South West breastfeeding clothing brand ‘The Bshirt’ wins Innovate UK grant to launch their PreLoved and Recycled textiles collections
Two Totnes mums, Philippa Doyle and Lisa Lessware launched an ethical breastfeeding clothing brand in 2017 called the Bshirt to help new mothers breastfeed confidently in public while also addressing clothing and plastic waste. Philippa and Lisa met at baby yoga and came up with the idea for the Bshirt, when they were breastfeeding their sons (they have 4 boys between them!). Like many new mums, they both felt quite nervous about the idea of breastfeeding in front of other people. When they found out that the UK has some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world they knew they had to do something about it.
Since launching the brand in March 2017 the Bshirt has seen a huge demand for their tops! Customer feedback has shown that 84% of their customers feel more confident breastfeeding in front of others when wearing their Bshirt than any other breastfeeding top! And their zero-waste Baby Clothes collection has just launched this summer!
Philippa and Lisa met at baby yoga and they came up with the idea for the Bshirt when they were breastfeeding their sons (they have 4 boys between them!). Like many new mums, they both felt quite nervous about the idea of breastfeeding in front of other people. When they found out that the UK has some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world they knew they had to do something about it and the Bshirt launched as an ethical breastfeeding clothing brand dedicated to the social mission of improving breastfeeding rates. With thousands of survey responses and testimonials, the Bshirt’s measurable impact shows that 84% of customers feel more confident breastfeeding in public and 92% say they are less socially isolated as a result.
Lisa and Philippa designed the Bshirt breastfeeding top to be worn as a layer under a normal shirt, jumper or dress. By adapting existing clothes for breastfeeding, Bshirt customers need to buy fewer items of breastfeeding clothing. In order to grow the business, the Bshirt has decided to expand applying this ethos to selling maternity and baby clothes as well. The clothes will remain true to the ethos of the brand, and empower women to breastfeed with confidence while also now reducing clothing waste.
In addition to being a plastic-free Social Enterprise, the Bshirt product actually reduces clothing waste. Philippa and Lisa feel it is unsustainable to buy a whole new wardrobe for maternity and breastfeeding, when most of those clothes will end up in landfill after short-term use. Lisa and Philippa designed the Bshirt breastfeeding top to be worn as a layer under a normal shirt, jumper or dress. By adapting their existing clothes, Bshirt customers need to buy fewer items of breastfeeding clothing. This ethos of ‘buying less’ is at the heart of their slow fashion attitude.
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The Innovate UK Award
The funding was provided through the Government’s Creative Industries strategy by Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation. Launched in April 2018, UKRI is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
UKRI is a new organisation that brings together the UK Research Councils, Innovate UK and Research England into a single organisation to create the best environment for research and innovation to flourish. The vision is to ensure the UK maintains its world-leading position in research and innovation.
UK registered micro and small businesses in the Creative Sector were eligible to apply for an Innovate UK package of support to grow their business. The package includes ongoing support from Innovate UK EDGE and funding of up to £25,000 for innovation projects. By winning the award, the Bshirt will undertake ambitious plans to bring sustainable and ethical products to a wider market. The Bshirt will launch an innovative new collection of maternity clothes designed to adapt regular clothes for pregnancy, in new recycled fabrics and an exciting plan for a new PreLoved collection in the next 6 months.
The Clothing Waste Problem
The Royal Society of the Arts recently reported (Fast Fashion’s Plastic Problem) that 49% of clothes sold in the UK are made of virgin plastic materials. According to Clothes Aid, 350,000 tonnes of used but still wearable clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year. This equates to more than 30% of unwanted clothing currently going to landfill. The Slow Fashion movement aims to increase the ‘wearable lifetime’ of a garment and discourages mass consumerism of virgin materials. The Bshirt wants to pivot away from using new materials by using new recycled materials in our products, further reducing our environmental impact.
Philippa says “Our Environmental Impact is in stark contrast with Fast Fashion retailers. We use 100% organic cotton in our products, which uses 80% less water than standard cotton. Recycled cotton has the potential to further reduce water and energy consumption in the fashion industry. Recycled polyamide diverts waste from landfill and its production uses much fewer resources than virgin nylon (including water, energy, and fossil fuel).”
Ethical Clothing is Often Too Expensive
A recent McKinsey and Company poll found that 67% of customers consider sustainable materials an important factor when buying clothing. However, a recent Bshirt customer poll says the biggest barrier to buying ethical garments is their high price tag. By offering a pre-loved collection, the Bshirt aims to make sustainable clothing more affordable.
Lisa says “We are so excited about the launch of our Pre-Loved Collection, which sources garments through our Bshirt ‘Buy Back’ programme, and then enables us to sell our award winning garments at an affordable price, reaching even more women who may feel ethical fashion is too expensive.”
The Future for Bshirt
The Innovate UK Creative Industries Fund Award will help grow the Bshirt business, support the creation of employment opportunities in the South West and provide more opportunities for future product development and innovation.
Lisa says “We are thrilled to have won the Award, and will be putting the funds into product development. We have also been able to access UK EDGE support, which has led to an opportunity to pitch for investment at this November’s Pitch Fest SW! We have big plans and even bigger ambitions for expanding our brand. We lead the way in our approach to product development and are ahead of our competitors in these kinds of ambitions to reduce clothing waste.”