A start-up challenges the fast fashion industry with the launch of its own brand of sustainable and ethical clothing.
Dryad is a women’s outdoor sportswear company offering an alternative to mass-produced, low-cost disposable clothing from major fashion brands.
The Abergavenny-based company launched in December 2021 with an initial range of women’s trail running gear, with each garment made from 90% recycled fabrics.
It was set up by Matthew Thomas, an avid triathlete and runner, who runs Dryad while working full-time as a strategy manager for a climate change organization.
Keen to use his sustainability skills and experience, Matthew wanted to create a clothing brand that didn’t follow the ‘pink and shrunken’ model – where sports brands are first created for a male audience before to be suitable for women.
He also wanted Dryad clothes to be made in a fair and transparent supply chain, as opposed to fast fashion where clothes are often produced by workers in poor conditions and with low wages.
“We want to make sure everyone is treated fairly in our supply chains. It’s just as important as having recycled content in our t-shirts,” Matthew said, speaking to BusinessLive.
“I want to make sure they have fair pay, haven’t been exposed to harmful chemicals, and have proper training and development,” he added.
Working with business partner Joby Barnard, the duo approached Scottish sportswear design agency SEAMS with a mission to design and manufacture a line of sustainable women’s running apparel made with recycled fabrics that were also repairable.
“The agency designed the products to our specifications and then helped us identify progressive textile mills to find the right fabrics for our products,” Matthew said.
“Many small brands and start-ups in the fashion industry work with an agency that initially helps them create the designs and guides them through the process,” he added.
The clothing range is produced by technical sportswear manufacturer Petratex, based in Portugal and powered by renewable energy.
The manufacturer was a good fit for the brand for its fair treatment of garment workers and its geographic location.
“When we explored options for Asian factories, the supply chains weren’t as transparent,” Matthew said.
“I’m not saying they were all bad, but for us, as a small company, it seemed appropriate to start with a really reliable manufacturing facility with a really good reputation.”
However, as the business grows, Matthew has ambitions to relocate manufacturing of its high-tech clothing to Wales.
“It’s a long-term goal. But making good quality sportswear takes a lot of skill and a lot of expensive machinery,” Matthew said.
“We want Dryad to be just one part of a step to bring some of that manufacturing back to Wales and support local employment by doing so,” he added.
Currently, the only route to market for the brand is through direct consumer contact through the Dryad website to maintain brand and price control.
They also use recyclable packaging to fulfill online orders, which is part of its sustainable philosophy.
“If we go through a major online retailer, some of our products might be discounted and we try to make good quality, long-lasting clothing,” Matthew said.
Dryad’s retail prices are at the upper end of the market. His running leggings have an RRP of £90 while his running t-shirt has a retail price of £46.
But Matthew said the company is working on smaller margins due to its high manufacturing costs.
He said: “We hope consumers understand what we are trying to do. If you’re wearing a t-shirt that costs £10, that means someone who made it didn’t get paid very well. You can’t be durable and cheap, that’s not how it works.
The brand eventually wants to launch a circularity program, where customers can return used Dryad garments for a discount.
“The longer you keep your clothes, the bigger the discount you’ll get when you return them,” Matthew said.
“Once we have collected them, we can either determine if we can put them away and resell them at a reduced price, or if we can reuse them. The idea is that we become a completely circular company rather than a company in end of life. “
For now, the start-up is focused on building sales in Wales and the wider UK market, and although the company has received an order placed in Australia, there are no plans yet. to consider exporting.
“If we make something in the UK and ship it to Australia, that’s a huge carbon footprint on that product,” he said.
“Our mandate is to be as sustainable as possible, so we need to think about the best approaches to that, whether we need to look at offsetting those emissions or say it’s a market too far off and should be supported by someone. another. It’s kind of a moral dilemma,” he added.
The company also plans to expand the line to include cycling, yoga and leisure wear. But are there plans to expand into men’s sportswear or a children’s line?
“The brand is so women-focused that we’d like it to stay that way, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be launching other brands. We have ideas for a men’s brand that we could launch further that would use the same manufacturer and supply chain,” Matthew said.
Dryad also works with local sports initiatives and charities to support women’s trail running activities in Abergavenny to build brand awareness.
“We want to build the best brand and find the community to support that brand and support them in turn,” Matthew said.
“As the business grows, we can do more to raise awareness of supply chain issues and invest more of our profits in improving access to all sports for women.”