5 Questions With Sheep Inc.
We sat down with Michael Wessely, the co founder of Sheep Inc. to learn more about the brand's mission and journey within sustainability. Sheep Inc. was set up to show there can be a new way of doing fashion. Looking at fashion as part of the solution rather than part of the problem. We admire the way Sheep Inc are tackling how to be a responsible and innovative brand, and really pioneering how a brand can both prioritise the people and planet.
Read below for our Five Questions With Sheep Inc co-founder Michael Wessely.
1. As founder of Sheep Inc. could you share the core mission of the brand and why it was first founded?
Whilst running my previous business (also in the fashion space), I saw the impact of fashion on the environment first-hand. That combined with the birth of my son really shook me into action. I left my last business to set up Sheep Inc. with the idea of creating a new model for how a fashion business could behave. One that would allow you to create beautiful products, whilst still addressing the climate emergency head on. And I had a real passion for knitwear, so wanted to create something special around that product category. We built the whole brand off a central question of “how do you set up a fashion brand in today’s world?” — knowing the cliff edge we’re standing on. So it is not so much practices in the brand, but more that we’ve tried to take every part of the business and try to figure out how to do it in the most sustainable and ethical way we can. An environmental core mission for Sheep Inc. is focusing on addressing the current, number one planetary concern: reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. And doing it quickly. This means we had to figure out a way of, not only, drastically reducing carbon emissions as a company, but figuring out how we could actually have a positive, regenerative impact — or we would simply become part of the problem. Our position is therefore that carbon-neutrality doesn’t push things far enough. If we want to get out of the crisis we’re in, we collectively need to have a regenerative impact — so become carbon-negative.
Furthermore, we see the company as not only being a knitwear brand, but being representative of how you can operate in fashion to ensure you are part of the solution, not the problem. We wanted to create an example for other brands and future brands to show that there is a better way of doing things.
2. We think the tracking technology within Sheep Inc is a true innovation in the sustainability sphere, can you walk us through how this works?
Sheep Inc. launched with an NFC tag, located on the sweater hem that enables consumers to track the product right back to the farm the wool came from, sharing a full account of the supply chain and carbon footprint. We were the first brand to equip consumers with the full information behind their product and the carbon impact, involving them in the origins and creation of the product rather than just delivering a ready made sweater. We designed a proprietary app that suppliers along the supply chain use. Suppliers and manufacturers can add detailed information on all the manufacturing steps, including exact knitting times and names and details of the person who worked on the garment. This ensures both full transparency for the customer and for Sheep Inc. internally to be able to keep track and know exactly who was involved with the making of the garment. Knowing all the manufacturing steps and details also allows us to calculate a more exact carbon footprint.
In addition, we also allocate you a sheep from the same farm your sweater’s wool is from. Customers just need to tap the NFC tag with a phone (no app required) and not only will the provenance be revealed, but they will also be digitally allocated a (real-life) sheep that they can name. The customer will then be kept up to date with farm life, constantly involving them in the story of the product. We believe emotive and interesting story telling is the key way to ignite interest in the stories behind the things we wear. With the goal of bringing us back in touch and ultimately creating a change in consumer behaviour by having people interrogate the provenance of the clothing they buy.
3. Sheep Inc stands for radical transparency. How important is transparency to the future of sustainability?
Transparency and traceability comes down to accountability — the more traceability (or transparency), the more brands will have a public forum to show how good or bad they are behaving. This accountability is crucial. As it will allow the customer to have a proper overview of behaviour before they make a purchase. So they can start making more informed decisions.
Important here, that as much as brands should be willing to change themselves, pushing for transparency/traceability really does also sit in the hands of the consumer. The more consumers demand transparency and make a purchase dependent on it, the more the industry will have to change. That is why we focus so much on story telling to engage the customer. And as the consumer starts to realise the power they wield to make the right choices (and they have increasingly more right choices available) companies will become more scrutinised. This will (eventually) mean that brands that don’t offer up any provenance information (ideally fully audited information) will, for most of the market, no longer be an attractive purchasing option. So companies will have to change to or suffer the financial consequences. It also key to point out that we independent verify all of our activity and carbon footprint data so the customer doesn’t have to just take our word for it! We also work very closely with experts such as Mark Maslin, Professor of Climatology from UCL to ensure we have the most expert direction and advice when deciding our environmental strategy.
4. What does the future for Sheep Inc look like?
We have some exciting projects coming up. In the interest of sharing our business model we have some key collaborations coming up, highlighting how this is a way of working others can adopt. In the interest of furthering change quickly brands need to work together and we find this collaborative effort hugely exciting. Our commitment to a better way of doing business and continuing to push what the industry expects of a fashion brand is key and we will announce one of the industry’s defining achievements yet in the next couple of weeks.
Aside from this we hope to continuing engaging everyone in the story, whether they become a consumer or not, we want the dissemination of factual information to continue to be a guiding light for us.
5. What is the main way you think we can change consumption habits to become more in line with more mindful values?
Information and education. A huge part of the brand is dedicated to this and encouraging people to understand the impacts of over consumption / planetary exploitation. Informed decisions lead to better decisions and we want to guide consumers towards this.
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