Interview with Daniel King, Founder of Urban Industry
What inspired you to create your own range of tees?
I’ve been dabbling around the edges of producing own brand items for the last 19 years. Mainly these have been working with an artist or brand to produce a design for screen printing. At this point, I’d usually pick a heavyweight Gildan tee off the shelf from our screen printer, and have them labelled up and then put them out in the store.
Although that’s often a great way of producing an offering of own brand Urban Industry pieces, I wanted to take things further and start producing the whole thing. The thought behind this also coincided with my own personal awakening to the issues of climate change, responsible clothing production and just being less impactful in how we conduct ourselves in business.
We sell a great deal of clothing from many different brands, some excellent at responsible production and some not so good. I thought that I can’t be asking them to do better if we didn’t do better ourselves. So as a simple starting point, I decided to work on an item that many people wear daily and in turn, could be made in a much more responsible way. The ‘simple’ cotton t-shirt seemed a great place to start.
You’ve dedicated a lot of time to making these t-shirts sustainable,
talk us through the process?
I knew I didn’t want to cut any corners on making sure the finished t-shirts were as sustainable as possible. The first issue is that making new t-shirts isn’t sustainable at all. The world must produce millions upon millions of fresh, new cotton t-shirts every year for an unknowable amount of different brands. The flip side is that a t-shirt is a very accessible piece of clothing, practical in many ways and is a staple of peoples wardrobes the world over.
If another t-shirt was going to be made - why not produce one that was produced in the most responsible way possible, make it good quality, fit well, wash well, last longer and customers may not need to buy as many that didn’t tick these boxes.
I started doing some basic research on the how and where and got put in contact with an excellent agent who had visited a number of factories in the world that could produce such a t-shirt and we began work with him to select the best one. We landed upon a factory in India that met almost every responsible requirement.
The factory not only prides itself on using renewable powers sources of wind and solar for its production but also plays a big part in its local community. 95% of its workforce are women and they make sure that they provide excellent working & pay conditions. They also specialise in producing knitted garments from Organic cotton, and many different globally acknowledged standards including GOTS, Okeo Tex and Fairtrade certification.
Once we felt we had the right factory we worked with them to produce the right weight and shape. Much has been written on perfecting the white t-shirt over the years so I just went back to all my favourite fits to understand why I liked them. Thanks to our Studio Manager George, we were able to start the initial development in house, and then got the factory to make us some samples.
They pretty much nailed it the first time.
We went to the nth degree and also included recycled polyester neck labels, no extra swing tickets or plastic Kimball tags, and had them all packaged in Compostable plastic bags to keep them clean and tidy.
For the small amount we produce we ship via container on a slow boat from India along with thousands of tonnes of other goods which takes about 6 weeks to get to us. The offshoot for this is the carbon offsetting is incredibly small for travelling such a distance. This feels like the only trade-off in terms of producing a fantastic product responsibly and still be able to charge our customers a realistic and accessible price.
The beacon logo on the front of the pocket tees,
what’s the inspirations for the design?
I wanted a simple icon that would depict our local area in a really clear and punchy way, so I got in contact with Aron Leah, Fried Cactus as he’s a supremo at that kind of iconography. So you’ve got the famous Beachy Head lighthouse sitting in the Channel with rolling downloads and cliffs behind. Its got a nice heritage, workwear feel to it.
Is there more in store for Urban Industry products?
We have a few more projects up our sleeves! The tees were a great start to making a product from beginning to end and we’re already in the process of building more of a cut and sow range. With the cut and sow, we’re coming a bit closer to home with production in Portugal.
Why have you called these the Almost T-Shirt?
Any amount of research into sustainable clothing production and you'll find quickly that nothing is really sustainable. Clothes are mass consumption, everyone wear clothes (mostly!). To clothe the population it takes huge resources of farming, probably using copious amounts of water and pesticides to grow and protect the cotton crop, processing energy to get the cotton to a place where it's ready to be made into a garment. Workers in factories, logistics to get the items to shops etc etc, the list goes on. Our tees are the best we can presently do in terms of making the best tee we can while being as responsible as we can to counteract the bad parts of clothing production. I believe we've made 'better' choices in how we've produced them but we have to be honest, it's still almost, it's going to take much longer for us and anyone else producing clothing to really close down all the negatives to it. But we have to try and start it somewhere.