Green shoots is our series looking at businesses that demonstrate a different way of operating, one that is fairer on people and the planet. Previous entries are here, and this week we look at the clothing company Rapanui.
Named after the indigenous name for Easter Island, Rapanui is an Isle of Wight based clothing company with a record of radical innovation around sustainability. It was founded in 2009 by two brothers with an interest in pursuing environmental goals through business. Right from the start, they have done things differently.
The company’s first range of t-shirts used organic cotton and bamboo. They sought out a supplier with a wind-powered factory. People mattered too, and they are one of the few companies that offers both organic and Fairwear standards, ensuring that those who make the clothes are paid a fair wage. Rapanui pioneered full traceability, with each item in their collection tracked on their website, displaying where the cotton was grown, where the item was made and even how it was transported. They also developed a eco-labeling scheme, ranking their own products from A-G.
As early adopters of the circular economy, Rapanui began working on a scheme to take back clothing once it was worn out. Customers can now send back clothing by Freepost, and in a world first process, cotton t-shirts are reprocessed into new clothing. After several years of development, the first ‘circular’ t-shirts went on sale in 2019.
As the business has grown, Rapanui has been able to create jobs on the Isle of Wight, and it has made a point of recruiting and training up young people. It has also offered business start-up space and advice to young entrepreneurs.
Rapanui currently runs a factory out of an old Co-op supermarket in Freshwater, powered by a solar farm on site. Their print-to-order systems are used to produce t-shirts for other organisations and brands, and their environmental credentials have made them the first choice for groups such as WWF, National Geographic and many other green groups.
Rapanui are a good example of how a company can grow and turn a profit without exploiting people or damaging the environment. Their approach combines ground breaking new technology, and the basic values of respect for nature and for people.