Cock & Bull & Co. is the first boutique in the UK dedicated to ethical menswear and sustainable style. It’s the brainchild of Andii Lindsay and Phil Scott, who launched the label after spotting a gap in the market. ‘It’s a common misconception that sustainability and style are mutually exclusive concepts’, says Andii. ‘There’s no reason why you should have to choose one over the other.’
Andii didn’t set out in the fashion world to develop an ethical range; she entered the UK industry in her mid-20s then upped sticks to New York, where she developed a niche brand made exclusively in the US. After becoming a parent Andii ‘fell out of love’ with fashion – ‘a self-centred and wasteful industry’ – and instead focused on being a good mum. Only after pursuing other interests – including the launch of a small restaurant chain and a stint in the City – did Andii spot an opportunity to reapproach the industry in an entirely different way.
‘A number of friends and acquaintances were frustrated with the options available to them’, Andii tells PQ. ‘We looked at the state of ethical menswear and saw that it could be hugely improved. Essentially, we saw a demographic that wasn’t being catered for – then we imagined a whole lot of great clothes, got excited and Cock & Bull Menswear was born.’
Cock & Bull set out to offer new options in a sector awash with T-shirts and hoodies. From its studio in east London, the company designs everything from underwear and jeans to shirts and tweed waistcoats. The range looks pretty stylish to us, but Andii insists Cock & Bull Menswear doesn’t focus on what’s on trend. ‘We couldn’t keep up with fast fashion’, she admits. ‘Some brands are bringing out new collections every two weeks, but we haven’t found that necessary.’ The clothes are made from organic and recycled textiles including organic cotton, hemp and recycled poly/PET. ‘We also love our tweed’, says Andii. ‘While it’s not organic, it’s an artisan textile that gives a livelihood to people in a very remote part of the UK, in this case the Isle of Lewis, which fits very well into our remit.’
‘We looked at the state of ethical menswear and saw that it could be hugely improved. Essentially, we saw a demographic that wasn’t being catered for – then we imagined a whole lot of great clothes, got excited and Cock & Bull Menswear was born.’
From inception, everyone at Cock & Bull Menswear agreed they didn’t want to exploit people or pollute ecosystems. ‘It might sound like a no-brainer,’ Andii says, ‘but if you take even a cursory look at this industry you’ll quickly realise that this is the exception rather than the rule.’ Manufacturers are ultimately driven by market forces and as a result, Andii feels they can’t be trusted. ‘In an ideal world they’d regulate themselves’, she says, ‘but that’s clearly not the way a free market works.’ While she’d like to see government intervention and regulation, Andii believes there are huge ideological barriers; ‘What David Cameron really meant by Big Society was Small Government’, Andii tells PQ. ‘We’ve got to fend for ourselves, so let’s rise to the occasion.’
While many ethical brands focus on empowering industry in developing nations, which Andii says is ‘fantastic’, Cock & Bull Menswear keeps it local and manufactures entirely in the UK.
‘In the UK we’ve got an industry that’s been in decline for about 30 years’, Andii says. ‘Skills and infrastructure are in danger of disappearing due to offshoring and we’ve become an import economy; we’ve got people queueing at food banks because there’s not enough work. We’re in danger of being at the mercy of the countries that actually make things. There’s no need to cross oceans — there’s plenty of need for support here!’
The local factor is a huge point of pride that underwrites Andii’s confidence in the quality of Cock & Bull Menswear, as well as helping reduce the company’s carbon footprint and boost the local economy. Being in the same country allows Cock & Bull to visit facilities, talk to people and monitor operations to its satisfaction. As a result, Andii knows people have been paid fairly – even generously – and haven’t had to work in dangerous or demeaning conditions.
The UK garment industry has made some visible recovery over the last few years, and Andii feels the green shoots are ‘very gratifying’. ‘I think more designers are choosing to design sustainability into their ranges – the big players are getting interested, too’, she says. ‘But of course it’s ultimately driven by consumer demand, so the more demand there is, the more options there will be. This is an industry worth nearly half a trillion pounds worldwide. Some people are getting immensely wealthy from it, but the majority at the bottom end of the supply chain are little more than slaves. So the answer is obviously to redress that balance.’
It doesn’t necessarily follow that paying people a living wage, providing them with a safe place to work and allowing them to form a union and work humane hours means prices must go up. Andii suggests that producers could change their margins as an alternative model, but also believes customers should pay more with pride, knowing they’re not buying in to exploitation.
When you buy Cock & Bull Menswear you’re investing in durable clothes that will last for years – and you’re also investing in UK industry by putting money back into the local economy. ‘You’re being part of the growth of those green shoots’, says Andii. ‘You’re choosing not to fund exploitation and pollution and you’re investing in a new paradigm where sustainability and style go hand in hand.’
To have a look at more of the products available from Cock & Bull, visit their website.
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