In the late '80s - early '90s, as Peri Drysdale (pictured below) travelled the world selling knitwear, she noticed her surroundings changing rapidly. Speeding down the autobahn in Germany, the smog was so thick she couldn’t tell if farmland or buildings flanked the road. And a once pristine lake now sported a sign “Caution. Polluted. Do not touch the water”. It galvanized her to do something about it, so she took Untouched World, which she’d started as a natural organic knitwear brand, and made it an example of how fashion could and should be done. Back then ‘Sustainability’ wasn’t even a word, and when a PR person told Peri she was mad and before her time, she responded, “Someone has to be before their time or there’ll never be any change”.
Untouched World is proof that a sustainability journey never stops. Even when care for the environment is imprinted in your DNA, there is always more that can be done!
Some of Untouched World’s most important sustainability initiatives have been internal. Fiona Bretherton, Untouched World’s Development Manager says, “We decided that things weren’t going to change if it was just a handful of people saying, ‘We must do this, we must do that’. We needed everyone on board, and we needed action not just words. One of the things we’ve done is create a roster so every person in the company takes a turn sharing a sustainability tip in the weekly company-wide meeting. We’ve also started up the ‘Sustainability A Team’ which is made up of people from each department who come together to discuss what we’re trying to change. They’re then responsible for making sure what’s discussed filters back to their departments. It’s brought about a full culture change right throughout the business, and that has been massive as everyone has buy-in when it comes to what we are trying to achieve. The other thing that’s been a gamechanger is our BCorp certification. Just getting certified was not our end goal, we want to measure progress and make sure we’re getting better each year. We’ve started with what I call ‘low hanging fruit’ – what can we do now at minimal cost? And then there’s the areas that will take more work but will have a bigger pay off. Water, waste and energy are the three key areas that if we get them right, will make a big difference to the company and the planet.
In terms of water usage, we’ve considered rainwater tanks or recycling water with a greywater system, but because we’re in an urban area we can’t do either of those things, so now we’re looking into reverse osmosis. Likewise energy is a massive focus for us, and so is waste.
We’ve always created beautiful clothing made from natural fibres that will return to the earth and gently biodegrade, but it’s still important to reduce textile waste by either not having any in the first place, or recycling it into a new product and extending its life cycle.
These 3 focus areas came out of the BCorp Certification process. Even if a company just used the BCorp Impact Assessment tool to identify areas for improvement, it would be a great place to start.
“Packaging is one of those things essential things that we have to get right for a range of reasons. Most of our emissions are created within the product so we need to protect our garments on their way to the retail shop floor”, explains Fiona. “Because our garments are made from natural fibres, the moths absolutely love them and once it is eaten by moths, it is wasted”. Up until now, UW has been using virgin plastic poly bags to protect their garments from moths and for other practical considerations too. “The first priority for our dispatch team is to have something clear because if we use paper or anything that isn’t transparent, the error rate in the warehouse would go up. Then you start to deal with more returns which are not great for sustainability either, as they increase the amount of shipping required”. Fiona emphasizes the need to take a holistic, systems-based view when making packaging decisions.
“We’ve really grappled with what we need from our packaging for the past two years, and have worked with a plastics specialist within Callaghan Innovation to look at our options. We’ve looked at the full life-cycle of packaging and compared plastics, paper, compostables and the novel newcomers like stone. There is a lot more to consider than meets the eye!
We soon realized that the biggest problem with our plastic packaging was that it was coming from a non-renewable resource, and the end-of-life infrastructure to reuse it again and again wasn’t there, at least here in New Zealand anyway. We didn’t want to jump into paper for a couple of reasons. It’s not great when it gets wet, and while the end of life is easier, the beginning production phase is worse. Plastics actually come out on top from an emissions point of view. We realized there was no perfect solution, but what we wanted to do was make sure we were using the next best solution. That’s when Better Packaging Co. came out with POLLAST!C poly bags. We knew that was the option for us, the next best thing to perfection... and we have done a LOT of research!”
POLLAST!C ticks several boxes for Untouched World. Fiona says, “First it is made from recycled plastic so it’s not using any virgin materials. Also, the prevention of ocean plastics is massive for us - it’s the reason why we make garments using natural fibres, so we’re not contributing to the problem. We love that it’s made from waste likely to have ended up in the ocean. The social community side we really like too – paying a fair wage to people in the community, which increases job opportunities, while cleaning up the environment. Lastly, we love that it can be reused and recycled again.
Particularly admirable is how committed Untouched World is to re- using the bags internally. Fiona explains, “Because the POLLAST!C poly bags are resealable at the top – our previous ones weren’t – we’ve got a programme with our own stores where they keep all the bags (once they’ve taken the garments out) and send them back to head office so they can be reused. We’re hoping to significantly cut down on the total number of bags we use! Every time a bag gets reused, a new barcode sticker will be stuck over the old one, so when a bag can no longer be used, we’ll be able to count up the number of barcode stickers and know how many bags were saved. Our next step, once we’ve nailed how that works, is to go out to our wholesalers to do the same thing. It’s another layer of complexity, but it’ll be worth it.”
From cozy knitwear to versatile basics, Untouched World has something for everyone. And with their commitment to reducing waste and promoting sustainability, you can feel good about your purchase knowing that you're supporting a responsible and eco-conscious business.
Enjoy an additional 10% off your purchase by using the code UWBPC10 at checkout (excluding gift cards).