What it’s really like to start an ethical clothing brand; an interview with STPL

We’ve spoken to David Biren, co-founder of ethical menswear label, STPL

STPL is an ethically sourced, sustainable menswear label. Focusing on basic, staple pieces, the brand offers high-quality garments made from the world’s most luxurious textiles. We’ve spoken to CEO, David Biren, to get all the behind-the-scene details and find out what really goes into running an ethical brand.

What was the core inspiration for STPL? Were there any key role models in the industry that pushed you to go ahead and launch the brand? 

As four avid geography students with a real passion for entrepreneurship, we decided that we wanted to start a business that could be a real force for good and add value to people’s lives.  We decided to focus on the fashion industry because it has the potential to add value to so many people and could do with a shakeup.

Out of the four founders, none of us had any experience in fashion but we didn’t let this stand in our way, and so STPL was born. Charged by our mantra “make everyday exceptional” we set out on a mission to create accessible ethical basics from the world’s most luxurious textiles.

Longer lifespan, ethical sourcing and extraordinary craftsmanship are woven into our DNA and so we had to travel far and wide to ensure that our basics are so much more than basic.

STPL focuses on the simplicity and long lasting quality of garments, was this always at the heart of the brand when you were creating it?  

Yes. One of the main reasons we founded STPL was because most of the brands on the market sell t-shirts or clothing made from inferior quality materials that deteriorate with every wash. Our aim is to sell clothing which will withstand the test of time. After years of extensive testing and research we decide to craft our t-shirts from 100% pima cotton. One of the qualities of this luxury cotton is that it actually gets softer over time, while retaining the integrity of the textile. Longer lasting clothing means less clothing going to landfill and this fits with our strong commitment to sustainability. We are trying to be the most ethical brand possible, this extends to our manufacturer but also to our customers. It would be unethical of us to sell a product which is only good for a few washes and so that is why we put so much emphasis on sourcing such great fabric!

“Fast fashion causes so much damage to the planet and to the people producing our clothing. If enough people take a stand, the large brands will have no choice but to change or be left behind.”

In such a saturated fashion market, what makes STPL different from other brands in the same price range? 

Our brand has a real personality and everything we have done so far has been to give STPL as much of a personality as possible. Many brands go down the standard route of sourcing either organic cotton, combed cotton or pima cotton which is usually sourced by an agent who puts them in touch with a factory. This factory will make the same t-shirt for 20 brands and the only thing which differentiates the t-shirts is the branding. A surprising number of brand owners will have never even visited the factory where their clothing is manufactured.

After researching the industry and learning about the process, we decided that we would like to source the most luxurious fabrics in the world and make them accessible to regular folk. We have been told by our customers that our t-shirts are as good as brands which charge £90 for a tee. We want people to understand that an ethically crafted tee, manufactured from some of the finest pima cotton in the world, doesn’t need to cost a fortune.

We are also launching a unique basics subscription service. We figured that we would take the hassle out of shopping for basics- our subscription is completely flexible so people are not committed to any long term contract and they can subscribe as and when they see fit.

It’s been amazing to see smaller brands like STPL doing their part for the planet and producing ethical fashion, what do you think the next step is for bigger brands and the fashion industry as a whole in order to become more eco-friendly? 

I think the fashion industry is going to pivot in the next couple of years and go back to quality over quantity. I think huge brands which cause such a huge amount of socio economic damage are going to be held accountable and won’t be able to get away with their behaviour as it is.

Fast fashion causes so much damage to the planet and to the people producing our clothing. If enough people take a stand, the large brands will have no choice but to change or be left behind. 

“My favourite part of creating STPL is waking up every day and having to work out how to get around the next challenge”

What do you envision for STPL in the upcoming years?  

We would like to be the go-to shop for high quality accessible basics. We really believe that by running an efficient and lean operation, charging fair prices for our products and being committed to only producing basics from the finest materials in the world, we have a fair chance at achieving this vision. We also see ourselves adding a women’s line and perhaps a home basics line in the next few years. 

What was your favourite part of creating the STPL business?

I would say that my favourite part of creating STPL is waking up every day and having to work out how to get around the next challenge. My favourite part of the whole process was when after years of research and development we finally held the final product in our hand. 

“Look out for sharks. These are people who will try and take advantage of your inexperience to benefit themselves”

What advice would you give to a young graduate looking to start their own ethical business? Are there any simple mistakes to look out for and avoid making? 

I’d say look out for sharks. These are people who will try and take advantage of your inexperience to benefit themselves. A great ethical supplier/manufacturer will always behave ethically towards you. If somebody is putting a lot of pressure on you to pay them a significant amount of money walk away because they are usually trying to take advantage of you.

At the start of STPL we were quite far along the process of sampling, the manufacturer we were speaking to wanted us to pay him a significant amount of money without seeing a final product. It didn’t feel right so we scrapped 18 months of work and decided to source a different manufacturer. It’s lucky we did because the manufacturer we ended up using was incomparably better than the one who had tried to charge us up front.

And finally, if you had to define what the core of your brand is and what it stands for with one sentence, what would it be?

We are on a mission to make the ‘everyday exceptional’ by creating accessible basics from the worlds most luxurious textiles, pledging longer lifespan, ethical sourcing and extraordinary craftsmanship.

Enjoy 20% off with our exclusive discount code*: CARBON20

*Valid for use on 1-tshirt per person.

Written by Sophie Corderoy, Pictures from STPL