Words by Circe Hughes

Tough *and* fair, meet Re_Threads, the ethical clothing brand making workwear that stands the test of time. After years spent working in high street women’s fashion, co-founder Liz McGreevy teamed up with construction expert Matt Roche to work on a solution to filling an environmentally-friendly and high-functioning workwear-shaped gap in the market. Soon after, they launched Re_Threads.

But that wasn’t the only inspiration behind the launch. “Re_Threads is all about ‘realising untapped potential’ primarily that of young people who are care experienced, looking to gain meaningful experience within the work environment,” Liz says.

This is why they’ve partnered with Rise Futures, a charity that works with vulnerable young people and care leavers who are often left behind by their peers, have difficulty accessing education or employment, and are at a higher risk of exploitation. Among other outreach efforts, the organisation partners with businesses – as they have with Re_Threads – to bring training and job opportunities to the young people they work with.

“We built the brand on these important pillars and they keep us on track; social value, sustainability and circularity.”

Each year, Re_Threads donates at least 20% of their profits to Rise Futures. “This gives much-needed funds for them to continue to do their amazing work in helping support young people who through no fault of their own have had a lot more hurdles to face in their early life than we can ever imagine,” says Liz. As well as this, the brand takes on ‘Rise Students’, young people in Rise Futures’ mentoring programme, who they provide with valuable exposure to all aspects of running the business, from pop-ups to office admin and design to social media.

Just as key as providing positive opportunities for at-risk youth to Re_Threads’ mission is generating a greener fashion future, and they’re looking ahead in more ways than one. “We are really passionate about rethinking and reimagining what functional workwear looks like to lots of people,” says Liz, “we think of it as clothes that work for you, by being evergreen, sustainable and circular – as we offer repairs and will take care of the garment once it comes to the end of its life.”

It’s never been more evident that the fashion industry needs to make some serious changes. Fast fashion production completely dominates the arena and, along with its supply chain, it accounts for 10% of annual global carbon emissions – that makes the fashion industry the third biggest polluter in the world, after construction and food respectively.

And carbon pollution isn’t the only major side effect of clothing production. Every year, the fashion industry’s water use would be enough to meet the consumption needs of five million people (93 billion cubic metres), 87% of total fibre input for clothing is burned or sent to landfills and half a million tonnes of plastic microfibres (which can’t be removed) are dumped into the ocean – that’s the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles.

But why focus on workwear in particular? “We wanted to look at one part of the issue that we felt was going untouched, which was how can we create a business that considers the larger scale problem of workwear that isn’t sustainable – especially branded workwear,” Liz says. Until recently, durable and versatile workwear has largely been missing from the sustainable fashion world. To address this, Re_Threads set out to specialise in inclusive workwear that can appeal to everyone and is produced within the environmental and societal principles of the brand.

There’s no worry of greenwashing here, because Re_Threads prioritises traceability and transparency, allowing customers a full look into each step of the production process so they feel confident that they know what they’re buying into.

A large portion of their range is made from organic cotton, which generates 46% fewer greenhouse gases than conventional cotton, healthier soil and requires 91% less water to farm. They also use bamboo, which is often called the ‘world’s most renewable material’ as it’s a very fast-growing plant that absorbs a significant amount of carbon dioxide while producing 35% more oxygen than a similar group of trees. While their clothes are designed to put up with a lot – it’s Re_Threads intention that they’ll be a part of your wardrobe for a long time – they also offer lifetime repairs for any items that require some sprucing up, or will recycle and repurpose pieces that are no longer usable. Plus, their delivery packaging is reusable and they’re always working towards becoming a net zero company.

“We believe in taking responsibility for the garments we produce.”

Besides production, endlessly following trends exacerbates the environmental issues caused by the climate crisis. The trend cycle has sped up exponentially in recent years with the impact of social media, meaning that by the time people have purchased items to mimic what they’ve been seeing online, the craze has already died out and the clothes get discarded.

This is one of the reasons that Liz and her co-founder Matt wanted the brand to centre around workwear. Each of the pieces Re_Threads makes is “not trend-led, it is evergreen, versatile and whilst also maintaining broad appeal and inclusion,” as Liz puts it. Currently, they stock a gender-inclusive range of shirts, t-shirts, outerwear, trousers and jeans, all of which are staples in everyone’s wardrobe.

Almost two years since the birth of the concept behind Re_Threads, Liz and her team have done well in making a name for themselves within the slow fashion world, having only officially launched the clothing line in May of this year. They’ve also had three Rise Students join their team so far and are planning on taking on even more over the next year. Reflecting on how far they’ve come in such a short time, and in the face of pandemic-related hurdles, Liz says, “personally, I really am grateful for any and all opportunities that give us a platform to talk about how businesses can give back in a very simple but incredibly meaningful way.”