Fashion Revolution – Interview With Hannah Evans From Piccalilly
What inspired to you start Piccalilly back in 2006?
I started Piccalilly in 2006. I was on maternity leave and 2 months into my maternity I was made redundant. Living in a rural part of the Yorkshire Dales I decided that I would turn this negative situation into a positive opportunity to start my own business. At the time there were no organic baby clothes in the UK that were colourful, fun and with a broad market appeal. I had a background working in fair trade and ethical manufacturing and the only baby clothing brands on the market were natural and functional and had little design ethics. The natural colour ecru dominated the market.
How did you come to be interested in ethical clothing and then take this route with Piccalilly?
I’d previously worked as a buyer in India purchasing from primary producers and travelling all over the country. I was lucky enough to have been given the contacts of a pioneering factory in India who were pushing the boundaries in organic manufacturing. I decided to take the leap and travel out to meet with them and discovered that colour and chemical free organic manufacturing was a possibility for my clothing brand. From this moment on the concept of Piccalilly was born.
I wanted to create a great looking colourful range of babywear whilst ensuring that they were created with highest values and ethics. The name was chosen to reflect the colourful origins of the brand – its British, extremely bright but with a nod to the east where the clothing is made. Many of our competitors have had to rebrand over the years but great thought was put into the name to reflect what we were about and to enable us not to be pigeon holed into a specific range or age bracket. We’ve never had to address this again because we’ve always remained close to our roots and what we were about in the first place.
We’re also very proud to work with the same factory that we started working with at the start in 2006. I was given the details of the company by a contact at Greenpeace. The company had been manufacturing since 1934 and at the time I was in contact had recently moved into organic cotton production. It’s now the world’s first vertically integrated Fairtrade organic cotton supplier, from yarn to finished product. We’ve been proud to grow with them and contribute towards their growth in the last decade.
As briefly as possible, can you tell us all steps needed to make a garment starting from the cotton field. What have you learnt when travelling to India that would surprise most people here in Europe?
We source our cotton from a project called Chetna Organic. This project started in 2004 and we started purchasing our cotton very early on from it’s inception. Chetna is a wholly farmer owned project and the farmers also own a 10% share in our manufacturing partners factory too. One of the key attributes of Chetna Organic is traceability. Every cotton bale from Chetna is traceable to its farming source and to its seed cotton source.
Our manufacturing partner now purchases a large portion of it’s cotton and we’ve made sure over the last decade to spend time visiting the supply chain from field to factory. From the field the cotton goes to the ginner and our manufacturing partner takes ownership directly from this point ensuring we maintain the authenticity of the organic cotton from field to factory, a very special and unique attribute to our organic clothing.
What changes have you seen in the fashion industry in the last decade? Customers are always wanting new season and its hard to avoid this completely, how do you try to create a balance?
Many baby and kidswear brands have come and gone over the years, so ensuring we have longevity and that we remain competitive is important. There has been a trend amongst some of the organic brands towards a faster fashion approach to trading with heavy discounts, which is challenging.
Our aim has always been to ensure we are sustainable and creating transeasonal ranges was our ideal. But we’ve found that the market is faster moving and there is a demand for new prints and designs, which means our collections have had to become more seasonal. We are however delighted that our clothes are long lasting, they wash well, they have a longer lasting fit and given many of our prints are unisex and gender neutral in style. They can been handed down between siblings making them a great investment.
Piccalilly has grown steadily in the last decade. Have you seen this growth have an impact on the factories you work with?
We’ve worked with the same factory since we started in 2006 and we continue to support Chetna Organic by insisting we only use this Fairtrade organic cotton. This ensures that the project has continued support from us as a brand. We remain rooted in our ethics and sustainability and believe that our strong relationship with our supplier is a core part of who we are as a brand and our authenticity. Our story is quite unique from many of our competitors who work with supply chains that are less transparent. But, it enables us to tell an authentic and clear story about the people who make our clothes from field to factory.
Do you think ethical fashion will continue to grow? Where do you see the future? What further change would you like to see?
I think parents are recognising that purchasing from organic & ethical brands isn’t a luxury, it’s the best buying choice. Buying once and buying well is the right way to go. And purchasing chemical free organic cotton clothes is best for the end user, best for the planet and equally important best for the people who make our clothes.