Tag: ethical business

Sustainable and Ethical Activewear for Every Body: An Interview with Peak+Flow

As an outdoor sports enthusiast, one of my biggest concerns has always been more than just the quality of my athletic wear, but how and where it was produced. There is a great demand for sustainable and ethical activewear that is created in line with the values of outdoor athletes who care deeply for the planet.

Peak+Flow is rising to the challenge with the launch of their premiere sustainable and ethical activewear line. Peak+Flow is a new sustainable and ethical activewear brand. Their clothing uses recycled and organic materials and is made in ethical factories and is available in sizes for all body types. Peak+Flow gives back to 1% For the Planet and additional 1% to handpicked charities.

We caught up with?Founders Gaz and Joe at the launch of their?Kickstarter?to ask them about the challenges of creating a sustainable and ethical activewear line in the midst of corporate giants.



The Birth of Peak+Flow?

What was it that prompted you to see the need for sustainable and ethical athletic wear? Was it a singular moment or something that developed over time?

Peak+Flow was born out of three simple realisations which developed over time:

  • Most activewear was created using materials that were damaging to the planet. Our options were to either buy from established brands who occasionally pay lip-service to sustainability, or end up with hessian-type clothing which didn’t perform.
  • Secondly, we saw activewear as a category being dragged increasingly towards fast-fashion resulting in clothing that was over logo-ed, over-designed, and released faster than necessary to the consumer. Not everyone wants to walk around advertising a brand in fluorescent yellow.
  • Lastly, we spent time researching brands and companies manufacturing activewear and found a lack of transparency and purpose. We believe many consumers see through the gigantic advertising budgets and would like to see a company delivering on values that people care deeply about.

The result of these was both of us asking how would you build a company that would ethically create sustainable clothing.

Sustainability to us means thinking about all of the impacts our business has on society and the environment and proactively always looking to improve them.

Ranging from the materials we use to how much we pay people and what type of models or messaging we communicate to people.

We recognise this is a journey, you can?t change everything from day one, but you can set in motion a trajectory. Our vision for sustainability is circular, zero-waste, and zero damage. This vision guides our thinking in every aspect of the business, and one which if every company adopted would increase the length of time we can exist on this planet.

Sustainability to us means thinking about all of the impacts our business has on society and the environment and proactively always looking to improve them.

Had you had any previous experience in apparel?

Both founders had no experience in apparel when we started, which was probably a disadvantage and advantage in equal measure. It allowed us to continue to question why things were done a certain way, but it also meant we ended up making a number of bad decisions which cost us time and money. We?ve been incredible lucky at each point in our journey that when things went wrong someone or something came along which evolved our thinking and made us stronger as a business.

The freelance design and garment technologist members of the Peak+Flow team have experience working for a number of other apparel businesses including Nike, Sweaty Betty and Victoria Beckham.

Peak+Flow

Each piece has been thoughtfully designed and tested by people who professionally have to live in their activewear all day, every day.

What companies or individuals?inspired you?

We are really inspired by brands and founders who combine profit with purpose. Two great examples are Tom Kay (founder of Finisterre) and Yvon Chouinard (founder of Patagonia).

Both of them started businesses from their passions, cold water surf in Tom?s case and climbing in Yvon?s, and have gone on to create amazing purpose driven companies from those.

In both cases they set out to build companies that not only built the best quality products but were socially responsible and better for their communities and the environment.

We knew when we set out it was going to be very challenging, and it still is…

The Challenges

What have been the biggest challenges you?ve faced thus far?

While sustainability and ethical manufacturing are being discussed more and more today, when we started out two years ago it wasn?t so common. It was a challenge trying to find suppliers and partners that met the standards required, while we ourselves were trying to establish our principles at the same time as learning about the industry. Quality and function have always been paramount but equal to sustainability and ethical production.

It is challenging as a new business to find partners that will work with you, and you multiply that when your demands surpass that of nearly everyone in the industry.

Peak+FlowQuality and function have always been paramount but equal to sustainability and ethical production.

The Materials

How much research did it take to choose the sustainable fabrics for your line?

We’ve spent over 18 months researching fabrics, visiting ethical manufacturing partners, and designing and testing incredible prototypes, the result of which is our first core range.

What was most important to you in choosing the fabrics?

Fabric selection is critical when creating a performance product, but, for us, it’s even more significant because it has to meet our sustainability principles.

We’ve explored hundreds of fabrics to find the best, however, even though 83% of our materials come from recycled sources; some of our clothing is created from a blend with a non-recycled fabric.

For those pieces where we haven’t been able to source fabric which is 100% sustainable – either because the material is still in development or simply because of our size – it is something we are hyper-aware of, and working tirelessly to improve.

Transparency is essential to us; we’re on a sustainability journey, and customers need to know where we stand.

Our commitment is – wherever we have used blended fabric it will never end up being single use. When customers are finished with a piece of clothing, they can return it to us, and we’ll hold on to it until the industry catches up and we can recycle it.

We’re already having conversations with industry experts such as the Founder and CEO of Worn Again, Cyndi Rhoades – whose company over the last ten years has been developing technology to recycle blended fabrics. As soon as the technology is available, we will make sure we are the first to take advantage of it.

In five years our ambition is to be creating new clothing out of the pieces people buy today (that is unless they?ve fallen in love with them and don?t want to give them back!)

Peak+Flow

Our commitment is – wherever we have used blended fabric it will never end up being single use. When customers are finished with a piece of clothing, they can return it to us, and we’ll hold on to it until the industry catches up and we can recycle it.

How about the packaging?

We’re on a journey to make everything 100% recycled or organic, and that’s not just the clothes but all the items surrounding the clothing. Our packaging uses recycled and biodegradable materials.

As an example, when we did our soft launch at Balance Festival earlier this year, we had lots of comments related to our ability to look further than the clothing. At the show, everything from the stand to the clothes hangers to our business cards and hang-tags came from recycled materials.

Everything from the stand to the clothes hangers to our business cards and hang-tags came from recycled materials.

The Manufacturers

Was it difficult to confirm that the factories that claim they are ethical, were actually ethical?

We always knew we had to visit the manufacturers to confirm the standards we wanted. It would’ve been the easy route to take the certificates and audits at face value and point to them if things went wrong, but we decided early in our journey we needed to go ourselves. Doing this proved to be the right decision. It was eye-opening.

We scheduled meetings with a few manufacturers in Sri Lanka, all of which had the right level of certificates and answered the questions well before we went about their standards and ethical practices. A couple were already suppliers to large brands who had also done audits they could point to which was useful.

There are two types of manufacturer. One who cares about how they treat their staff, the work environment and the conditions, and the other who is only doing it because the big brands have asked them too.

Our visit to Sri Lanka taught us a valuable lesson: there were two types of manufacturer. One who cares about how they treat their staff, the work environment and the conditions, and the other who is only doing it because the big brands have asked them too.

If you were to only look at their paper certifications, then they would appear very similar if not identical, but when you visit in person, you come away with very different experiences and opinions.

We were fortunate to meet a manufacturer that cares deeply about their staff. They have a creche for the children, they pay into a central fund that helps in emergencies, and they pay above average (a high percentage over the minimum for all people.)

How was the experience navigating factories until you found those that you felt good about?

Finding someone to make our clothes has been the hardest thing we have done and the main reason it has taken us longer than planned to launch. The challenge for any new clothing businesses is most factories don?t want to work with you. The risk and cost for them are too high, and in some cases, their insurers won?t cover them to work with startups.

In addition to the capital/size requirements, we then had to layer on top of that our demands for quality, sustainability, transparency and ethical manufacturing. So the already small pool of potential partners becomes even smaller. Many manufacturers don?t want you to tell anyone else you are working with them – we weren?t expecting transparency to be such a sticking point.

Peak+Flow

In addition to the capital/size requirements, we then had to layer on top of that our demands for quality, sustainability, transparency and ethical manufacturing. So the already small pool of potential partners becomes even smaller

You have to find a partner that you feel good about working with and that you aren?t just taking because there are no other options.

When we started out, we looked at brands like Finisterre and thought we would follow them and produce in Portugal. They are well known for activewear and being in Europe would be appropriately governed. It turned out no one wanted to work with the numbers we had.

Next, we thought we would produce in the UK. It would be close to home, it would have good governance, and we could say we produced locally. That turned out to be almost impossible. The partners we found here really let us down. They were challenging to work with and, sadly, the capability to produce at high quality and scale has unfortunately left the UK.

This finally led us to Sri Lanka. We did a lot of research into options around the world, and we felt that they were the leaders in ethical manufacturing. They have a program called Garments without Guilt (which our manufacturing partner is a member of), and they have a robust legal framework in place for protecting workers. When we carried out the visit that we mentioned above, we came away feeling confident that we had found the right place and partner to make our garments.

The Premiere Product Line

What pieces will you include in your premiere line?

Our first essentials range focuses on clothing for a variety of active pursuits from yoga to surfing, and everything in between.?Each piece has been thoughtfully designed and tested by people who professionally have to live in their activewear all day, every day.

We have two product groups, Peak pieces, and Flow pieces. Peak pieces are designed for the explosive sports like HiiT and running. The Flow pieces are designed more for movement sports like surfing and yoga.

The 10 essentials are 5 women’s pieces (Peak Leggings, Peak Sports Bra, Peak Shorts, Flow Swimsuit, Flow Vest) and 5 men’s (Peak Shorts, Peak T-Shirt, Peak Vest, Flow Boardshorts and Flow Vest)?

Everything we create is designed to cover as many body shapes and sizes as possible.

We want to make sure that everyone who wants to wear activewear has the opportunity, and we encourage everyone to care for their health and the health of the planet.

Everything we create is designed to cover as many body shapes and sizes as possible.

Giving Back

What factors made you choose 1% For The Planet for giving back?

We found out about 1% for the Planet through the book Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard – the founder of Patagonia. We then started looking into what they do and how they work and it was the right option for us to be able to support environmental causes.

What type of qualities will you be looking for when you handpick the charities that you give the additional 1% to each year?

We are looking for charities that are close to our hearts and also the values of Peak+Flow.

What is unique to Peak+Flow is the combination of materials, ethical production, inclusive sizing, transparency and how we give back to the community – we are members of 1% for the Planet, and we also give an additional 1% of revenue to charities we choose.

The Future

What are your dreams for the future of Peak+Flow? Do you plan on branching into other specific sportswear i.e. skiing, surfing, sailing…etc.

It is day 1 for Peak+Flow, and we want to focus on producing the best sustainable activewear that we possibly can. We want to keep finding the best recycled and organic materials to make that happen. We want people to see us as the sustainable and ethical alternative to the big activewear brands.

How important do you think the role of businesses is in protecting the planet and its people?

We can do everything we can as individuals to change our habits and protect the planet but ultimately we need businesses to create sustainable and ethical options for people. We all need to make better choices, and we need companies to provide and be driving those choices.

Do you feel optimistic that more and more companies will adopt a socially and environmentally conscious focus in the future? If so, why?

Yes, absolutely. There are two types of companies that are socially and environmentally conscious, those that do it because they genuinely believe in it and those that are doing it as a response to the market asking for it. While the second type might seem inauthentic, they are still heading in the right direction, and that can only be a good thing. As consumers demand brands to be socially and environmentally conscious, the market will respond. We will also see more companies (like Peak+Flow) starting from day 1 to be that way.

  • Peak+Flow’s Kickstarter?is live. You can find them at?www.peakandflow.com
  • By participating in their Kickstarter?within the next 24 hours, you can get at least 20% discount by pre-ordering and being part of the crowdfunding.
  • Check out Peak+Flow on Instagram:? ?@peakandflow

We all need to make better choices, and we need companies to provide and be driving those choices.


As seen in…

Peak+Flow


Related:? Why Fast Fashion Becomes Fast Trash

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How to Incite Change, even as a Small Shareholder

Have you ever wanted to influence Verizon’s decision on net neutrality or McDonald’s recycling policy but didn’t know how? Social media and petitions only get you so far. There is another way to have real impact.

If you?ve ever looked at a large corporation?s power, it may seem impossible to nudge them in a socially-conscious direction. Sure, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan Chase are getting together to work on healthcare. That?s amazing, but how can you influence other companies who aren?t taking those kinds of initiatives? You don’t have to be Google’s largest shareholder to be influential. Your stock ownership and proxy votes could do just that.

How does stock ownership work?

Publicly-traded companies offer pieces of ownership, or shares, in their companies in exchange for money. Selling pieces of their ownership ?pie,? their stock, allows them to raise money as a corporation. Each share may only be a small piece of a company?s total ownership ?pie?, but people with a lot of money can buy a lot of shares in one company.

Once you own a share (or many shares) in one company, you might get paid a little money for each share you hold (these are called dividends). You can also hold onto your shares for a long time and wait for the value of the company to skyrocket. Then you can sell your shares at a higher price than when you bought them and make some money that way, too. Most people understand company ownership as a financial tool for shareholders, but company ownership can include some other perks, too.

Related: introduction to investing

Your Voting Rights as a Shareholder

Some stocks include voting rights, and this is where you can really create your impact. Large publicly traded companies will have boards that they have to answer to. The largest shareholders usually sit on these boards. While you may own .0001% of a company?s stock, these board members may hold 5-15%. The board is the group that provides oversight to the CEO and drives the company in a direction that they believe is best. They will periodically call meetings where they will vote on important issues like CEO changes or new sustainability goals. However, not every shareholder can meet to vote on these issues every time, and now, almost 400 words into this article, we?ve gotten to why you (yes, you personally) are so vitally important.

Related: making real money with sustainable investing

Every Vote Counts!

If shareholders can?t attend a shareholder meeting, they can cast proxy votes instead. Proxy votes are shareholder votes that are cast remotely outside of the shareholder meeting. They are sent to every shareholder with voting rights, so they can vote on the issues that?ll be covered at the shareholder meeting. These may seem like tedious things to take care of, but they can be tremendously important.

Let’s say you care about net neutrality and you own a few shares in Verizon. You can make your voice heard through your right to cast a proxy vote.??You may only hold a few shares of common stock, but each one of those shares may be worth one vote each. Your vote could be the tipping point on important shareholder issues. If you?ve purchased company stock and you?ve got voting rights that come with it, you can vote with more than just your dollars. You can literally cast votes!

Only 29% of retail investors use their power to vote on shareholder proposals. Yet more and more investors are realizing the power they have to impact change through the investments they own. It’s time to make your voice heard.

Related: the new landscape of sustainable investing

But I own a tiny sliver of a GIANT pie!

A lot of you reading this, if you even own stocks, may not be massive shareholders who wield material power over a CEO. However, there may be a bunch of other shareholders like you who own tiny pieces of ownership. Collectively, the tiny shareholders may make up a relevant piece of the pie and carry weight on important issues. You may own .01% of a company, but if there are 5,000 other people who share your values and your ownership percentage. Suddenly, you all own 50% of the company and can vote your values.

Even if your vote doesn’t win a majority vote, you can get the board’s attention and create real change.

Case in point: McDonald’s held a shareholder meeting in 2011 to vote on whether they should eliminate styrofoam cups. Even though the proposal was supported by 30% of shareholders, this demonstrated huge acceptance for an environmental proposal. The result: McDonald’s launched a pilot program to eliminate styrofoam cups.

Related: Read our article on whether an sustainable roboadvisor is right for you

Back in the real world though?

You won?t have 50% ownership unless you?re putting some big money into a startup. If a company even offers 50% of it?s company to the public, large financial firms will take the big pieces and leave slivers for the rest of us to squabble over. However, there could still be 1-10% of the company that?s ripe for squabbling. That?s still a significant piece of the pie in tight votes. The few hundred stocks of Google could be the tie-breaker that decides on a major sustainability initiative. You wouldn?t want to throw that opportunity away, would you?

Remember, getting critical mass of votes, even if they are not the majority vote, will get the board’s attention. Boards hate headline risk. If consumers start posting their views via proxy votes (which is their right as owners in the company), the brands will listen.

Related: what we can learn from cheapskates on the internet (probably the same ones buying stocks with voting rights.)

The Future of Business

Sustainability is the future of business. As consumers care more deeply about the impact they have with their purchases, businesses are moving to meet those demands. Industries like green energy are young and growing, making them breeding grounds for entrepreneurs and promising opportunities for investors. The link in my inbox that spawned this article actually lists upcoming shareholder votes on a wide range of sustainability and ethics initiatives. If you or someone you know has voting rights in these companies, they can cast proxy votes on these issues.

If you have even a passing interest in investing, you should understand the power of shareholder votes (aka proxy votes). You may not be the one shareholder who owns half the company. But you may be a part of the group of shareholders that turns the vote. Don?t throw those proxy votes away. Many votes can be cast online, so it’s convenient. Shareholder votes can influence big companies to do right by the planet and the people living on it.


Photo by?Dylan Hikes

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