Wheeling towards a sustainable circular future
October’s Meitheal is a glimpse behind the scenes of a business which, like ours, is on a path to a better place.
We caught up with Oli Pepper, co-founder of The Overland and Adventurous Ink subscriber, to hear about the practice and philosophy which underpin their turn towards a more sustainable and circular future.
“My wife jokes that I used to be into bikes, and now I’m into laundry” smiles Oli from his Brighton office, perched atop the warehouse they rent from a local community charity.
With it's scattering of Star Wars models, bold artwork on the walls and office dogs called Obi and Chewie, his workplace betrays The Overland’s design studio roots, where the co-founders worked with snow and action sport brands.
Progression and purpose
Oli’s passion for the outdoors and sustainability is conveyed with a laid back confidence which mirrors the muted earthy vibes of The Overland brand.
“I just don’t get indoor cycling” he muses as we discuss his impeccable cycling heritage “I know it’s all the rage these days, but even when I was racing I was never into indoor training. I just used to go to the outdoor velodrome. I got a blast of fresh air, and built up my resilience battling the elements. So when I was out racing in the wind and the rain, I think I had an edge because I wasn’t phased by the conditions.”
Progression and purpose are woven throughout our conversation like the pattern on their surprisingly technical Flannel shirts.
“I never really noticed the changing of the seasons in my 20’s, even my 30’s. I was just head down working on my times.” This race to the top approach echoed the mood music of late noughties startup culture “As an entrepreneur all you ever heard was messages about scaling and growth, with no thought for the consequences or end point.”
A change of direction
Oli and co-founder Dave started The Overland’s parent brand Morvelo, which focusses on road cycling apparel, back in 2009.
Over time they began to question whether big was actually better, as remote operations removed the control of being hands-on, whilst Oli began soul searching over their impact. 2020 finds them in the process of downscaling and diversifying with a new passion behind their purpose.
“Our original model was pretty standard for the industry, with hefty production runs being made overseas producing large stock volumes to stretch the profit margin. This often backfired, leaving lots of unsold items which we’d then have to discount to shift. It just didn’t feel a healthy way to do things.” recalls Oli, as he reels off a succession of eye watering statistics from the Ellen McArthur Foundation about the growth and impact of the industry:
• 400% more clothing produced than 20 years ago
• Clothing utilisation decreased by 36%
• CO2 emissions from the clothing industry set to increase 1200% by 2050
And yet, it seems a personal connection proved most influential “One day my 9 year old nephew said “Uncle Oli, do you know that clothing is one of the biggest contributors to climate change?” It blew me away to hear that from someone of his age!”
Starting a new brand, The Overland, in 2019 offered a fresh chance to grapple with some of these challenges, and set the tone for the development of both businesses.
Surveying his own cycling wardrobe, the stats about clothing utilisation needled away and Oli was struck by how little his gear would be worn. “I wanted to get to the point where I could just pick up a bike and jump on it, no matter what I was wearing. I didn’t want to have to get kitted out in a separate outfit.”
Enough, and nothing more
And lo, a multifunction everyday design emerged as the core of The Overland’s range.
“We sat on the clothing samples for a long time before launching” confides Oli “Everything had to pass the wardrobe test: was it stuff that we would take out and wear on a regular basis?”
Evidently it was, as the brand now features a pared down line of just enough clothing for every off-road cycling eventuality. And nothing more.
“We don’t do seasonal lines. We don’t create new products. We just make the items we need and improve on the items as we can.” Large overseas production runs have been put aside for much smaller monthly production runs, allowing greater opportunity to tweak or take advantage of short runs of material that would otherwise go to waste, something Oli hopes to do more of in future.
At the heart of The Overland is a desire to help folk spend more time outdoors, by simply making it easier to transition from sat indoors to out on the bike.
It’s a philosophy that all 5 members of the team live and breathe “Our marketing lead, Jack, is the ideal equipment tester. He spends pretty much all his spare time on his bike in Overland gear, so we can be super confident it will perform.”
Finding headspace for change
Oli himself makes good use of their gear on his daily cycle to work. It’s not just testing time, it’s thinking time. Often extending his 10-minute commute up to an hour, Oli's saddle provides the ideal space for reflection. This headspace helps Oli turn over the steps required in the transition to a more sustainable business.
“We want to be honest about where we are in the process.” he affirms “I’d hate people to think we are just greenwashing our marketing, which is why we publish a monthly update about our progress towards sustainability”
This is a powerful statement of confidence and ambition from a business right in the midst of change. It shows a refreshing candour
“You could look at our lines and say we should be using more recycled fabrics, but the fact is we’ve already bought fabric which we need to use up. Just dumping this and switching to recycled might look good on the face of it, but behind the scenes we’re just adding to the problem. That’s not our approach.”
Their ambition stretches way beyond using recycled fabric as they develop a more circular approach, keeping clothing in use longer by offering a repairs service, and investigating buy-backs and re-commerce. Which is where the laundry comes in...
“We're investigating ways of cleaning used clothing with pressurised Carbon Dioxide in a closed loop system, to give buyers the confidence that their re-purchased item is as good as new and to reduce the environmental impact.”
For Pepper though, a better approach doesn’t just mean more environmentally sustainable processes and planting trees (15,412 and counting), it means contributing to the community too.
“Our new workspace is owned by the East Brighton Trust, so our rent supports all manner of good stuff from Community Gardens to Forest Clubs, Family Fun Days to Creative Writing classes. And the Coriander Club!”
Just the beginning
Even this is just the start of their social contribution, as the company are planning their own Foundation, inspired by the Alpkit Foundation.
“We want to help get more stuff off the ground, like a local Pump Track.” enthuses Oli, about a project particularly close to his heart.“For us, doing good just makes sound business sense”
During October we're running a joint competition to win October’s Ink, the Llama Drama, a tale of cycling the spine of South America incorporating the 'quite tame' Carretera Austral, plus an Overland Barricade waterproof jacket and £50 of outdoor books.