Making it rain ethics with Sophie Mollison from Ponch.
After searching high and low for the perfect raincoat—one that was stylish, sustainable and easy to transport—Ponch founder, Sophie (along with her co-founder and partner, Alexander) realised it didn’t actually exist, and took it upon herself to create her own. We spoke with Sophie about the makings of this bright, beautiful and ethical raincoat brand, and how she spends her days between doodling, researching best practices and endlessly making decisions for Ponch.
What made you start Ponch?
The idea for Ponch was sparked by inconvenience: I was forced into an ugly poncho at a notoriously soggy music festival, Alexander (my partner and co-founder) was frustrated by bulky outerwear on a camping trip. I decided it was time to invest in a new raincoat. I wanted it to have a classic, flattering cut and a bold print, made ethically from recycled materials. Bonus points if it could be compactly packed into itself (an essential for camping). I was surprised by how difficult it was to find this hypothetical raincoat. I have worked in the fashion industry as a graphic and textile designer, so I can be quite particular about prints. The raincoats I came across had twee – or ridiculously naff — prints, and the fabric felt like I was wearing a plastic bag. Experience within the industry has made me acutely aware of — and concerned with — high levels of production waste, and unethical practices within the supply chain. Of the brands I looked at, there was no transparency or commitment to responsible manufacturing.
Do you have a morning routine? If so what is it you do to set yourself up for the day ahead?
I am not a morning person, but Alexander is; he springs out of bed, while I need to be coaxed. We live in a seaside town called Margate, and are lucky to be able to go for a walk along the coast each morning. When combined with a couple of coffees, it’s a guaranteed way to wake-up properly (especially in winter).
I set aside some time to read each morning: the latest from The Business of Fashion, Courier Magazine, and my favourite newsletters – Dense Discovery, OMG Lord, and Reconsidered. This is interspersed with staring out the window. Some doodling. A solid bit of pondering. (About what? God knows.) My laidback morning routine puts me in a good headspace for the early afternoon, when I am at my most energetic and productive.
What’s the biggest barrier you’ve found to succeeding as a socially conscious business?
When running any business, your day is spent making endless decisions. Many businesses will take the easiest, fastest or cheapest path. This is especially true within the fashion industry, which demands newness and immediacy.
There is greater time and consideration involved when making responsible decisions — I’m sure you’ve experienced this when shopping for sustainable clothing. Reading the compass of what is “right” and “wrong” can be difficult when navigating through a grey area.
To truly be a socially conscious business, your actions should be the fairest, most responsible, and do the least amount of damage to people and planet. This is often to the detriment of your own commercial success. But we wouldn’t feel right doing business any other way.
Within the ethical fashion community, there’s a big question that we ask which is ‘who made my clothes?’. In the scope of Ponch, who made the things you sell? Can you tell us a bit about them?
Like many independent labels, we do not own our factory. It took a long time for us to find a production partner who was not only a waterproofing specialist, but also demonstrated a high regard for the wellbeing of their staff. But our search was worth it.
Within the ethical fashion community, there’s a big question that we ask which is ‘who made my clothes?’. In the scope of Ponch, who made the things you sell? Can you tell us a bit about them?Like many independent labels, we do not own our factory. It took a long time for us to find a production partner who was not only a waterproofing specialist, but also demonstrated a high regard for the wellbeing of their staff. But our search was worth it. We are proud to work with a production partner who has a WRAP-certification. WRAP is a third-party auditor that ensures manufacturing facilities operate in a safe, responsible and ethical way. Each certified facility has undergone a thorough inspection and achieved WRAP’s 12 Principles (including safe working conditions, the right to unionise, health and safety measures, and the prohibition of forced or child labour). We have also personally visited — and worked from — our production partner’s facilities in Xiamen, China.
Why did you pick the fabrics you have chosen to work with?
Our fabrics are made from 100% post-consumer plastic bottles (otherwise known as recycled polyethylene terephthalate, or rPET). By using fabric made from recycled plastic, we give new purpose to a material that is not biodegradable and otherwise destined for landfill. Our fabric suppliers are certified by the Global Recycle Standard (GRS), an internationally respected standard which verifies the recycled content of our fabric. To fulfil the requirements of the GRS certification, our fabric suppliers must also meet responsible social, environmental and chemical practices in their production.
We also chose this fabric for its functional capabilities — there’s no point having a raincoat that doesn’t keep you dry! Our fabric has a waterproof rating of 10,000mm and breathability rating of 10,000g. Per- and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) are often applied to fabrics for water repellency, despite being environmentally hazardous and toxic to both humans and animals. Our fabric is PFC-free: our durable water repellent (DWR) coating has a PFC rating of C0.
There are zero single-use plastics used in our packaging.
Best piece of advice you have ever received?
“Do one thing, and do it damn well.”
What’s next for you and Ponch?
We are always looking for new ways to be a more innovative, ethical and sustainable business.
I genuinely enjoy researching recycling processes, advances in technical outerwear, environmental action, and how modern business can better support workers. (I promise that I’m fun at parties.) In the upcoming months, we’ll be sharing these discoveries on our new blog.
It’s a tough time for many small businesses navigating the challenges presented by COVID-19. We are excited to be developing the prototypes for our next collection, but — with consideration to the future of Ponch, and the safety of our production partners — we are being very cautious about timing.
Until then, nothing is better than receiving a photo from a customer proudly wearing their Ponch — and I look forward to getting more in the future!
One book and/or documentary everyone should read/watch? Why?
A beautiful fable by Jean Giono called “The Man Who Planted Trees”. It taught me that through individual action we can transform landscapes, rejuvenate communities, and alleviate the heaviness of our own hearts.
Are there any other Movers & Shakers out there in your world that you think people should know about?
Natural skincare brand — and our Margate neighbours — Haeckels. They are committed to the conservation of the English coastline, and truly “walk the walk”. Their low impact design philosophy inspired our own compostable packaging. Everyday Plastic — another Margate local — creates interactive projects which help participants recognise their consumption habits, and rouses them to join the fight plastic pollution. I also really enjoy Whitney Bauck’s writing, which is comprehensive yet clear.
Want to learn more about Sophie and Ponch? Us too. If only we lived over in Margate alongside them. For now, online stalking will have to do.
Now go check out Ponch for yourself.