Offset Warehouse

Offset Warehouse: Beautiful, ethical textiles from around the world. Delivered to your door.

United Kingdom
Year Founded:
2010
Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
Growth
Budget: 
$10,000 - $50,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Offset Warehouse sources the globe to develop the most beautiful, hand-crafted and fairly-sourced fabrics and haberdashery. From banana textiles to recycled polyester, we sell the broadest range of innovative, ethical textiles in the UK - possibly the world - in quantities accessible from 1 metre!

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if people didn't suffer or die producing our fabrics, and our environment wasn't irreversibly damaged by unscrupulous manufacturers to satisfy the whims of throw-away consumerism.
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Mass-producing textiles has a huge environmental & social impact. Driven by fast consumerism and, in order to compete with increasingly low prices, the textile industry cuts corners. Most conventional fabrics are produced by untrained, underpaid, overworked staff, in unsafe surroundings. But sourcing fashionable, high quality, low-cost, ethical textiles in small quantities is extremely challenging. Offset Warehouse is solving this problem.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Offset Warehouse was established to deal directly with these challenges. We are the leading ethical fabric supplier in the UK responding to this change in consumer demand. The products are ethically manufactured but they still compete with mass-market, fashion-forward textiles, attracting clients who want to purchase them simply because they are beautiful, interesting, on-trend and the price points are on a par with, if not cheaper, than those found on the high street. We have an efficient distribution network, delivering our products worldwide and offering next day delivery on UK orders. With minimums of one metre, we are proud to finally enable smaller designers and even home-sewers, access to ethical fabrics - a struggle I faced myself.

Awards

Shortlisted for The Observer Ethical Awards 2011; Shortlisted for the Fashioning the Future Awards 2012; Presented to Her Majesty the Queen in 2012; Interviewed by ITV in relation to Bangladesh garment factory collapse
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Just one example (among thousands) is the devastation caused by conventional cotton farming. The figures are shocking and well hidden. Cotton, promoted by manufacturers and retailers as a “natural” product, uses approximately 22.5% of all the world’s insecticides and 10% of all pesticides to grow the crop on just 2.5% of agricultural land. Chlorpyrifos, a pesticide used in West African cotton production, causes brain and foetal damage, impotence and sterility. Another little-known statistic is that since the 1990s, thousands of cotton farmers in India have committed suicide because of appalling pressures put upon them by sellers of genetically modified cotton. This just touches the surface of the things we're combatting at Offset Warehouse.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Our site reaches a growing number of over 70,000 people/yr & supports over 15 suppliers. "The fabric is beautiful... I am so happy that there is an easy to use & understand way to purchase fair fabrics." Jane Street – New Zealand. "I loved the samples you sent me. I am a fashion student so I will be purchasing from you in the next couple of months & eco friendly fabric is important to me... Being able to order online is a good advantage as it helps customers view a whole range of the products you sell." Mahwish Aurangzeb - UK. "I’ve discovered an online fabric shop & it’s stuffed full of amazing things... It’s a huge treasure-trove for sewists, with fabrics I haven’t seen in any other shops. Even if you sew your own clothes, often it’s hard to know where fabric has come from, or exactly what it’s made of, so a shop like this is a really positive step." Kathryn Green – London, UK.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

Now is a perfect time for a venture like Offset Warehouse to really take off. Our strategy moving forward is to increase our product range and marketing spend, and to invest in a dedicated sales person. The buying public is becoming increasingly aware of the environmental and social impact of the products they purchase – and they want to purchase ethically. So if they are given easier access to the market, increased choice, and price-points which are similar to those of mass-marketed textiles, there is every chance they will opt for the ethically-produced product.
Sustainability

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Our funds are generated through the sales of our products. We do not rely on additional funding for the project to be sustainable.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

There are only a handful of direct ethical-only fabric suppliers across the world. We stock the broadest range of ethically-sourced products of any of them, including silks, wools, cottons and haberdashery. Furthermore, with my Masters Degree in fashion design, Offset Warehouse is a trend leader. We are able to forecast what the market will require season by season in terms of pattern, colour and quality – and then provide it. We are also far more aware of, and used to working with, the processes, lead times and deadlines that are such an important part of the fashion and interiors industry.
Team

Founding Story

I (Charlie Ross) founded Offset Warehouse five years ago. Graduating from the Royal College of Art with a Masters in Menswear Design, I continued on to work with some of the biggest names in the fashion industry. I was made aware of the horrors of the textile industry early in my education, so throughout my design career I was determined to work only with ethically produced fabrics. As so many other designers were finding, this proved a real challenge. Resources, particularly for small purchases, were very limited. As a result, I made the decision to put my design and consulting work on hold to focus on solving these problems, and Offset Warehouse was born.

Team

With a Masters in Textile Design, Jaime (part-time) is our Resident Eco Fabric Whizz and helps customers choose the best fabrics for their projects. She also manages our social media calendar and outreach. Kimberley has a background in corporate project management, and more recently has completed a course in textile design. She is perfectly fitted to her Business Development and Support role in Offset Warehouse, also part-time, meeting clients from larger companies to discuss fabric sales and how we can work together. I am a big believer in keeping overhead costs as low as possible. As the project grows and therefore the workload increases, we will offer the part-time team members full-time positions. Eventually, if necessary, we will investigate more support with additional part-time staff, to take on the smaller jobs and therefore focus our full-time staff on the most revenue and impact generating tasks. Our distribution is operated from a warehouse in the UK. With part-time staff trained on cutting and dispatching orders, we use Royal Mail, TNT and DPD to dispatch orders - choosing the cheapest option for the delivery method chosen by the customer. Postage costs nationally and internationally are determined by weight. With plans in the pipeline to fulfil orders directly from Spain, the US and Australia, and therefore drastically reduce postage costs, we anticipate seeing a significant increase in sales to these international locations within the next year or two. We currently outsource accounting and technical, website developments when needed.
Background
Please confirm how you heard about the Unilever Awards:

Change maker website

Please confirm your role in the initiative (eg Founder/co-Founder) and your organisational title:

Founder & Director

Which of the 8 UN Global Goals (Sustainable Development Goals) pre-selected for this competition does your solution relate most closely to? [select all that apply]

No Poverty, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action.

Leadership and the Unilever Awards
Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.

I have no previous businesses I can speak of, but I would like to discuss my work and entrepreneurial spirit with you to date:

In March 2013, having identified an expanding market and a clear consumer need for ethical textiles and haberdashery, I left my job to concentrate on Offset Warehouse full time. The low-risk business model was generating 20-30% gross profit, so I decided to improve these margins and moved to Phase Two of my strategy: holding and dispatching owned stock. This increased the gross profit margin to 60%, with scope to substantially increase sales, reduce lost sales and improve customer satisfaction, with quicker fulfillment time and more accurate stock levels. As a natural entrepreneur, I took advantage of the relationships I had developed with suppliers previously, and persuaded them to offer me stock either on sale or return, or credit basis, in order to ease cash-flow and allow me to improve the business without a significant cash injection. I also persuaded most suppliers to reduce their minimum order quantities – virtually unheard of in the textiles industry! As well as easing cash-flow, this also allowed me to test the popularity of products and make more informed decisions on repeat orders based on that data.
Since then, the company has doubled its gross profit margin, while still maintaining a low-risk strategy. The business is now fully up and running, revenue-generating, making a profit and ready to scale.

Beyond your existing team, who else are you working with to achieve your objectives, eg partners, advisors, mentors?

I am very fortunate to be mentored by the following:
Duncan Ross - formerly MD of JPMorgan Chase.
Louise Roper - MD gDiapers, gNappies
Tugba Unkan - MD The Saturday Group (formerly MD Hardy Amies)
James Bradley - MD Repixl
John Bradley - Director JB Marine
Mark Roper - Marketing Professional (formerly MD Agilisys)