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Look in any woman’s wardrobe and you’d be hard pushed not to find a white t-shirt in there somewhere. The white t-shirt is one of those reassuringly basic items. Casual enough to go with jeans, but classic enough to wear under a suit. You can’t really go wrong with a trusty T – but can you? As I’ve got older and more committed to buying ethically I really struggled to find good quality basics that I could wear with a clear conscience. There just seemed nothing for ‘me’ – the frivolous side of me still wanted the designer look but the serious side of me wanted clothing that ethically I did not have to compromise on. The ‘perfect’ white t-shirt was amazingly elusive!

As a designer and buyer I have worked with such retailers as Harrods, Marks and Spencer, Fortnum and Mason and Liberty, so I have always believed in high quality, and beautiful yet practical design. And it is these beliefs we have tried to incorporate into the White T-Shirt Company.

The Start

I was born and brought up in the North East. I studied Fashion and Textile Design at college in Yorkshire followed by a Post Graduate Diploma in my home town of Newcastle upon Tyne. Although my heart has always been in the North East, with its beautiful coast and open space, most of my working life has been spent down in London because at the time, that is where a career in design led.

I was Design Director for the toiletry division of the Dewhirst group, a key clothing supplier to Marks and Spencer. I left Dewhirst to take a position as Toiletry Buyer for Harrods. In 1988 my experience in design, trend predictions and brand development enabled me to start working as a freelance design consultant. Continuing to work with Marks and Spencer suppliers, as well as prediction agencies such as WGSN, this period also included launching our own toiletry brand with Harrods and Liberty and developing ranges for Fortnum & Mason and companies such as Nougat.

However when our son 'Will' came along in 2000 I really wanted to move back to the North East. I wanted Will to grow up being able to smell the sea and mountains, and although I enjoyed the freedom and flexibility consultancy provided I was still travelling a lot. I realised that I needed a better balance between work and home life.

It was actually a moan to girlfriends that made me realised that I had an opportunity to put this balance right. A lament about the lack of really good classic basics such as M&S used to sell, the casual equivalent of the little black dress! I started some market research while I was on maternity leave and after a little investigating, it took a momentum of its own and the concept for The White T-shirt Company was born!

This momentum was helped by several enthusiastic ‘partners’. The Danish company I eventually tracked down to develop our product with and Northumbria University who took on the Brand and Packaging design as a project. I was also selected by the Mail On Sunday Business Advisory Board to work with two mentors; Hilary Riva MD of Warehouse and Lindsey Swan who has 15 years experience in PR.

Men's Green Cotton Fitted White T-Shirt
Our T-Shirts

We launched summer 04 with five styles for women, with a choice of necklines and styles specially designed to flatter a variety of body shapes and ensure a great fit. Especially for those of us who are not too keen on showing midriffs or flabby arms as we get older!

All our t-shirts are made from luxurious, Danish woven, extra long, staple Green Cotton. This benefits the wearer who can enjoy its exceptionally soft feel and because Green Cotton is grown using sustainable farming methods, and monitored through out production, the environment has a lot to be happy about too! All our t-shirts have now been awarded the Euro Eco-label.

We only use Green Cotton which means that we have the assurance of knowing that each stage of our t-shirt production is monitored throughout its lifecycle. The fibre is grown using sustainable and ethical farming methods. The cotton is hand picked and only chemicals carefully assessed for their environmental merits are used in the processing of the cloth. For example we use Hydrogen Peroxide instead of Chlorine to whiten the cotton, as this can be completely neutralized after the bleaching process, and the surplus of peroxide converted into pure water by simple reductive salts. When we dye our cotton we only use non-metallic Azo free dyes that are kinder to the environment and to our skins.

We are wearing fibres every day, day after day, month after month, and year after year, so to us the more 'pure' our cotton is the kinder it is to both the environment and our skin. All our labelling and threads are 100% cotton, which adds to the kindness of our t-shirts. The additional benefits to the environment are that our t-shirts have a long life span; they also dye beautifully if you want to re-cycle for a new colour and are naturally more biodegradable.

Our Journey

I recently had to write a business piece about our Journey in launching The White T-shirt Co that was a really interesting exercise. Our Journey has certainly been exciting but viewed in this way it has been a steep journey, with many blind alleys and obstacles to negotiate. Just developing the quality of product that we wanted was the first up hill battle. Then a couple of months after launching we nearly 'fell of the cliff', following a fantastic write up in the Times which took us out of stock. Then problems with one of our suppliers meant we had to totally re-look at our whole route to market. Not to mention the constant fear of running fast enough to keep up running your own business, while keeping your head clear and your feet on the ground! However, the pleasure we get from customer feedback and the genuinely ‘nice’ people that working ethically seems to involve makes it a great way of working!

Fitted Scoop Neck
Green Cotton T-Shirt
The Future

When we first launched we found customers loved our t-shirts just because of their quality and styling – the fact that they were ‘green’ was a bonus! But in the short time since launching this has completely turned around and customers have a growing recognition of what we are really about. To date we have concentrated on key, every day basics, all of which are made from our own green cotton, but as we have grown we are able to start changing the way we work. We will of course continue to work with our Danish Partner but we are also starting to work much more locally in the UK. This gives me enormous personal pleasure, having started in manufacturing in the North East and seen its sad demise over the last few years. We are developing other organic and eco-fabrics to put together a more fluid collection of lounge and evening wear, all of which will be made locally and provides us with much more flexibility. We are also designing a small collection of ‘big and beautiful’ styles that has grown from the many customer requests we have had for increased sizing. In line with this, we are also investigating how we can offer a customised service to customers, so that we can adapt designs to their own specific requirements.

The last few months have been so exciting. Not just because we are being recognised more but because almost over night there seems to have been an awakening of responsibility about how we shop and manufacture. Fair trade and ethical fashion is emerging as something 'unique' and 'special'. The impact it can have on local communities is measurable – it is about quality of life as well as quality of product. There is a growing number of amazing designers showing that ethical clothing is not just tie-dye and Jesus sandals! It is also exciting for us starting to work with people such as The Natural Store who are doing such a great job in raising the awareness and standard of eco design generally!

Click here to see the New Spring/Summer T-Shirt's by The White T-Shirt Company >
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