Many of us are unaware of how our clothing is made, and the extent to which the textiles industry is tied to a number of global issues. Jeremy Pingul, founder of Connect One Threads, is on a mission to disrupt the way we source our clothing, championing an approach that is sustainable, ethical and transparent. We were excited to have Jeremy staying with us at The Collective Old Oak this week, and to have him be part of our Leaders + Disrupters speaker series. Here’s what we learnt about his journey so far:
How did you get into sustainable fashion?
My project, Connect One Threads, started when I was studying International Development at the University of Indiana. I wrote my final thesis on the sustainability of the clothing supply chain, looking at everything from the consumer market all the way down to the farms from environmental and social perspectives. Basically what I found was a lot of problems! Sweatshops, problems with GMOs, lack of consumer awareness… there are so many complex global issues that stem from clothing!
What are some of the biggest issues being caused by this industry?
One thing to check out is the crisis around the Aral Sea in Central Asia, which used to be the fourth largest lake in the world. Back in the Soviet era there was a big push to grow cotton because it was such a sought-after commodity. But, because the surrounding area is so dry, water had to be taken from the Aral Sea to irrigate the land. The sea has basically disappeared now, which has completely changed the ecological situation in the area. It’s one of the biggest man-made environmental disasters in the world.
How did you get started with Connect One Threads?
After learning about the problems, I wanted to find out more about the people in the industry who are trying to solve these issues. I bought a one-way ticket to Spain, and half travelled around Europe and Turkey, and half talked to brands, designers, retailers, NGOs, and producers involved with sustainable clothing.
One big solution to a lot of the problems in the textiles industry is having a traceable supply chain using organic cotton -- but the impact of this is not fully realised because not enough people are supporting it.
So basically with Connect One Threads I’ve been working to figure out how to create that impact - that influence - on the consumer market in order to help support the people who are looking to change the industry.
I started by collaborating with different artists from around the world, asking them to create different designs based on interconnection to get people thinking globally. I printed them on organic cotton T-shirts which are certified by the Global Organic Textiles standard, which basically means that it’s socially and environmentally responsible from farm to factory. The whole concept of the shirts is to prove that it is possible to have sustainable sustainable fashion.
Where do you start if you want to make ethical choices as a consumer?
The first piece of advice would be to do some research -- it’s a complex subject! There are also things like the Who Made My Clothes campaign, which are good places to start. With this, people would flip their shirt inside out, take a picture, and send it to the brand asking ‘who made my clothes?’. Doing that, you’re asking your brands to be held accountable.
In terms of real impact, there are a lot of brands who are selling sustainable clothing. If you can find clothing that’s certified by the Global Organic Textiles Standard (GOTS) then that’s the gold standard of sustainable clothing, in my opinion. It’s not only organic, it’s a whole traceable supply chain -- pretty significant considering that 91% of brands don’t know where their raw materials come from, and 48% don’t know which factory made their clothes. If you support GOTS you can be assured that everyone from the fibre/yarn/fabric producers to the final garment producers are getting paid fairly, and there’s no child labour -- it’s a whole ethical and sustainable system.
What’s the plan moving forward with Connect One Threads?
I recently applied for an accelerator called MassChallenge. There were 2000 applicants, and we made it to the top 300 -- now we need to make it to the top 90, and we’ll find out about that on the 10th!
Being in London for longer would be great because it’s the capital of sustainable fashion: you have the Ethical Fashion Forum here, and the University of the Arts London’s Centre for Sustainable Fashion. From everywhere I’ve been around the world, I also think Londoners have the best fashion sense!
Where are you hoping to be in 5 years?
The first idea is to build an infrastructure for sustainable fashion -- getting the market developed enough, doing a lot of collaborations with different people, having a lot of unique items. If everything goes well, I’d be interested in maybe creating my own designs too -- it would be fun to take a shot at doing that!
In terms of the impact, I want to see more support for organic cotton, as well as support for hemp. We’re in a very interesting situation at the US at the moment because we recently legalised cannabis, and hemp is also starting to make a comeback. It uses way less water than cotton, and creates similar fibres. Hemp is very course, though, but the reason for this is because of hemp being made illegal, the industry didn’t get the chance to catch up in terms of perfecting the fibre.
How have you enjoyed your stay at The Collective Old Oak?
It’s only been a couple of days, but it’s been cool so far! I’ve enjoyed connecting with digital nomads like the Remote Year cohort. I was walking to my room yesterday, and heard some noise in the games room, so I went to check it out. I started talking to some people, played some ping pong, had some food. I’m a social guy, so it was awesome to meet new people like this -- it seems like everyone has an interesting story too.
Anything else you’d like to get out there?
We have a campaign right now called Connect 100. It’s a very simple premise: we’re producing our first shirts, and we’re aiming to sell 100 before we produce so we can at least cover the production costs. Check it out!
Jeremy Pingul is the founder of Connect One Threads, which connects artists, brands, designers and ethical producers to create sustainable apparel. To learn more about how you can buy more sustainable clothing, click here.