Young entrepreneurs are often thought of as naive or idealistic, that is, until their fresh perspective and unabashed distain for “the status quo” turn an industry on it’s head. That’s the goal of Martin and Rob Drake-Knight, the two brothers behind the, Isle of Wight based, Rapanui Clothing Company.
Don’t be fooled by the homemade website, limited product offering or simple designs. These guys turned a profit with their first clothing line, while raising the bar for transparency of a products complete life-cycle. Not to mention, they’ve caught the attention of folks like Ben & Jerry’s, redesigned clothing’s conventional distribution system and still find time to get a few surf sessions in.
I sat down and had a digital chat with Rob Drake-Knight, Rapanui’s Marketing Director. This is an edited version of that conversation.
[Matt Levinthal] What made you guys want to start Rapanui?
[Rob Drake-Night] Two main reasons; 1) we both got sick from surfing in polluted waters from the field run of agriculture chemicals 2) Martin was studying Renewable Energy Engineering and was bombarding me with information about the state of the planet. We both had some experience working in clothing and knew there was a growing gap in the market.
How did you come to building the business around supply chain transparency?
The idea was born from frustration caused by the abuse of buzz words like “organic” and “green,” basically greenwashing.
Do you select products by what can be made sustainably or by trends and just figure out the sustainability part?
We tend to back engineer. We start with the end in mind and work out how we’re going to do what we want to do. We’re looking at some really sweet belts and flip flops made from recycled rubber at the moment as well as a number of other cuts for the women’s garments. The next collection is coming along nicely.
What have your biggest challenges been in creating this level of transparency?¬†
Big business, I’m talking about industry behemoths, the likes of Walmart, Chevron and Clorox, have made recent moves in the direction of sustainability. Many instantly write off any action by these companies as greenwashing. It’s easy to do with Walmart’s ban on unionized labor, Chevron’s dubious Nigerian dealings and Clorox’s toxic ingredients.
However, Walmart is now the largest supplier of Organic Milk, Chevron is spending millions asking consumers to drive less and Clorox recently launched a green cleaning product. Is it possible there has been a fundamental shift in the priorities of big business? Or has Hell just had it’s first frost?
The Coca-Cola Company seems to believe sustainability is a matter of sound business strategy in the next millennium. Which is why in August of 2008, The Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council (CCRRC) brought the worlds leading environmental experts together with the worlds 150 largest retailers – the purpose, “Responding to the Growing Concern for the Environment.”
Every year Anaheim hosts the largest natural products convention in the U.S., Natural Products Expo West. The event showcases the newest and most innovative products in natural, organic and healthy living with more than 1,900 hundred brands spread across 300,000 square feet.
The shear volume of products on display and the liberal application of the term “natural” made finding meaningful innovation hard to come by – unless of course, you feel we need more ways to turn soy into meat-like substances or diet ice-cubes are the cure for America’s obesity problems.
However, these five products stood out as truly innovative – meaning they have the potential to positively influence consumers impact on people or the planet.