Back in 2017, my now wife and I were in New Zealand on vacation. We’re big on adventure (how could you not be, in a place as picturesque as New Zealand?), so we headed out for a hike. Little did I know that hike would change my life forever.
As always, as soon as I started walking, I started to suffer from the most unbearable chafing that I have ever experienced. It was so uncomfortable and we still had hours left to walk, a plight I wouldn’t wish on anybody.
It got me thinking that there has to be a product that solves this problem. So upon my return, I started looking for a solution to solve chafing, sweat and the constant riding up of my underwear. The search revealed nothing.
I decided to create a solution myself – Step One’s innovative UltraGlyde panels, which is a strip of ultra-low friction fabric that sits between your legs to reduce friction.
I knew that I wanted to create a product that did not harm the environment and was ethical in its manufacturing process.
With this concept in mind, I jumped on a plane overseas and started looking for factories to help me develop the product. I was confident that, if I got it right, the product would be a hit. Within a few months, we were selling our underwear online and, today, we sell a pair of Step One underwear every eight seconds.
I believe this comes down not only to the product, but the ethics we uphold and, of course, ensuring amazing customer service.
From the very beginning, being self-funded, I had to ensure that we were not only a profitable company, but I wanted us to be ethical and sustainable as well. This was non-negotiable for me. I knew that I wanted to create a product that did not harm the environment and was ethical in its manufacturing process.
Here are three key steps that helped me achieve these goals.
I personally inspected the factories
You might often hear horror stories about offshore manufacturing, but I can assure you there are many international factories that are doing it right. I wanted to see for myself, so I ventured to China to meet the managers and staff in person.
I visited around 25 factories before I chose the ones I went with, and I only went to factories that were Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) accredited.
The BSCI is a social monitoring system for ethical sourcing, initiated by the Brussels-based Foreign Trade Association. It is a business-driven initiative for companies that are committed to improving working conditions within the global supply chain.
Fair trade should be important to all businesses.
It offers a code of conduct that is built around protecting workers’ rights. This includes fair remuneration, fair working hours, fair working conditions, no bonded labor, no child labor, occupational health and safety and much more.
The BSCI initiative is by no means compulsory. However, as a business, we have chosen to only work with factories that have the certification and renew it every year. As fair trade should be important to all businesses, I would recommend looking for this stamp of approval when searching for a factory to work with.
While all the factories we visited were BSCI certified, I chose to do business with the factories that offered extras such as music, fans and comfortable seating. They also allow us to stop by anytime, unannounced, which is key for accountability.
If you can, I highly recommend visiting the people you will be working with in person. Not only does it assist you in gaining a full picture of how things will run, it allows you to build quality working relationships. In addition to fair work, you need to ensure you are going with a team that knows what it is doing. It needs to be capable of making a quality product within acceptable timeframes.
All our sub-suppliers are accredited
While we only work with factories and suppliers that are BSCI accredited, we have also just received our full Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, cementing our position as an environmentally ethical business.
That means that everything from where the bamboo comes out of the ground to the people who make our waistbands and biodegradable packaging are certified, too.
Our product is made from organically grown, bamboo viscose, and the FSC certification guarantees that the bamboo used to make our products is sourced sustainably and responsibly, something consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of.
It took us three years to gain our end-to-end certification, but I felt it was an important thing to do from the get-go as it adds an additional layer of transparency.
We chose fabric for the benefit of the environment and for scaling the business
Consumers are becoming more conscious of their purchases, thanks to increased access to information, which means it’s essential for brands to share or highlight the ways they are doing business right.
Our decision to use organically grown bamboo viscose fabric over cotton is one we are proud of because it shows consumers we are committed to sustainability. Bamboo has so many environmental benefits over cotton, such as being naturally irrigated. A cotton tee-shirt, for example, can use more than 25,000 liters of water to make.
It’s essential for brands to share or highlight the ways they are doing business right.
Using a fabric that not only feels more luxurious and breathable on your skin, but also creates less of an impact on the environment, was a win in our books. Once we found the right bamboo farms, it was easy for us to be able to sustainably scale the brand without using too many resources.
While it may take a bit more time and money to find the right suppliers and the right materials from an ethical and sustainable standpoint, it is worth trying to get your processes right from the start.
Write down what is important to you as a brand, do your research on the elements, everything from what factories to speak to and which fabrics to use. In 2023, customers are more conscious about their purchasing decisions, so starting your business off with good intentions will put you in good stead to showcase your credentials, but also increase your certifications over time.
Bamboo Fast Facts
Water usage: Bamboo requires less water than cotton to grow, reducing the strain on water resources. In fact, a cotton tee-shirt requires circa 25,000 liters of water to make. Step One’s organically grown FSC-certified bamboo does not require irrigation water. It simply relies on natural rain to grow.
Land usage: Bamboo can grow in a variety of climates and soil types. It can be grown on slopes and other marginal land too. Cotton requires specific soil and climate conditions. Bamboo can be harvested around four times a year because it is a grass that is cut down, whereas cotton needs to be pulled out of the ground, replanted and regrown, so you can generally only harvest it once a year.
Pesticides and fertilizers: Bamboo can be grown without the use of pesticides and fertilizers, whereas cotton is a heavily sprayed crop that requires significant input to control pests and maintain yields.
Carbon sequestration: Bamboo is a fast-growing plant that absorbs more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than cotton. This helps mitigate the effects of climate change.
Renewability: Bamboo is a renewable resource that can be harvested several times a year without killing the plant, whereas cotton must be replanted every year.
Conservation: Step One’s bamboo does not contribute to habitat loss. We do not contribute to deforestation.
Greg Taylor is a Sydney-based entrepreneur who founded Step One underwear. He started the business from his bedroom, and turned it into a publicly listed company, doing more than US$46 million in revenue and US$6.5 million in profit in under five years. Taylor achieved this without any outside funding, and as a sole shareholder.