Australian-label Will & Bear are on a mission to develop their next range of products that are designed from renewable and recycled materials. Australia alone is responsible for dumping 0.5 million tonnes of clothing into landfill.
Learn more about Loz & Alex, the couple behind Will & Bear and their Keep it Slow campaign from the Q&A below.
Who is Will & Bear?
We’re an Australian headwear label with a love for life on the road and a life lived outdoors.
We value giving back and see the power of collective good. We aim to create the highest quality products to last the longest journeys while giving back to the places we play.
Where did Will & Bear start?
Will & Bear was born on the road. Back in Tasmania a few years ago the inspiration for the brand was sparked. It was our time spent in the wild nature that is Tasmania that first got us thinking about how we could give back to the places we love so much.
A hat to us represents a life of adventure, a necessity to a healthy life outdoors and an item that if designed well only gets better with age, lasting you a lifetime.
We saw an opportunity in hats to work on new and innovative manufacturing technologies and materials to help reduce our reliance on new fibres.
How important is it to work with natural materials?
Hats in our first range were made from 100% Australian wool. It’s natural, biodegradable, renewable and can be upcycled. It’s the perfect fit for our environmentally sustainable goals. From the start, sustainability played a major role in our designs and every business decision we made so much so that it’s ingrained in the ethos of Will & Bear.
So your hats are made in Inner Mongolia? How do you ensure the working conditions?
We visited the manufacturers (who we’ve stuck with for years now) during the research stage. We wanted to be confident in their business practices, that all our partners are Reach, fair-trade and SGS approved. Our commitment is to continue a thoughtful, responsible & sustainable business.
Why did you choose to partner with trees.org?
Trees.org have demonstrated the transformative power of trees in addressing the global environmental crisis. Through their projects in West Africa, they have shown that “people can leave a legacy of opportunity through sustainable practices”.
One hat sold, 10 trees planted.
This ongoing partnership with an organisation that can affect positive outcomes on a global scale makes us immensely proud. By purchasing a hat from us you are helping counter the effects of deforestation, as well as supporting families and communities out of poverty.
One hat sold, 10 trees planted. To date, we have planted over 27 football fields worth of trees and help sequester 700 tons of carbon from the atmosphere.
So ING, one Australia’s big banks have agreed to help fund your campaign, can you tell us more about that?
ING has kindly pledged $10,000 towards this campaign, this is not only great for our new range but a massive milestone for us as a business to be backed by a company like ING. We’re stoked to know these guys think our business is up to this standard.
“There are hundreds of social entrepreneurs in Australia with the ideas and energy to create positive change in the world. The problem is, without proper support, getting these projects off the ground so everyone can realise their potential can be difficult” ING, Dreamstarter team.
What do you hope to achieve from this launch?
We want to start developing our first “Keep it Slow” range of products, turning upcycled waste materials into brand new products. This new range of hats will be designed to leave the lightest footprint possible by reducing our reliance on new fibres. These manufacturing technologies drastically reduce the embodied energy of each product we create. But this isn’t all we want to do, we’ll be integrating more sustainable practices within our current business model and are actively working towards becoming B-corp certified by 2020.
Have you done crowdfunding before?
No, to date Will & bear has been 100% self-funded. We both very excited to have this opportunity to share our vision and get our community involved in the next stage of the journey.
Tell us more about the new products you’re creating?
We have some very early concepts and prototypes. This is what is on the table so far. Upcycled Paper Hat, turning the Sunday paper into your favourite beach hat. Paper is one of the most abundant waste products in the world. Each year, the world produces more than 270 million tonnes of paper. We want to take this would-be waste and create our new summer hat. Or taking common byproducts neglected by the food & beverage industry. Like coconut husks and PET bottles that will be upcycled to create vegan suede fabrics. Or turning old unwanted wool products into new wool! Wool is taken from old garments – mostly sweaters but also hats. It’s broken down and respun into new yarn that becomes brand new beanies and accessories.
These are just a few ideas we have started research on, if funded we will complete our research and choose the materials with the least impact on our environment.
What does “Keep it Slow” mean?
It means making quality long lasting garments with the smallest footprint possible and celebrating all things slow fashion.
Natural resources are being consumed at an alarming rate due to the extreme growth of fast fashion. Depleting what is finite just isn’t sustainable.
We want to reverse this trend of consumption by celebrating slow fashion and contributing where we can to improve our environment the world over.
It’s a commitment we’ve made as a business and as individuals. We’re reducing our impact in every way possible.
Do you think enough designers and brands are focusing on making a positive impact on the environment?
We’ve seen a massive trend in this direction of late, and it’s something that makes us super proud to be a part of. We think the days are over for new brands to think of starting without first thinking of the environment. This is a message we want to spread and hope this campaign helps.
Why do you do what you do? What is the “why” of your business?
The why is a very personal thing for us. As individuals, we wanted to make a difference to the environment, create a business we would be proud to work for and create a community around those ideas. We designed a vehicle for change that you see today as Will & Bear. We wanted to build something we would be proud to promote and allowed our personal and business goals to align.
What is the design philosophy behind Will & Bear?
We aim for our hats to feel at home in the Australian landscape. Their earthy colours mirror the natural surrounds of where we travel. Our shapes are based on traditional styles knowing we wanted to stand for simplicity while recognising what came before us.
The brand aims to inspire a life lived outdoors and a deeper connection to our environment.
A little more about Will & Bear or Loz & Alex…
‘We had only just met but we knew we wanted to see the world together’ Alex Knorr (Bear)
How did you meet?
Funnily enough, it was on Tinder!! A story our pals like to poke fun at as much as possible, we’re known as the tinder success story in our friendship circle. It’s something that makes us laugh but also reminds us that life is random and without taking a chance on something new you may miss a lifetime of adventure.
What are your backgrounds?
- Alex – Freelance Designer & Product Design Engineer
- Lauren – Mortgage Broker & Small Business Owner
What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken to make this business work?
Using our would-be house deposit to place our first order for Will & Bear and packing up our lives to move into our van to take the brand around Australia.
Both seemed like crazy decisions to the people around us at the time, but they turned out to be the best risks we’ve ever taken.
What is it like running a business with your partner?
Truth be told it isn’t easy running a business with your other half but it does give us the confidence – along with a bit of blind optimism – to keep pushing forward. Our personalities complement each other and we know that no matter what direction we end up going we go together.
What is it like living and working from a van?
Living and working from a van has its ups and downs that’s for sure!
When we’re on the road we have the most clarity, it’s where our best ideas and inspiration come from. Life on the road brings with it fewer distractions, time to think and the company of new and interesting people.
The constantly changing environment in the van means you have to think outside the box, problem solve on a daily basis and immerse yourself in different cultures.
We have a mantra between the two of us and it is to treat every challenge as a learning experience. It’s was the constant challenges of living on the road that we feel makes us better individuals, partners and business owners.
What do you think has been the key to your success so far?
We believe success is a personal thing and as long as we’re enjoying the journey and standing for what we believe in we feel successful (and thankful!).
A few key points would be, Trusting your gut, it’s easy to get stuck in your head but it’s important to step away and feel instead of just think something. Keep learning, moving away from the fear of failure. If you can treat everything as a learning experience then failure can be a good thing and it takes the pressure off a little.
Find your community and get involved, the people around us are such a massive part of the success of our Will & Bear. From being inspired by their journeys, seeking advice or just having the support of people you care about is so important.
Any advice for someone with a great idea to give back?
Just start! Be proud to stand up for what you believe in.
Don’t be overwhelmed by how to help or make a difference. It’s important to remember you can’t do everything at once and every little bit counts. Just remember to keep moving towards a better future.
Words to live by?
Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity.