Sea, sustainability, clothing are the three elements at the heart of OCEANR philosophy.
5 March was not a date like any other. At 9 p.m., New York local time, in the UN’s headquarter, the member countries completed a journey that began 20 years ago by signing a treaty that will extend the protection and preservation of the oceans to 30 per cent of the total surface area by 2030. (Here all our posts about susainability)
A fundamental step to which is added another directly related to the environmental theme. A study conducted by the Statista Research Department showed that 59.1 per cent of young people in Generation Z (those born between 1997 and 2012) have a more conscious approach to purchasing, especially when it comes to sustainability, and pay close attention to everything that goes into making a product such as, for example, an item of clothing.
OCEANR, a sustainable company
Sea, sustainability, clothing are the three elements at the heart of OCEANR philosophy. Founded in 2016 by Tom Cotter, the company made headlines last year for winning the BITA Green Business Award thanks to its focus on environmental issues and for demonstrating a strong commitment to developing an environmentally friendly business in all the company’s practices.
And, for having won the attention of, among others, the likes of Four Seasons Resorts, or the likes of Richard Branson who wanted OCEANR by his side for the resort he has on Necker Island. Nothing random.
The strategic vision of Tom Cotter
Everything revolves around the strategic vision of Cotter, who has had the merit of creating an eco-friendly business model that has now become a benchmark not only in its own sector. We met Cotter recently, which provided us with the pretext for this interview.
How did the idea of starting OCEANR come about?
My life-long passion for water sports brought the sea’s plastic problem into deep focus, and in 2016 I began to research what could be done to help alleviate that problem. We are the first generation to suffer the consequences of climate change, and one of few to take active action to stop it. Setting up OCEANR was about changing the status quo of fast fashion, and introducing a new way of thinking about what we wear.
Does the final R in the word Ocean stand for something specific?
The R in OCEANR stands for Reduce, Re-use and Recycle and our goal is to minimize the environmental impact fashion has on the planet, subverting the traditional economic model. We do this by making clothing from sustainable and recycled materials, with the same quality and design as its’ non-recycled counterparts.
What goals have you set yourself with this brand?
The goal of our brand is our mission – to reclaim our oceans by removing as much plastic as we can and to be carbon negative doing it! We want to create the most environmentally friendly products on the planet. To date we have saved + 1.5 million plastic bottles from entering our environment by using our recycled fabrics.
Through our partnership with Enaleia we remove a kilo of ocean waste for every product we sell. Striving to reduce textile waste, we’ve launched a Take it Back program where we take OCEANR garments at their end-of-life for repair or recycle, in exchange for a discount on new orders. Through our partnership with plant for the planet we reached carbon neutral status in 2020 and aim to be 20% carbon negative by the end of 2023!
Today, the issue of sustainability has become central in all sectors. What is your idea of sustainability? What meaning do you give to this word?
To me sustainability is all about minimizing our impact on the world’s natural resources – both as individuals and organizations. It is great to see sustainability at the forefront of all sectors, but we are still not at a stage where we can point to any industry being 100% compliant. This takes time and willingness to implement continuous improvements. For me embracing sustainable processes requires a commitment to small incremental changes that will have a big impact.
Sustainability is not only a question of production processes and materials, but must it also become a philosophy of life?
I think it should be. For me education is the key. We actively support communities that are engaged in nature preservation initiatives or educational programs for children and adults. It is vital that we all move beyond attractive words and ‘greenwashing’ and take concrete action.
Today, does embracing the concept of sustainability necessarily imply going outside the perimeter of the reference sector, in your case clothing, and availing yourself of the collaboration and support of other realities operating in other areas of production or research?
It is critical that sustainability runs through the veins of everything OCEANR does! We are committed to creating a fully sustainable economic ecosystem and have built six pillars of sustainability into our operations to allow us focus and continually innovate to be as sustainable as possible across all aspects of our business. Examples of collaborations stemming from our pillars, include joining forces with BCOME: an organization which empowers companies in the textile industry to build responsible supply chains and guarantee transparency for the end customer.
This allows us to apply a QR code to our products so consumers can learn all about it by scanning it: where the plastic comes from, how long the product has traveled, the people involved more! Our “Kilo for the planet” partnership project with social start-up with Enaleia removes 1 kilo of ocean waste for every product we sell! Enaleia is a social start up founded in 2016 in Greece which encourages fishermen to adopt sustainable fishing techniques and assists in the reduction of ocean plastic by “fishing for it”. There is so much we are doing and in planning, these examples just scratch the surface of our initiatives!
Your customers include Richard Branson, who chose the brand for the Necker Island resort and the Four Seasons Resorts. What were the reasons for choosing OCEANR?
Sustainability and full customization (access to our inhouse designers who create exclusive designs) are key reasons we are partners to Necker Island, Four Seasons and some of the world’s most exclusive resorts. For example, a big requirement for Necker was that all clothing and product ranges must be sustainably made – they wanted a partner that could demonstrate an ethical supply chain from fabrics to labor to production and to create clothing for their staff and visitors that was uniquely Necker – inspired by the beauty of the island and its natural flora and fauna! We loved the result and colorful signature uniforms now worn by their team and continue to partner with Necker to support their ongoing sustainability goals.
From a technical point of view, are fibers obtained from recycled or regenerated materials able to guarantee the same performance in terms of hold and durability, especially when used to make garments intended for sport or other activities that can put them under stress?
OCEANR products use a combination of recycled polyester and organic cotton. From a technical point of view, there are three screams of ocean plastic, one comes from recycled polyester like from plastic bottles, one comes from recycled fishing nets, and one comes from recycled ocean waste, but they are complex to incorporate into recycled fabrics. The romanticized vision of rescuing a marine mammal from a piece of floating plastic, which is then seamlessly turned into a pair of sneakers is disingenuous. Ocean plastics that have been recycled from a life spent in seawater have been degraded to the point that usually only around five per cent of a recycled garment had its origin at sea. Truly sustainable eco-wear requires a long lifespan from quality products. A more realistic ratio, as applied by OCEANR uses 95% recycled bottles. This gives our line the comfort and lifespan expected from quality garments built for performance, coupled with tangible sustainability credentials.
How many lines does OCEANR offer today, and, in the future, what are the brand’s development strategies?
We have two main lines. Custom collections (exclusively designed eco-products and uniforms) for organizations based on or near the water. These include luxury private islands & resorts, super yachts, sailing and diving companies. We also have our ready-to-wear to retail collection with a new range launching online for sale this summer. We have lots of exciting plans for the future of OCEANR to be announced soon such as a swimwear and kids’ collection…but keep an eye on our Instagram for live announcements.
Do you think that today in the purchasing process a consumer also considers the issue of sustainability and how a brand is committed to this issue?
I’d like to think so, this is the main reason for our existence! Fashion is one of the largest industries in the world and the second most polluting and people are increasingly aware of the damaging impact of fast fashion. However, people need to be aware of misinformation and not be blinded by extensive marketing from big-budget brands. Transparency is the key to credibility in the increasingly competitive eco clothing market. We are currently on our journey to becoming a BCORP to meet the highest standard of verified social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability!
Still about sustainability, do you have a role model or figure from whom you draw inspiration?
I know it sounds like a cliche but David Attenborough! Traveling to all corners of the globe, having the platform to draw global attention and drive action to tackle the biggest issues facing this planet, how can you not be inspired?
What connection do you have with the sea and what does this element represent for you?
I’ve grown up around the water, passionate about watersports and to me, the ocean means Freedom. Anytime I’m on the water I feel completely free. Free from work, responsibilities, and technology. It doesn’t happen as much anymore but whether it’s diving, windsurfing, or swimming – it’s just you and the ocean.
What is your dream in the drawer?
Together with our brand partners, to educate and inspire as many organizations as possible across the globe to improve their sustainability practices.
Our greatest impact will not be just what we do. It will be how much we can influence individuals and organizations to take on that sustainable journey and in turn, influence others to do the same.