The endgame for plastics in sportswear.
2017 Finalist Iron Roots is definitely on a roll. What they do? They found a way to run all plastics out of sports apparel. In 2018 they opened up their own online store and their products are also for sale in several (physical) stores.
“Our hemp products emit around 60% less CO2 in the production process compared to polyester products.”
Around 95% of all sportswear is currently made with some form of plastic. It is cheap and easy to manipulate with chemicals to make it water-resistant or antibacterial. Iron Roots is changing all that. By using only natural materials such as eucalyptus and organic cotton, they offer a plastic free alternative. Their high quality products make it as easy as possible to transition from polyester.
Impossible to find sportswear without plastics
“I am an athlete myself, I am always working out and am very active,” says Erik de Groot, co-founder of Iron Roots. “Back in 2017, after a workout I got to talking with two friends about how strange it was that it was virtually impossible to buy sportswear without plastics, without polyester, nylon or elastane. The big issue is that when you wash those clothes, little pieces of plastic, microfibers, disappear straight into the ocean. We could not find an alternative, so we figured we should make it ourselves. And so we did.
During our research, we identified two main challenges within the clothing industry. The first was the lack of sustainable materials and the second were the bad labour practices. These two challenges are at our core and we aim to be leaders on both these fronts in the future. Currently, we are taking steps towards this goal by combining natural materials like hemp and lyocell with a fair supply chain. Our hemp products, for example, emit around 60% less CO2 during the production process compared to polyester products and don’t release any harmful microfibers into the ocean.”
“We believe in a world where no plastics are used to create clothing and where clothing is only produced under fair conditions.”
Creating outstanding products that people want to buy and use
“Besides being sustainable, our natural athletic apparel has some unique properties. Hemp, for example, is naturally anti-bacterial (so less bad odours when sweating) and anti-static. Which makes it much more comfortable to wear. Lyocell also has these anti-bacterial and anti-static properties, but it also keeps your body extra cool. Which is perfect for working out in hot weather. Ideally, we would make all of our summer collection from lyocell and all of our autumn/winter collection from hemp.
We believe in product first, which means that we want to make beautiful products that people want to buy for how they look, not just because they are sustainable.
A challenge for us is the fact that people often do not realize there is plastic in their sportswear. Most are surprised when we tell them. That makes it a bit harder to convince people to buy our products. When we succeed in that and manage to change their mind-set, then we are doing a good job.”
Iron Roots can potentially create massive CO2 reductions in the entire fashion industry. Their apparel accounts for a 60% drop in CO2 compared to sports wear produced with plastics. Another huge benefit is that there are no plastic microfibers released into the oceans. Also, their clothes need less washing due to the antibacterial qualities.
Making money with sustainable products
“When we first started out, we were looking for some guidance. I do have a business background, but not in consumer products. So we needed external advice on that. ClimateLaunchpad for us was the right mix between sustainability and commercialisation. Because we knew that if we wanted to create impact, we needed to have both the commercial and the sustainability aspects on the right track. That combination was something that really spoke to us in ClimateLaunchpad.
Another big benefit was that we gained a lot of valuable contacts during the competition. Staying connected to other entrepreneurs who aren’t necessarily in the same industry, but who also have that mind-set of creating a better world through commercial businesses – that is really cool. And valuable.”
“A challenge for us is the fact that people often do not realize there is plastic in their sportswear.”
Learnings from ClimateLaunchpad
“Before joining ClimateLaunchpad we had multiple visions. We had so many things we wanted to change in the industry: local and fair production, raising awareness for hemp as a fantastic material, sustainable production in the entire supply chain. The list went on and on, we wanted to tell four of five stories at the same time. The main change was that we picked one: we are the plastic free alternative. Everything we do starts with that. With that the entire business has become easier to manage, from branding to messaging and it guides us in everything we do.
Another big learning was to focus on things we can do right now. We were (or are) on this big mission to change the entire clothing industry. Working with the trainers and coaches during the competition helped us realize we did not have to achieve that ‘right now’. It is something we can potentially achieve in the future. That shifted our attention to where we want to do and achieve with the company right now, and how we can make a difference in the present moment by doing so. That is what drove the entire business forward.”
Products on the market
“Our biggest achievement so far is that we have products on the market. In a traditional industry as the clothing market is, it is hard to start doing things differently. To find factories that comply with your vision, to find the resources and raw materials you need. The biggest achievement was actually to get our first batch of products out – and launching our online shop. Supply chain wise the most important thing is to check the factories for their certificates, so that you know that no harmful chemicals are being used and workers are treated fairly.”
“Our shirts are finding their way to customers.”
“Our first products are now available. Currently the collection consists of sports t-shirts and accessories. Next up will be joggers, shorts and hoodies. Our main challenge right now is scaling. This is because we set such high standards in our supply chain. Every new product has to meet our sustainability and quality criteria in order to be released.”
One of the coolest things to experience is when we receive emails from people thanking us. Random people telling us they have been waiting for this for the longest time. Those messages always remind me of why we are doing this.”
Best advice: “Connect with others, stay hungry and stick with your plans”
“With ClimateLaunchpad we connected with other people that have the same mind-set and the same vision for a better world. I think that is one of the most important things in order to stay motivated, to stay hungry and to stick to your plans. It makes you feel part of a bigger system with all those people that strive for change in the future, drive towards a better world. When you’re in a specific industry, it’s easy to get stuck in a small bubble. Through ClimateLaunchpad, that bubble gets bigger so we’re now in a better bubble.”