They say the best way to keep up a new habit is to have accountability. That is what the April Pursuit is for Rhone: accountability in our efforts to become more responsible. We sat down with Rhone Co-Founder and CPO Kyle McClure to chat about the changes we are making to be a more Responsible Rhone and where we are headed. Here’s what he had to say.
Rhone hasn’t always been a responsible company. What prompted the change to start focusing on how the company could be more responsible?
Awareness was the first step on the path to responsibility which meant undertaking a rigorous audit of everything we do. BlueSign, of which we are a system partner now, helped push us off the edge and their CEO Jill was instrumental in changing our thinking about all of this. A conversation with her in Munich provided the underpinnings of what would become our responsibility efforts.
Sustainability is such a buzz word for businesses these days and our participation in that discourse led to the principle of Responsibility over Sustainability. Truthfully the most sustainable thing an apparel business can do as it relates to the environment is shutter its business and stop producing anything contributing to an already overtaxed resource base and overburdened environment as it relates to waste. But if we were to do that we would no longer help sustain our employees lives or be able to enrich and inspire the lives of our customers. So would that be sustainable? Would that be responsible? Those are the questions we asked ourselves on this path to responsibility. If we are to be sustainable we must be responsible.
What are ways Rhone is working to be more responsible?
First things first its how we make things and what we make them out of that determines a true commitment to responsibility. We have to know the history and journey of every component of our apparel to make sure that it leaves as little trace as possible on the environment. BlueSign was our kick off moment and we are underway on an expansive supply chain audit and gap analysis with them.
Second was creating a more holistic approach to this philosophy that didn’t just include environmental impacts but also the impact, inspiration and influence we could have on enriching and sustaining our manufacturing partners, employees, customers and communities lives. We believe we are responsible to all of these things as individuals and as a company. We are all global citizens and with a global supply chain footprint touching almost every continent we must act accordingly.
As the CPO, how has your focus on responsibility changed the way your product team creates?
The biggest challenge is maintaining quality and cost as we transition. Customers will not pay more for this and as a small business we simply can’t afford to pay more. Above all else though we can’t afford to sit by idly and hang our hat on margin. Partnership has been the foundation upon which our company has been built. I count our manufacturing partners as dear friends (one factory owner actually made an appearance at my 40th birthday party flying in from the west coast for a night to be there…he’s an Aussie legend). So we’ve leaned on our partners to help with the transition. It's also been about asking ourselves is this the best decision for this product? Will this product last? And ultimately are we making this responsibly? If we answer no to any of those, we go back to drawing board.
What are Rhone’s short-term and long-term responsible goals?
In the short term its about a full understanding and audit which we are almost through with. Next it’s a rigorous adherence to responsible materials (it may surprise you that recycled isn’t always responsible). We have set some materials standards for ourselves though. Recycled polyester, recycled industrial nylon, traceable wool, organic cotton, bluesign approved modal are all the focal point of materials.
We are doing some small localized things with Surfrider and also setting office policies about plastic bottles (they are banned) and reusable silverware.
Finding technical fabrics that are sustainable and incredibly comfortable/functional can’t be the easiest process. How do you determine what fabrics make the most sense for Rhone?
Our products, and really our brand, is about performance and comfort. So the materials must perform and they must be comfortable. But that can’t be all we seek to achieve.
Durability has to be a central – if its made from recycled materials but lasts half as long is that responsible? No its not. Luckily our mill partners are the most innovative in the world and we are consolidating development with those mills to ensure quality and transparency.
What responsible product are you most excited about?
We’ve transitioned our Element Tee into organic cotton and recycled polyester which is a big move and its such an awesome staple. For the summer, the Legend Hat and Fletcher Trunk are unreal. I’m not too much of a hat guy but I’ve worn the Legend more than any hat in my life.