Charlie Ross - Offset Warehouse
Company : Offset Warehouse
Website : www.offsetwarehouse.com
Where are you based : Berkshire
ND : What inspired you to set up Offset Warehouse?
CR : During my time studying fashion I discovered many of the atrocities that are a reality in the fashion and textile industries. From exploiting workers, to dumping hazardous chemicals into the environment and everything in between, I was totally shocked. I couldn’t believe that businesses would do anything they could for a better profit margin. I made the decision that my work wouldn’t have anything to do with that, I swore to only use ethically produced fabrics from then on. This was a huge challenge! Resources, particularly for small purchases, were very limited. Even information about eco fabrics was difficult to find. I knew someone just had to make eco fabrics more widely available. So, I made the decision to put my design and consulting work on hold and focus on solving these problems, and Offset Warehouse was born.
ND : Have textiles always been your passion?
CR : Yes. My first passion was making clothes. Ever since I can remember I loved looking at ‘style’, and analysing why people wear what they do. I studied Fashion Design at university and went on to do a Masters in Menswear Design at the Royal College of Art. My passion for fabric came later on during my MA. I became obsessed with colour. I wanted to surround myself with colour and texture, and I really began to appreciate the value of handmade and artisanal skills. Sourcing fabrics is undoubtedly the best part of my job - not only is it about the incredible people who make them, and the ground-breaking developments in the fibres, but the fabrics themselves are gorgeous! And being surrounded by beautiful textiles all day? That is living the dream!
ND : Offset Warehouse works with artisan weavers all over the world, are they communities of weavers that you found whilst travelling?
CR : Sourcing our fabrics happens in many ways, some I have found on my travels, others I travel to once I have made the connection. (It’s a real perk of the job!) It’s really important that I personally visit the places where the fabrics are made to see that they are upholding the ethical standards that our customers expect.
My most recent trip was to Thailand, where I visited the weavers of our newest Offset Warehouse range - the handwoven ikats and crossweaves. They are woven in the most gorgeous setting, by a hill tribe cooperative using traditional handlooms and ancient dyeing methods - methods that are centuries old. I fell in love with the fabrics so much that instead of waiting for them to be shipped over, I crammed as many as I could in my suitcase - I couldn’t wait for our customers to see them!
ND : Has travel always played a big part in your life?
CR : Yes – I adore travelling. I grew up in East Asia and I’d lived in four different countries by the time I was 17. My parents took the opportunity do some pretty extensive exploring while we were there - so I’m incredibly fortunate that I travelled a lot. Travelling is a huge privilege, and I love immersing myself in a completely new environment surrounded by an unfamiliar language. But, equally, I love what’s right here on our doorstep. Having spent so long outside of the UK, I take huge pleasure in travelling just a few hours to take in the incredible sights that the UK has to offer.
ND : What are your travel essentials?
CR : It depends where I’m going, but my camera first and foremost. It was a hand-me-down from my tech-loving sister, but it takes the most beautiful photos without me trying! I’m also usually on a trip that involves several flights, bus journeys, accommodation etc – which involves a lot of paperwork – so I always carry the little, turquoise passport & ticket holder my Nana gave me, absolutely amazing! It keeps everything neat and tidy – just how I like it.
I’m a pretty laid back traveller, but I find a blow-up pillow is a nice luxury if I can squeeze one in too – anything to help get a touch more sleep on a long flight or uncomfortable bus journey is always welcome. Oh, and snacks! I always have a little bag of something – dried fruit, or roasted beans – in case of an emergency.
ND : Why is sustainability and creating consciously made products important to you?
CR : I couldn’t sleep at night knowing the things I make, the clothes I wear, or the fabric I sell were harming the people who made them or had a detrimental impact on the planet. It’s so unnecessary for us to consume and consume without any thought of the consequences. All of our manufacturers and weavers are paid fairly for their fabrics. We also work with very small communities, who weave outside their houses and choose their own hours. They set their prices and their manufacturing timelines, and we never, ever, pressure them to decrease either. We can’t change everything at the drop of a hat, but I am so happy to be providing sewers and designers the opportunity to make better choices.
ND : What do you hope the future of the textiles industry look like?
CR : The textile industry has an incredibly long way to go in terms of improving in the ways I’d like to see improve. Things are changing slowly, and most importantly consumers are waking up to the fact that these atrocities are a reality and they are asking brands and governments to take action and to change.
In my ideal world, consumers would buy less, pay a slightly higher price for better quality products, which they keep and cherish for longer. Hence, factory workers, and producers wouldn’t have such tight and high deadlines that they could work less and be paid more for what they do. Plus, maintaining ethical and sustainable production methods.
ND : The initial setting up and running of a business are hard, what are the most valuable lessons you have learned along the way?
CR : Firstly, I would say to “work smart, not hard”. I used to think that working everyday from 6am to 11pm was what I was ‘meant’ to do. But that’s rubbish. You can achieve so much more when you’re completely focused. Secondly, listen to all the advice you’re given and apply what’s right for you. When I started out, I had zero business experience, and I am so lucky to have been given amazing advice along my journey. But it’s a balance: listening to every piece of advice can be overwhelming, but not taking any at all can lead to some very bad, uninformed decisions. At the end of the day, you know your business the best – so go with your gut instincts.
ND : If someone came to you and asked for your advice on starting up what advice would you give them?
Research your market, and work out your numbers. When you ask “Who is your target market”, the answer should NEVER be “Everyone”. If it is… you’re in trouble because you haven’t done your research. Let’s look at an example; Maltesers. You may look at Maltesers and think that because they’re sold in all supermarkets and corner shops that they are targeted at everyone – well they aren’t. Maltesers are targeted at city workingwomen between 22 and 35. This keeps everything about their branding, and their targeting absolutely laser focused. Secondly; numbers. How much do you need to make to survive? What is your gross profit and net profit? These are absolutely key to driving your sales targets, pricing and how you’re going to make your business work.
ND : What are the next steps for the growth of your company?
CR : I’m absolutely obsessed with interesting and innovative eco fibres – so that’s where our focus is at the moment. We already sell some innovative materials like recycled polyester, made from recycled plastic bottles. The raw material is derived solely from post-consumer sources. It doesn’t contain any toxic substances, and no harmful chemicals are used in the manufacturing process. The fabric itself is amazing. You’d never think it was recycled plastic! Heavyweight, tightly-woven, with an amazing drape, it’s a satin, twill weave with a sheen on one side and a brushed finish on the other. Perfect for both clothing and interiors.
Then we have our unbelievably soft-to-the-touch banana fabrics. A whole new sustainable and eco industry has been created from a by-product, the banana stalk - in a vertically integrated factory. The bananas are grown in fields behind the factory. The fruit is harvested and the waste product processed and eventually woven into a beautiful fabric, all on the same site. It’s such an amazing step towards sustainability!
At the moment we are developing a range of textiles blending cotton with upcycled, pre-consumer denim waste. The waste is ground into a fibre, spun into new yarns and woven using no additional chemicals or dyes. This saves a massive 20,000 litres of water per kilo of upcycled raw material.
Next on my list is pineapple silk! I can’t wait to get my hands on some and it may be my next excuse to go travelling; it has been made for centuries in the Philippines.
We’re also introducing more physical stockists of our fabrics. At the moment we stock in an incredible shop called Fabrications in Broadway Market, London, and I can’t wait to add to the list.
ND : In a world where money advertising and marketing matter hugely, as a small business, how do you best market your company and it’s textiles?
CR : Social media is key in this day and age. I love writing my two blogs, which I constantly update with news, fashion, business and eco advice. More and more companies are becoming multifaceted and it’s not just about sales, I like to inform and educate designers on how to be as ethical as possible too. We are lucky to have a very loyal following who spread the word on our fabrics.