The Urban Otter is a newly established clothing company set up by James and Toby, 2012 graduates of the University of Southampton. They stress the importance of reclaiming the childish curiosity that is often lost in adulthood and so they create simple and stylish clothing to encourage their customers to go out exploring! All of their clothing is made from 100% organic, fair trade cotton, so it’s entirely sustainable. Also, as a form of moral sustainability, The Urban Otter give 10% of their profits to Crisis, a charity in aid of the homeless nationwide.
I interviewed James and Toby about their experiences at the University of Southampton and how their start-up company is going…
Q: Many would say that, as a student, going out exploring is quite difficult. Were you always passionate about being active during your time at university?
A: We’ve always been mad about exploring and being outside. When James was younger, he did a lot of mountain biking and surfing. For me [Toby], it was that freedom you get from being away from technology, exploring somewhere you’ve never been before. Seeing something for the first time is refreshing. At university, we both tried to get outside as much as possible, be it windsurfing in Bournemouth or playing touch on the common. James was part of the University Hockey Team and SUSSC and I played University Rugby. Outside is always better!
Q: Did you plan this company before graduation or were you still clueless about it then (as a large majority of students tend to be)?
A: James studied Politics & International Relations and I [Toby] studied Geography so this wasn’t directly relevant to either of our degrees. After I graduated, I did an unpaid internship at an infrastructure fund but eventually had to find a way to pay the bills and I kind of fell into a job in a bank. I [James] had no plans whatsoever! I ended up working as a cable engineer which I loved. I ran the surveys to lay internet cables in the sea so I travelled a lot but again there was no plan. Establishing The Urban Otter was something we loved doing, something that could get us going.
Q: You mention trying to “re-live that childish sense of wonder”. Why do you think people lose it?
A: I guess all the boring parts of being an adult take over: working, buying a house. The decisions you make seem so serious and people get scared to take risks or follow their heart. People fall into a routine.
Q: How did you decide that you wanted to start The Urban Otter?
A: After five years of the corporate grind, I realised that I wasn’t happy. What I really wanted to do was work for myself and The Urban Otter is a creative release. There are so many people who fall into this hole where they get up to go to work, commute home, repeat. They forget to live and I had become one of them. The company reminds people that life’s not just about work, it’s about having fun.
Q: What came first, your interest in ethics and sustainability or your passion for clothing? Is it a happy accident that your newly formed business is allowing you to do both?
A: It’s a very happy accident. We wanted to establish a brand that has meaning rather than just another empty clothes company. As we started designing our products we thought “Hey! What’s important to us?” and that was producing clothing that has a small negative impact. Ethics and sustainability have always been important to us and the fact that we can blend something that we love doing with helping people and our planet is perfect! Our men’s navy shirts are earth positive so they are climate neutral. Our grey t-shirts are bamboo cotton which is a highly sustainable plant and a great alternative to cotton. It grows naturally without pesticides, and as a grass, bamboo is cut rather than uprooted, so it’s good for the soil and only requires rain to grow.
Q: Why did you choose to support homelessness?
A: We want people to explore cities and walking around there are many people living on our streets. Most of the time it’s through no fault of their own. It must be horrifying to be cold and hungry, without the everyday essentials that we take for granted. It’s a really difficult situation to get out of and they can’t simply start a job because they need an address. If we can help them and treat them like the human beings that they are then that’s a good thing.
Q: Where is your clothing made?
A: India and Sri Lanka. A guy called Shariful does a fantastic job and always goes out of his way. Top bloke!
Q: What are your opinions on clothing being produced in third world countries where the workers are paid less than a proper living wage?
A: Unforgivable. It’s pure greed and it’s unacceptable to profit off the back of another person’s misfortune. We make a point to do thorough due diligence on every factory and company that we deal with. Our women’s navy t-shirts are part of the Fair Share project who aim to pay all workers a living wage. A small increase in t-shirt cost makes it possible to pay the poorest workers in the factory a wage increase of 50%.
The Urban Otter wants its values to be clear. It represents sustainability and a different way to think about living. As a start-up, the company is focusing on promoting the brand, but as they progress they plan to help those around them as much as possible as well as their environment.
As graduates of the University of Southampton, The Urban Otter have kindly provided Wessex Scene readers with a 10% off discount code (soton17) so go have a look and support a start-up, the planet and those less fortunate than yourself!