Be More CAVALIER: Sustainability's Sex Appeal
When you want to upgrade your underwear drawer with sustainable basics, where do you turn? CAVALIER is hoping to be your new go to. Their comfortable garments are designed right here in London, and made by an ethical manufacturer from sustainably grown materials. We sat down with our old friend Adam Townsend, the company's co-founder and creative director, to talk about why it's important to contribute to the world in a positive way rather than just add to the noise.
Tell us a little about how and why Cavalier started...
Before Cavalier (BC if you will lol) you ran a media agency - What was the transition like? What was the experience of building a new company during COVID and lockdown like?
As with most life-changing ventures, CAVALIER started with a conversation between two friends. John (my mate for over a decade who I met at Uni) and I were discussing what we wanted from life after lockdown. We’d built a successful marketing agency over 4 years, but it had taken an epic toll on our work-life balance. When the world opened up again, we wanted to be in a position where we could affect positive change, but on our own terms. And maybe take more than one holiday a year.
Deciding on underwear came pretty quickly. Changing the world sounded rather lofty when we spoke about it, so we decided to start with the basics. Pants. Finding the perfect pair had also been a secret obsession of John’s for the past 2 years, and he still hadn’t found the golden pair. So we decided to make our own.
The more we looked into it, the more we realised that underwear was a market that had remained relatively untouched for decades, particularly for men. The same shapes, the same fabrics, the same brands. But the damage these major brands were doing to the environment and - in some parts of the world - to people, was unforgivable. It deserved a proper shake up.
The products look fucking cool. Can you give us a bit more insight on the supply chain; how the materials are sourced, how and where they are produced and by who?
Firstly, thanks! We think so too. They also feel fucking amazing. Nothing comes close.
We wanted to make sustainable sexy - that was our mission from day one. There are so many revolutionary sustainable brands that auto-pilot themselves into a niche, eco-warrior corner. With CAVALIER, we want to demonstrate that sustainability isn’t a compromise - it’s the choice you make to feel sexy and confident in your own skin.
I remember our initial research was focused on two things - finding the very best fabric and the most ethical at-scale manufacturer.
Up to two thirds of the environmental impact can happen at the raw fibre stage, so choosing the right fabric was integral to our mission. We wanted a fabric that not only felt and looked good, but also did good. After some rather relentless searching, we came across an innovative fabric called MicroModal. It is made from the wood fibres of sustainably grown European beech trees, and is five times softer than cotton, three times more moisture wicking, and uses 90% less water during its production. It’s the perfect material for intimate clothing, whilst absolutely delivering on our sustainable objectives.
Around this time, BooHoo was being pulled up for paying slave wages in their supply chain. We felt disgusted that a high profile British business could operate in such a way, whilst miraculously, an abundance of influencers and celebrities were still queuing up to pose in their slave-wage garments. Integrity had left the building, and it made us even more determined to find an ethically conscious manufacturer, and operate a fully transparent supply chain.
Serendipity kindled an introduction to MAS Intimates, the leading intimates manufacturer in Sri Lanka. They treat their employees with the utmost respect; paying fair living wages and ensuring that working conditions are beyond reproach. The design team we work with are also passionate about sustainable fabrics - always bringing us new ideas and fabrics - and lead the market for innovative designs at scale. It’s been a great partnership since day one.
With that, we began designing the shapes from my kitchen table in London, and collaborating with MAS in Sri Lanka to produce our vision. Rather wonderfully, we teamed up with one of my oldest friends, Annabel, who I’ve known literally since birth (our mums were in antenatal classes together!). She brings a decade of experience in designing and buying underwear, and is the reason why our garments fit perfectly to all body shapes.
As a self-professed ‘sustainable’ brand - from your perspective - what makes a brand/product ‘sustainable’?
Woah. We don’t describe CAVALIER as a ‘sustainable brand’. We’re a fashion brand that is taking all the steps we know towards creating sustainable garments. That means using sustainably sourced or recycled fabrics, low carbon shipping, packaging that is made from recycled materials and produced to be biodegradable or recyclable. Everything else that we’re not currently doing, we recognise we’re going to have to work hard to improve.
But I think you just inadvertently made a point, that greenwashing is a big problem in fashion and startup culture. There are so many brands claiming to be ‘sustainable’, when often they’ll just be talking about a capsule collection or planting trees to offset their carbon footprint (there’s companies you can outsource this to). There’s zero regulation, so a brand can describe itself as sustainable until the Qorn cows come home - which means it’s up to the consumer to dig deeper and call bullshit when they see it.
What’s the future of slow fashion/consumption? What does it look like for you and how do we get there?
It looks for me, like it does for you - do I buy the cheap thing or the more expensive thing? Why is this so cheap? Fashion is at a crossroads, pulling consumers towards fast-fashion or conscious-fashion. Ultimately those paths lead to a different price tag, but the wake they leave behind is just as chasmic.
It’s inspiring for us to see brands like AllBirds, OrganicBasics, REFORMATION and Stella McCartney gaining such strong consumer and investor demand for their sustainable credentials. It demonstrates to us the very real opportunity that is only going to grow in size and value.
It’s not brain surgery either. These businesses are looking at each step of their supply chain and assessing the ways they can improve outcomes for both people and environment. The rate of innovation from 3rd party suppliers makes these decisions easier by the day - innovative fabrics, smarter packaging, green transportation - solutions that didn’t exist a decade ago are announced weekly. REFORMATION even uses recycled pens in the office.
But conscious fashion costs more, and those costs are inevitably passed onto the consumer. What we’re missing right now is the education piece, helping consumers understand the value in their purchase - that the extra wedge at the checkout means a garment tech 5,000 miles away is making a fair living wage. Or that their clothes are going to last much longer and retain shape, because the fabric is of a superior quality. They’re not buying a product, they’re investing in one.
We certainly champion buying from local, small batch and consciously produced brands. What advice or inspiration would you give to anyone thinking about creating a new product/brand?
For God’s sake, make sure it’s something that people and the environment need! The planet has enough new shit filling up landfill as it is. If you’re going to come up with a new product or a new brand, make sure it is better for people and better for the planet than anything already in existence.
What top 5 celebrities would you most like to see nude?
It’s a tough question - and I wouldn’t want to encroach on anyone’s freedoms and privacies, particularly celebrities who get hassled enough as it is. I’ll stick with seeing my girlfriend nude, and maybe Russell Crowe if he’s ever in London.