

And therefore, you know, for the prices that we're charging that's necessary. You know, we have to charge this process, but we did always position ourselves at the luxury end of the market for that reason. Because, you know, we are going back to the traditional luxury business model, which was about crops and Artisan, you know, produce goods. And unfortunately, it become very much, hopefully, it will be going back to that way. There's a big movement back towards the crop, but it has some many years being about trends and mass production. So I guess for us, yes. It’s where we’re positioned in the market, the prices reflects that. But if you want to be sustainable, then, you know, there are, obviously the other ways of shopping other than going to fast fashion. So I think that's the key point. You come to us for something that you buy that's a lifetime piece – It’s to be treasured. Our strap line is actually ‘Wear something that means something”, so I think that's key. If you buy it because it means something to you, you'll treasure it and it will last a lifetime because the quality is so important to us as a brand. So I think, you're investing in a piece basically. So, if you want to fix the fashion, I guess buy a secondhand or upcycle or do it in other ways. That would be my personal advice.

 

Daniel: Yeah! I think it makes sense. I mean, it's like you said, it's an investment, when a scarf is a couple of hundred pounds. You really think about it? It's not just kind of a purchase that you make sort of Willynilly and just think, “Oh, I need a scarf, here's one”. You'll really consider it and because of that price level, you'll really think how do I take care of this, like you said, it's an important piece. It's a piece for a lifetime. And indeed, I think we were talking about this before we started. Since you're launching September 2017, it really is a lifetime product because you've only had three or four returns, and 40% of your business are repeat customers. So that's a really good testament to how it works. As far as next steps as we started to kind of start wrapping up here. First of all, you mentioned that you're doing some paper products which I think is really cool. I always carry a notebook.

 

Katherine: Oh, do you?

 

Daniel: Yeah! That's what I'm writing in right now. So perhaps, I can look into.

 

Katherine: Like it can be customize as well.

 

Daniel: Yeah, that's very nice indeed. And any other things that you're looking into as far as future products?

 

Katherine: Yeah, I mean, we are working on some bespoke projecrs as we speak. I think I'm very excited to being approached by companies who are looking for bespoke design work in terms of innovative yarns, sustainable yarns. So there's that side of the business which could be very exciting for us. And then there's the personalization and customization which is obviously, you know, something that is very popular right now, but also quite unique because we can actually hand embroider to customer request. We have an amazing family in cashmere and the moment which did our tiger scarf and our crane.

 

And it's a beautiful, very traditional cashmere type of embroidery, you know, the most delicate and soft and you can't even barely feel it in a fabric and it’s exquisite that we can do to custom’s orders or designs. And then obviously there's this product category. So, we're at the moment, we're pretty much focused on, we have been on scarves, wraps, caftans, some kind of, sort of poncho shirts. We are now going into men's wear, so we're doing some more men's scarves. Essentially, our scarves could be unisex, but we're going do some resizing on certain pieces. So there's more appeal to the men's market, which I think is, you know, they are very interested in sustainable fashion. So I think that would definitely feel.

 

And we are looking into knitwear, which will be hand operated knitwear as opposed to woven. So the difference being it's run by a hundred as opposed to a fully automated machine. Or even hand knitting itself, you know, which is something that is incredibly expensive but beautiful and supports, you know, homework is in Kathmandu. And we are working on some more like unstructured tailoring, should we call it one size because if we start going sizing that causes, you know, overproduction in my opinion. So we're keeping all shapes and sizes very simple so that you can just produce one size that fits all basically. So that's also in the pipeline. We're busy with lots of different projects as you can see.

 

Daniel: Lots of stuff to keep track of sounds.

 

Katherine: Yeah

 

Daniel: So exciting! And as part of all of that one of the things that you're doing is you have your Seedars campaign which is assuming was going to help you fuel your future growth. And so can you tell us more about the Seedars campaign?

 

Katherine: Yeah. So we currently crowdfunding on Seedrs. We're looking to raise 70,000 to like you said, to expand the greater business, particularly in the bespoke area, which will take some work on our website development. And yeah, also just to potentially get expand the teams so we can manage to do all these exciting projects. And yes, we are looking to raise the money. We’re very close to our target, which is really exciting, 85% possibly now. We’re so close, but we just need that last little push. You know, I'm sure anyone who has a small business understand that funding is key to the growth. And we're very excited with this point, but we just need that last push to be able to carry on with our mission. And if anyone wants to join us on the journey, please do go to the Seedrs platform and take a look at our campaign.

 

Daniel: We'll have a link to it in the show notes for anyone who's listening Seedrs is spelled S-E-E-D-R-S. So it’s missing one of the three E’s just in case if you are not familiar with that. And the very final two quick questions. First of all, in addition to being a champion of sustainable and luxury fashion. What are you doing in your day-to-day life to be environmentally friendly that could potentially inspire some of our listeners?

 

Katherine: I've always loved nature probably because I was brought up – my dad actually was a manager of a nature reserve in Oxfordshire. And we used to be forced whether we liked it or not, to go and watch batches coming out and sit still and not move until we saw them or what goes to watch the dawn chorus at 5:00 in the morning with my dad. So I'm very much in tune with nature. And I think, you know, it was an inevitable in the end, but it was going to come back into my life. I think, you know, being human nature makes you appreciate, you know, everything around you and the value of it so much more. And I think, you know, obviously, you know, we do and as a family, we do our best and I think no one's perfect, but I think it's just little steps, you know, and giving ourselves small targets to try and improve every, you know, month we'll say we try and do something, you know, to improve.

 

So, I mean, it's even small things like changing your milk from plastic bottles to glass bottles, delivered milk, delivered like the old-fashioned way, or we reduce our meat, but we're not 100% vegetarian or vegan. We’re reducing the meat in our diet and if we're buying meat, we're buying organic. I tend to try and use organic beauty products and skin care, because I believe that the money and the value in them is money well spent. And I noticed significant differences from using the natural products versus the chemical ones. But there's been so many things.

 

In the office, we have a solar panel running off our electricity. So that's, I mean whole host of things really. When I'm shopping now, I'm very considered. I mean, let's be honest with you, when I worked in fast fashion, I had to keep up with the rest of the office in terms of if it was always the mentality was if you didn't come in with the latest outfit, you were looked upon as someone who wasn't worthy of the job in the office because you had to look the part. So, I think I have to completely readjust my mindset in terms of shopping, which is why I'm so driven with this business now. And so therefore, when I shop now, I really do consider how much I love it, how much I need it. And you think it is going to be something that's going to stand the test of time and regardless of trends. So I will invest in places - sometimes I think we all need to treat ourselves.

 

Well, if I buy any essentials, I try to consider buying once that would pay a little bit more that will last a lot longer time. And this could go on. It’s baby steps, but I think we mustn't put too much pressure on ourselves because that's also for me, I think, there's so much negative news around global warming and I think, I mean, I'm very conscious having two children, not to make them have this with the eco anxieties that everyone's talking about. My son's actually have his own back, decided he's not eating anything that's palm oil. And that was nothing to do with me. But he watched the videos with the orangutan documentaries and he's very, very adamant that he won't touch anything with palm oil. So I have to be proud of him for that. And it's something we respect him. We go to the supermarket and look every single label.

 

I think we need to just try not see, you know, talk about all day, every day and scare, you know, the next generation too much because you know, I think we need to try and look at the positive things that are happening right now with businesses making changes. And I think that's only going to hopefully be increased and improve in time.

 

Daniel: Yeah! I think that's a really great point to end on actually because that's exactly what this podcast is all about. It's, there's so much deal in gloom in the world that I think everyone is being bombarded by the media. And actually, there's a lot of people in it and you're included in this who are working really hard to heal the planet and turn things around. And it's easy to feel that eco anxiety when you look around and indeed everything is made of plastic and you realize that all the clothes you wear have microplastics. I mean, in many ways it's true. I think it's important to remember there are solutions and there are people working really hard to provide those solutions. And if you're feeling scared, it's not really the best kind of mentality to the end to make a change. So good to remember the positivity and help build that momentum.

 

Katherine: That’s why I think your podcast is a great platform because I've watched you back now and they will certainly be embracing and celebrating the changes that companies are making.

 

Daniel: Yeah, lovely! That's exactly the idea. And on that note, I know we're a little bit over our time here, so I just wanted to direct people to you and to your website and materials, social media platforms to where if people want to learn more or follow you or perhaps even buy a piece or two or three. Where can people find Thread Tales?

 

Katherine: I mean places obviously, our website, which is www.threadtalescompany.com. And we have social media Thread Tales Co which you can add at the end. And we do have some stockists, but we are working very slowly on introducing stockist because it's one of our business models, always have been our business model that we don't focus too much on the wholesale side of our business. So when we do have a retail presence, it would be in a popup store, which we would update through the newsletters. So it's always get sign ups, newsletters and you receive 15% off when you sign up, so that’s for the bonus.

 

Daniel: So definitely for the newsletter. And just a reminder -there's also the Seedrs Campaign and which we'll link to in the show notes. And the last question -the student project, is that something that we can that's available to the public?

 

Katherine: Yeah, I mean it will be depending on what the direction the students take it, certainly be presented. I've got lots of exciting ideas, but I want them to lead that a little bit in terms of where we present the final pieces. I want them to gain some exposure for it as well. So I guess just keep an eye on newsletters and social media and we can update you. But it's all a bit, can be a bit organic without how it turns out. But certainly, if it's something they've come up with that we can scale, then why not? It's going to become more available to the public certainly.

 

Daniel: Sounds great! Be fun to see you.

 

Katherine: Yeah!

 

Daniel: On that note, Katherine, thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate it. And we wish you all the best and good luck with the Seedrs campaign.

 

Katherine: Thanks very much!

 

 

Thank you very much for listening to this episode!

 

If you’d like to learn more about Katherine Maunder and Threadtales, please visit threadtalescompany.com. You can also follow them on twitter @ThreadTalesCo for more updates! 

 

If you enjoyed this conversation, please subscribe to the podcast to be the first to know about new episodes! We’re on Spotify, the Apple Podcast app, Stitcher, and really anywhere else where you can listen to podcasts. 

 

And let us know you listened to this episode on Instagram! Tag us - @threadtalesco and @sustainabilitymatterstoday. We’d love to hear from you! Thanks and talk to you soon!

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