Peak to Plateau is an outdoor sportswear and adventure clothing company based in Christchurch, New Zealand. We use yak wool that is responsibly sourced from the Tibetan plateau to create base layers and outdoor clothing that outperforms other options. We source fibre from companies that pay a fair price for it, helping nomadic herding families earn reliable additional income. Our main focus is to use sustainable fibre in our clothing, which is why we also chose to use Tencel. As we continue to develop and grow, we want to make real changes and improvements in other areas, such as dyeing, packaging, and further supporting the development of the yak fibre industry.
The top five challenges with sustainable practices are:
1) The cost. It is crucial to make something that is going to sell, and convince people to pay more for that is tough. It is also difficult to convince yourself and other suppliers that using more expensive material is beneficial. The way we overcome this is by ensuring that sustainable material is of better quality. People are willing to pay for quality and performance.
2) Supply chain. Being one of the first companies to source a product means there are many unknown problems. Often, suppliers have not worked with each other and communication can be difficult. We have tried to avoid this by working with suppliers who are highly experienced and willing to try new things. We have not over-complicated anything and have started slowly, so if there are any problems, the impact is minimised.
3) Convincing suppliers to work with us. Typical supply chains are set up for large scale, low cost manufacturing and going against that is often something suppliers do not know how to deal with. While their priority is price, we are not so concerned about that and prefer to focus on quality and being able to provide a benefit to everyone. Luckily, we have found suppliers who share our vision and understand what we are doing.
4) Complete Sustainability. Using sustainable practices in all areas of the business is the ultimate goal, but this is not always possible. Especially when we are a small company, it is impossible to get everything right from the beginning. For example, we believe there are many ways to reduce environmental impacts of dyeing fabric, but this is a long and expensive process and it is something we will look into further when we have the resources to do so. It is all about being clear about what you are doing and what you are not doing.
5) Marketing. Deciding how much emphasis should be placed on sustainability when marketing our products is tough, and although most people may say it is important, the performance, quality, style and price of the product are more so. We have decided to focus more on the performance of the products, and the sustainability is marketed as part of the story behind the company.
Making the fabrics is a lot more difficult. It is slower, more expensive, and the results are not guaranteed. Many companies using merino wool will simply specify what type of fabric they would like (weight, colour, knit, micron etc). Because we are the only company making the fabric that we use, we need to be completely involved. We start by making sure our fibre is of high quality and of the right micron. For spinning, we need to work with the spinner to figure out what yarn count is possible and whether a blend is required, and the spinning factory will have to run tests to get settings on their machines correct. Knitting the fabric is the next step and making sure that there is good communication between the spinning factory and knitting factory is crucial. After the fabric is finished, it is ready to be made into garments.
We are currently making a collection of base layer tops and leggings, and also beanies and neck warmers. They are designed for the outdoors, but also have a simple, clean style that looks great around town. The outdoor industry is massive, and is too big to quantify, but we see our main groups of customers being hikers, skiers and travellers. The United States of America, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan are the key countries that we want to target.
The next year or two will be about developing our products and customer base, so we can get out of the current Make, Sell, Make cycle where we rely on sales to provide the money to manufacture. Once we establish ourselves and become financially sustainable, we will be able to focus on other goals.