I have mentioned in previous posts how keen I am to start looking at ethical performance sportswear and I have decided to do a series of short posts about each of the brands that I currently have as part of my sports wardrobe, their ethical credentials, sustainability credentials and how the items I currently own perform. I will then post about some new brands I have been looking into and end with a round up. These companies have all been asked the same questions initially but how they have answered them have been different.
I am starting with the company howies. Now initially my email went unanswered but after a second email and some arranging of times I received a phone call from their Head of Customer Services Emma. This was really appreciated as it gave me a chance for a conversation with a person rather than a single email response.
howies is a small company based in Wales, it was sold to Timberland in 2006 but became independent again in 2012. Following this howies did retain some of the positive aspects of being part of Timberland for example they continue to use some of their factories which are stringently audited by Timberland itself – something a much smaller company likes Howies is unable to do.
howies is proud of being a small company again, it focus upon good quality pieces made to last indeed some of their pieces are made to last a very long time, see the Earhart jacket for example. They have also expanded into using hemp in some of their sweatshirts, a fantastic product which is resilient and can be grown chemical-free and in areas where the soil can prove difficult to produce many other crops. They also use organic cotton to produce some of their T-shirts, so a wide range of options to choose from all in the casual/sporty vein.
Recently they have added running clothing to the merino wool base layers, jeans and cycling gear that they are already well known for. I have not yet purchased their running clothing as I wanted to ask some questions regarding working conditions before I made any purchases (also I am currently out of coupons in the Wartime Wardrobe Challenge).
We discussed the fact that with howies being a small company, they place smaller orders that factories can fulfil without having to subcontract (a common practise in the clothing industry). howies visit the factories they deal with as often as they can, usually every other year, as while they make some of their clothes in Portugal they do use factories in China (for their jeans for example) and Indonesia – where their Epic Cotton range is produced.
They have brought lots of their production of jackets to Portugal where they can have closer contact with the factories and plan to try to make more items in Europe.
Placing smaller orders using smaller factories and when using large factories, focusing on the ones with good reputations means that they can be confident in their dealings with factories. They admit they are not perfect but use factories that they know personally and have visited, allowing them to be confident in how the people making their clothes are being treated and that the factories are operating to a high standard.
It also helps that the member of staff who visits the factories has a lot of experience in the garment industry, meaning they can try to ensure their standards are met and that they are not easily fooled by the standard practises of showing one side of your business to a supplier while operating in a different manner. It was also nice to hear that in the spirit of transparency they plan to publish more information on their factories on their website over the coming year as currently there is no information.
Review – Merino Top
I bought a howies merino wool top a couple of years ago, it is a loose, flattering fit with a scoop neck and cuffs – it doesn’t look like your normal piece of sportswear. However, I wear it a lot for horse riding and cycling. It is such a nice top that I often wear it with jeans during the day as well but since this is a review of a piece of sportswear I should focus on that 🙂
It is very comfortable for riding and cycling in. It doesn’t ride up or bunch up and due to slightly looser feel really allows for movement. It isn’t as warm as some of my other base layers but I don’t believe it was intended to be and for the all-important ‘does it smell?’ test it passes with flying colours. I also like the fact that even after a couple of years of wearing and washing it has retained its shape and its colour.
In summing up – howies is not 100% ethical but it does not claim to be. I believe that they are a smaller company trying to source and produce their garments well with a focus on combining traditional material with more sustainable materials to make great quality clothes they are doing a good job in my opinion. All of their items of clothing I own (many of my jeans are from them, in fact all of my jeans bought new are from howies the other pairs are second hand) are quality and made to last, they are not fast fashion items. Will I continue to buy from howies? Yes. Will I buy their running gear? Yes, I have high hopes for it – if it is as comfortable and good quality as their other items I will be very happy.
*Thanks to Emma at Howies for speaking to me about their factories.
*Disclosure* The opinions expressed in this post are my own and I have not been paid for the review.