Make Thread: shaking up the fashion industry
The way the world does business is changing. The impact of climate change, government net-zero pledges, and purpose-driven consumers mean sustainable and ethical business practices can no longer be consigned to a paragraph in a strategy doc.
Make Thread is a Liverpool business built around social commerce, we caught up with co-founder Sarah O’Brien to hear how they are shaking up the fashion industry, one sustainable t-shirt at a time.
What’s the mission behind Make Thread?
We want to empower independents to create planet-friendly fashion – changing fashion’s bad habits to help to sustain a healthy planet for us and future generations.
How does the platform work?
We’re a community platform that connects design, social media and e-commerce in one place. We provide a risk-free route to market for designers and independents to produce on-demand, organic apparel. It’s a model designed to eliminate the waste of deadstock that would end up in landfills or incinerated and gives an accessible platform to new creative talent.
Has the pandemic affected your business?
We built the platform and soft-launched just before Christmas 2019 with a plan to drive the business forward in Spring 2020 – so you could say the timing wasn’t ideal! The pandemic did affect our business, but we actually turned it into a positive. Our plan was to work with universities to give up and coming talent a platform and an entry into the industry, but when Covid hit we had to pivot.
So in April 2020, we asked our community to create designs that would spread kindness during the initial Covid outbreak – and #DesignForKindness was born. The uptake was huge and working with some incredible designers and influencers we created a range of t-shirts with all the profits going to the National Emergencies Trust.
From there the direction of the business really changed, we realised engaging with designers, influencers and small businesses offered real opportunities for us. We always say a road bump is a challenge, that can be turned into a positive! And they don’t come much bigger than launching in a pandemic, but it was an opportunity for us to think differently and evolve the business.
Have you noticed an increased appetite in the creative, digital, and tech industry for ethical and sustainable ways of working?
I do think it’s starting to change – it has to change. And I think the pandemic has played a role in that too, people have reconnected with their roots and started to question their impact on the world around them. It’s interesting because we’re seeing more independent businesses coming to us to help them with projects – we’re working with Love Lane brewery on some great sustainable merch for a Kickstarter campaign – but I think it’s not always top of the agenda for tech, digital and creative businesses. It’s being talked about much more now though and I think people have wanted to address it for a while, but just aren’t always sure how to go about it – and that’s where we come in.
Have you got any tips for businesses who want to operate in a more sustainable and ethical way?
We started from the bottom up with sustainability leading everything we do but when you’re already an established business it can be difficult to change habits – especially when in the short term it can affect your margins. But I think the key is to go back to your core values, to ask who you want to be as an organisation, and embedding a new way of thinking.
It’s a commitment and you’ve got to take it seriously, it’s not enough to put a paragraph on your website – it’s got to be authentic. We have a sustainability ambassador who keeps us on track, don’t be afraid to look around at what others are doing. We’re part of some great initiatives too, we give 1% of our revenue to good causes through 1% For The Planet, and closer to home we’re committed to keeping a local street tidy #adoptaplace. And don’t discount small changes – like pledging to never have disposable cups in the office, focusing on recycling, the little things make a difference.
How has Gather helped you?
We recently completed the Shift programme – and it was great. It gave us the opportunity to look at the business through a different lens, to question things and really take stock of where we are and where we want to be. It’s brilliant to get new perspectives and to talk to people outside of your immediate sector and immediate area in the city. We’re based in the Baltic so have lots of connections there, but it was good to see how people across the city are making an impact and creating positive change. We’ve made some new relationships and are working on a couple of new collaborations which is great.
Do you think the creative, digital and tech scene in the city has changed in recent years?
I first worked in Liverpool in 2006 and the change since then is massive. With Make Thread we moved straight into the Baltic, and it’s such a hub of creativity and innovation that just wasn’t there ten years ago. Everyone knows everyone and everyone’s willing to help.
People see the city as a credible place to invest and start a creative business now – and it’s a circular thing, the more successful businesses and investment you have, the more it attracts to the area.
There are lots of accelerator programmes and funding opportunities in the city that really helps when you’re starting out. As female founders we got lots of support and were successful in our application for Future Innovation funding which will really help us with future plans and allow us to drive the business forward.
Programmes like Shift are ideal for when you’re ready to take the next step, or when you want support in changing the business.
What’s next for Make Thread?
The pandemic and the impact of Brexit means we’ve had to shift from a Kickstarter model to a simple made to order model – it’s been challenging, but we’ve worked hard to make it work with our supply chains and we’re redesigning our platform to make the user journey better. We’re working on some long-term plans around circular fashion, becoming a B-Corp and new partnerships with exciting new influencers and designers – so watch this space!