Q&A with Merchant Tailor’s Peter Hall
Ever wondered how to make sustainable clothing from eco fabrics including caps which are largely created from ocean plastic? Then read on!
London-based sustainable clothing company Merchant Tailor is Andretti United Extreme E Team’s Official Apparel Supplier.
But, who is the team behind Merchant Tailor and what do they do?
Find out more in our exclusive Q&A with the company’s Managing Director, Peter Hall…
How did the business start?
“It started from my ambition to offer the market something different. Coming from motorsport, where caps are such a big thing, I was frustrated with the restrictions on design and high volumes. So, I wanted to offer full design and custom production with low volume, still offering a premium product with the latest branding techniques. From there, we’ve grown doing different products and designs for brands like Ineos, Sky, Bremont, F1 and England Rugby. We’ve stuck to our high standard, high quality model but now understand our purpose more fully – that we can, client by client, make a material difference.”
How would you describe your (value) proposition?
“Premium, customised design apparel and accessories made from sustainable eco fabrics. It gives brands a turn-key solution to achieving a credible level of sustainability for their brand and customers. That investment translates into brand equity and customer loyalty which can only help grow any business.”
You were an early adopter of recycled plastic use. You saw the competitive advantage?
“Yes, I started introducing ocean recycled plastic in early 2018. Back then, ocean plastic didn’t have the buzz about it that it does now. I saw it as a distinct competitive edge over our competition. Not only were our clients getting premium custom-made caps, that they could order in low volume – they also had an extra USP in the sustainable message. This edge was proven by some of the great, global brands we now work with.”
How does the production process work? What’s the technology?
“The fabrics we use are made in exactly the same way as normal fabrics - except we use recycled sources. Working with credible clean-up initiatives, that interlink with recycling centres, that follow to yarn mills and then fabric mills, provides a liner system that’s traceable and adaptive to creating new options for fabric blends. However, a great deal of quality control is required, so we work with the factories on the creation in fabric blends, that ultimately have to work for the products we produce. The cap was a classic example. Traditionally, caps are made from 100% cotton, the fabric we use is 65% recycled ocean and 35% organic cotton. The amount of cotton in the weave, gave it just the right feel, but the 65% recycled polyester gave the fabric a huge sustainability injection, without impacting quality. It’s a win win for consumers and the environment.”
Where do you source your plastic and materials?
“We make most our apparel products in Spain and Portugal. In my opinion, Spain makes some of the best quality fabrics in the world. This also is where the collection and clean-up initiatives operate. By being in Europe, it also helps from a regulation and certification point of view. We now work with a great operation out of Vietnam, that has the same sustainable story, with the added bonus that it supports the local communities. It allows them to collect plastic waste and essentially get paid for it.”
Is it true everything is measured in plastic bottles?
“Because of the initiates we work with and understanding the clear linear process involved, we can calculate how much plastic it takes to make a measure of fabric. Taking into consideration the weight, the % blend, we can make calculations on how much waste has been used. Equate that to the average weight and size of a plastic bottle, we formulate how many bottles have been used. In case of caps, its one cap equals eight recycled plastic bottles with a standard tee at about 12.”
How did the Andretti Partnership come about?
“I was already talking to Extreme E about what do so I knew of the programme. The relationship with Andretti came about from a post I put up on LinkedIn. Jim Wright [Andretti United’s commercial director] reached out to me from there and suffice to say I am very pleased I put the post but proud we’ve done pulled together such a great collection in the record time of just a few months.”
You’ve been working in motorsport for 20 years. It’s a different game now?
“Yes, I think so. But that will always happen, when new fresh minds come in, with new ideas and rise to a position of delegation to influence and make change. In areas where traditional models of licensing, partnerships and sponsorships arise, there has been change. This has been dictated by the power of the brands involved plus the new platforms and avenues to elevate business. Motorsport has a big emphasis is on safety and a more sustainable path. Hence, where the nature of the sport is continuously reaching the pinnacle of excellence in every category - if this includes environmental and sustainable developments, this will certainly accelerate things as it did around safety. Essentially, the basis of motorsport has largely stayed the same, the continuous evolvement of technology, the strive to win and commitment to creating engaging viewing trough great racing. The ‘game’ will always change, but what is exciting is how its grown into more categories and with more players.”
What’s your take on Extreme E – the future of the sport?
“For me, it has the right ingredients - it’s taking the best from all the other racing series and combining into one. The electric from FE, off road racing from WRC, driver changes from GT and the WEC. All this with global racing, intertwined with the relevant social issues of male and female racing. In essence it ticks all the right boxes before the first race has even happened. The only last one to assign is good quality racing, and I am sure we will get that. I also grew up with my father who rallied, so I got the whole off-road thing. Where F1 dominates the pinnacle of racing technology, for me Extreme E leads in so many other ways. Its pushing motorsport into a better future.”
You also work with Pierre Gasly in F1?
“Yes, we met with Pierre’s management team who wanted to develop his personal fan wear range. The sustainable angle resonated with them, plus we support the project’s aesthetic design of the range. Pierre took the personal decision to make his range from sustainable sources which I take my hat off to. Besides that, motorsport, F1, better design is something we are all personally passionate about, so it a real privilege to support Pierre.”
MT is a diverse business. Can you name a few other client projects?
“Yes, it’s not always about racing and motorsport. My attention span has been known not to be too long, and so I have interests in many other things. We have a surf brand called Cord - the first surf brand to have its entire collection made from recycled fabrics. We also work with clients in cycling, shooting and rugby. Because of the ocean plastic connection, we work with brands like PADI and WWF, which has been great. Working in different areas allows us to develop our creativity for better design. Taking inspiration and ideas from different projects that have worked and adapting them has really been beneficial to us.”
Who’s your next collection for – who do you want next as a client?
“Our next collection is with Brabham. Again, motorsport related. But this has given us the chance to create something that comes with huge heritage, but contemporary in its look and feel. In terms of who and want next? This goes back to my thought, that to have significant, instant positive environmental impact, the ‘big’ brands in this world need to step up more than they are. The moment they do that, it’s a game changer from an environmental perspective. Take caps for example, our caps are measured by 8 recycled plastic bottles per cap. If we stuck with motorsport, then think of brands within it that produce a lot of caps. They can be in the hundreds of thousands so the environmental impact is huge! So, the one that takes that decision… I would like to be our next client.”
What’s your company ambition and vision for the next five years?
“We have developed from a pure design and supply business to incorporating a licensing and partnership programme. In addition, we have opened up operations in the US. As a business, we want to stay ahead of the field, open up into territories and develop more partnerships opportunities, perhaps into different sports. In essence, I think I would like MT to be really recognised in five years as a front-runner for sustainable production and merchandising. If our legacy can be anything, I hope we will be been seen as a pioneer in sustainability and as a risk-taker that opened up people’s eyes to environmental damage - and that there is another way.”
For more information on Merchant Tailor, please visit their company website HERE.