For Good: A New Dawn for Sustainability at bassike

Interview by Matt Lennon

Our ‘For Good’ series are a set of conversations with talented people behind some of our favourite environmentally conscious brands. As our team at IN BED continue to work towards our own goals around environmental and social impact we are continuously inspired by others re-thinking what it means to create through a more sustainable lens.

In this feature we speak to Mary Lou Ryan, Co-founder and Director of Sustainability and Supply Chain at one of our favourite Australian labels, bassike. Since the brand first made headlines in 2006 with it’s organic cotton jersey basics, trademark twisted seams, and contrast stitching it’s grown into an internationally acclaimed label stocked by some of the best retailers around the world. It’s been a pleasure to watch bassike evolve it’s design direction (under the skilled eye of Co-Founder & Creative Director Deborah Sams) and to see Mary Lou and her team take a strong, industry leading stance on sustainability – most recently this has meant gaining accreditation as a certified Carbon Neutral organisation. We sat down with Mary Lou to talk about this journey so far and to get a glimpse into her vision for the future of the brand.

A portrait of bassike Co-Founders Deborah Sams (right) & Mary Lou Ryan (left), alongside a selection of bassike organic cotton jersey t.shirts.

Hi Mary Lou, we know that since bassike was founded you’ve been committed to building the brand on sustainable principles. However, it seems like over the past few years you’ve been diving into this a little deeper. Can you tell us about what this journey has looked like for you and your team?

We’ve always been conscious of treating our makers, environment and community with respect, but in recent years we’ve made an effort to be more proactive and dive deeper into all areas of our supply chain and brand experience to ensure we are making the right choices. The covid pandemic became a pivotal point for us on this journey and it was at this time that we made the decision to put our hand up as a leader in this space – which led to my appointment as Director of Sustainability and Supply Chain to really champion the cause internally at bassike and more broadly within the Australian fashion industry.

Two looks from the bassike Resort ‘22 runway at Australian Fashion Week.

We had the pleasure of attending bassike’s Resort 2022 runway during Australian Fashion Week and while the show was beautiful, it also set a new standard for the Australian fashion industry by presenting a wholly carbon neutral production — can you tell us about the work that went into achieving this? 

Minimising our impact on the planet has always been central to the bassike ethos and we look to extend this thinking across everything that we do. Once we made the decision to present on the official schedule at Australian Fashion Week, it was a logical next step that we would look to do this in a socially and environmentally conscious way.

To achieve carbon neutrality, we worked with Pangolin Associates on a program to measure, reduce, and offset the carbon emissions generated from the production of both our runway shows including but not limited to; guest travel, electricity usage, catering and waste management. Through this process we supported two carbon abatement projects; Forests Alive Tasmania and Brazil Amazon Rainforest REDD+ Projects, which both reduce emissions traditionally caused by deforestation and degradation by promoting forest protection, implementation of conservation activities, scientific research and social inclusion within these communities.

The bassike head office at Warriewood on Sydney's Northern Beaches

Are there any other initiatives that you’re working on at the moment that you’re especially excited about?

Following our carbon neutral show at AAFW, I’m so thrilled to be able to share that our organisation has just been certified Carbon Neutral by Climate Active. Climate Active is Australia’s most rigorous and credible carbon neutral certification, working in partnership with the Australian Government to encourage voluntary climate action in the Australian business community.

Our Carbon Neutral certification covers our operational emissions including: utilities for our head office and eight retail stores; global freight between customers, partners and suppliers; staff travel and commute; paper and office equipment; consumer and supplier packaging; third party services such as cleaning and printing; and waste and recycling. This shows that we have taken action to reduce and remove the carbon emissions associated with our operation and from here we will continue to work towards expanding our measurement of scope to include upstream emissions embodied in our supply chain.

A still from bassike’s latest sustainability campaign.

It’s been interesting to see more brands thinking and speaking about their impact on the environment. As an industry leader in this space how have you gone about communicating the work that you’ve done in a way that felt true to bassike’s quietly considered nature?

As you note, we’ve always been a relatively quiet brand, but we know telling this story and encouraging our community to consider how and where they spend their dollar is so important for the future of our planet. I think education is key, so we will continue to share our learnings and updates in an authentically bassike way, as it is a constantly evolving space.

Two looks from the bassike Winter 21 collection.

Do you feel the demand for sustainable and ethically made goods has increased over recent times, and if so, have you seen a new consumer come to bassike because of your stance on sustainability?

There has definitely been an increased consumer demand for transparency regarding ethical and sustainable manufacturing, which has in turn encouraged brands and businesses to take a look at their own operations and how they can do better for people and our planet. Our online and retail teams are constantly being asked; where was this made? How was the fabric sourced? So we have definitely seen greater engagement with new and existing customers based on all of our hard work in championing sustainability and sharing this with our community.

Since its inception bassike has always felt intrinsically connected to the natural environment; being based in Sydney's northern beaches, working predominately with natural fibres, and creating imagery often closely tied to the land and ocean. How has this closeness to nature informed the way you make clothing and the brands overall aesthetic?

The Northern Beaches is the spiritual home of bassike and this has had a big impact on the way Deb and I have always designed bassike and how we envisage it working in the wardrobes of all of our wonderful customers – no matter where they live. It’s very much about the laidback Australian lifestyle and effortless sartorial style that we are known for around the world.

We feel there’s always more work to be done around sustainability and impact; are there any future goals, targets or initiatives that you’ve set for the business that you can share with us?

I agree, there is no such thing as perfect and there are always ways to improve. Achieving Carbon Neutral certification was the first of our major goals we set out earlier this year and we will continue to work on ways to reduce our carbon emissions as an organisation, as well as expanding our carbon neutrality to include our organic cotton jersey product line – which will be a major achievement, as this represents a large part of our business and covers a global supply chain that starts with our organic cotton being grown in India. We’re also constantly working to improve the fabrications used in our mainline collections to ensure we are using the most sustainable option available and switching over to organic wherever we possibly can. There is always more to do, but I’m proud of the work we have accomplished so far.