New Zealand, if you take the country’s tourism website at its word, prides itself on being “100% pure.” But the reality is a little different. Deforestation has long been a problem, despite green growth initiatives: As much as a quarter-million acres of forest are being leveled every year, with both wood products and dairy being big-money exports.
Environmental-journalist-turned-entrepreneur Adrien Taylor, at least, is doing his part to help the country meet its own clean-and-green expectations. He’s the founder of Offcut Caps, a year-and-a-half-old startup that plants a tree for every cap sold. To date, Offcut Caps has planted more than 2,000 trees.
Taylor’s Christchurch-based company isn’t just your standard “buy one, plant one” social enterprise. His stylish five-panel hats are, as the name suggests, made with offcut fabrics, helping to address two environmental and sustainability issues at once. Around the world, the global garment industry wastes as much as 15% of all fabrics used to make clothes.
“We will hands-down work with anyone who has fabric which would otherwise go to landfill,” Taylor tells Co.Exist. “Unfortunately, just an insane amount of fabric ends up in landfills. In New Zealand alone, which has a population of 4.5 million people, it’s the equivalent of 150 T-shirts per person every single year.”
Offcut Caps sources most of its offcuts, including unused samples and end-of-line cuts, from Kiwi clothing manufacturers and curtain makers, as well as a textile printer in Sydney, Australia. The hats sell for NZ$69 (about $50) and each one is stitched together in New Zealand, not China, where production costs could easily be ten times cheaper, Taylor says.
Because of the nature of the business model, Offcut Caps doesn’t have a full-time catalog, and instead makes monthly releases called “drops.” Registered members (basically, anyone who gives the company their email address) receive a 24-hour notice that a drop is pending, then hats are claimed on a first-come-first-served basis while supplies last.
And they don’t last long.
“We release about 150 to 200 hats per drop, and always in nine styles,” Taylor says. “You know the saying ‘sex sells’? I think that used to be true, but now sex is so easy to find on the internet for free–it’s FOMO, fear of missing out, that sells.”
The most popular styles, often unique floral prints, typically sell out within 24 hours, and all inventory disappears within two or three days. Last year, Offcut Caps teamed up with the Kiwi outdoors brand Swanndri, which has been around since 1913, to produce 50 hats. 500 people signed up for the line, and fans ended up crashing the site. Taylor also worked to support a Kickstarter for a public education center run by the Auckland-based charity Sustainable Coastlines, releasing a limited edition line of Offcut Caps as an incentive for people who pledged NZ$95. “People are willing to pay good money for a great product that lasts, and people want to buy into a vision of being good to the planet,” Taylor says.
As for what’s next for Taylor, he’s working to make his five-panel caps even more sustainable. The caps’ beaks (or brim), adjustable leather buckle straps, and badges are currently made from new leather, but he’s actively working to source those pieces from upholstery offcuts, and–new this year–producing one-off, limited-edition leather products like wallets, camera straps, phone cases, and watch bands.
“Another thing this year, I’m looking at making vegan caps—no leather at all,” says Taylor. “I’m a vegetarian myself, and obviously don’t mind wearing leather but a lot of people do, and we’ve been asked by a lot of people to make leather-free versions.”
In other words: If you’re more of a snapback person, you’re in luck.
“We stand by these caps, and we want to make the best caps in the world. We’re about to put a lifetime guarantee on all of them: Any problems with any Offcut, anytime, anywhere in the world, you can send it back and we’ll fix it for free,” Taylor says.
“All of the excesses of the West have a direct effect on people who have really contributed very little to the problem of climate change,” Taylor says. “If we consume well and consume less, we can live peacefully, even thrive, on this planet with the resources that we’ve got. To me, being good to each other and being good to the environment go hand in hand.”