Happy Earth Month to you all! It’s April 2022 and Earth Day this year marks 7 months since the soft launch of Tortoise The Label. We haven’t managed to share a lot of details about the behind-the-scenes of Tortoise, so we figured that this would be the perfect time to do so! Let’s take a look at the steps we’ve taken to be where we are today and share some reflections on this journey too.
Prelude: Our Beginnings
Before the “hatching” of Tortoise’s brand concept in June 2020, our founder had already started her own journey towards sustainability. During that personal journey, she learnt how difficult it is to change her own deeply-engraved consumption and lifestyle habits.
It was thus our priority as a brand to first define brand pillars that recognised the nature of the community and environment that we live in.
We recognised that the best way to build a sustainable future is through reusing, recycling and reducing waste.
We are never alone; no brand or person is ever an island. Every single person on this journey matters equally.
- Capacity for Change
The world is always changing and there is no “single, definite answer” to solving climate change. Adaptability is our key to continuous improvement!
With the mission to pave the path for a happier you - and a happier planet, Tortoise strives to be your personal cheerleader on this journey to switch up your pace!
Our First Steps
As a brand committed to positively changing lifestyle habits, we’re focused on the 12th United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal (SDG): Responsible Consumption and Production. The UN details the targets that the global community should be meeting to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. Some of the targets include substantially reducing waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse by 2030.
To meet the targets outlined, we've adopted a circular design mindset at the core of our design thinking. It starts with the question: what if we could redesign everything? We examined our processes and touchpoints then strived to strike the right balance between reusing, recycling and reducing waste for them all. From our business model to products and packaging, we designed everything with circularity, sustainability and social responsibility in mind.
1. Designing a system for circularity
The first thing we had to tackle was our business model. Knowing how changing habits is no flick of a switch, we found that positive reinforcement is a great way to cheer one on to adopt better habits. So, we designed our Carrot Credits Recycling System with people, planet, positivity and price in mind.
This system gives us all a chance to adopt more sustainable lifestyle habits, whilst ensuring circularity of Tortoise pieces and keeping them affordable – all at the same time!
By rewarding our customers for sending their used pieces back, we collectively divert our pieces from landfills. (Uncle Semakau would surely be happy to hear that!) We then work with local communities and businesses to give them a new life. All of these upcycled pieces will similarly come back to us via the Carrot Credits Recycling System. Only when the pieces are not fit for reuse any further, they will be sent to our local partners who sends them to Taiwan for mechanical recycling. (Unfortunately, there are no local textile recycling plants presently.)
2. Deciding on the right product to make and the right way to make it
Overconsumption is certainly something we never want to encourage. Instead, we want to create pieces that our community can wear all the time – and already wears all the time.
Since our Carrot Credit Recycling System is designed for responsible returns, we focused on the wardrobe necessities that constantly need replacing: basics.
When it comes to responsible production though, two factors are of utmost importance: our materials and our makers.
Our materialsIn preparation for Carrot Credits Returns, we wanted to design our pieces for mechanical recycling to be made into new textiles. While other eco-friendly materials like bamboo were enticing, the infrastructure available for mechanical recycling was much less accessible than that of cotton in 2020. So, for our first launch, we decided to go with 100% organic cotton.
Further understanding of the recycling process was also core to our circular design process. We learned that the first step of recycling textiles is sorting — a labour- and resource-intensive process. So, we designed our pieces to be optimised for recycling by making sure that our pieces are truly 100% cotton, ridding the need for the sorting process. Our fabric and threads are all made of cotton too, and we chose to do without any sewn-on labels (usually made of polyester).
Our makersFor us, ensuring the safety and livelihood of our makers is not simply a corporate social responsibility initiative. Makers, too, are an essential part of our community and they matter.
Since we were unable to do site visits during the pandemic, we relied on global accreditations to help us select our best partners. We’re glad to share that our supply chain partners are GOTS and SA8000 certified. Both of these accreditations help ensure that employees in our supply chain are well-treated, paid a living wage and there is no forced-labour (including that of overtime work and child labour).
These are standards we will continue to uphold as we grow and work with new vendors.
3. Reducing waste in our supply chain
At Tortoise, we often talk about the long journey ahead of us and all the better lifestyle habits that we want to help you build. Our mission is to pave that path for you, and for that to happen, we do our best to trek that path first.
Reducing waste is a mindset that we all need to build together, even if it means doing so behind-the-scenes, where no one else can see. For us, that means reducing waste at the production level too.
Ordering in small batches and in consistent fabricsOur brand’s focus on creating quality wardrobe basics helps us to reduce the need to create multiple collections. Being closet staples means that our pieces are timeless, and can go with everything else that we own. We’re never in a hurry to create more unnecessarily, so we focus on improving our styles and fits instead. This is how we’re able to keep our collections small and production volumes low.
For Edition 1.0, the entire collection has been produced in the same fabric body. This means cutting the pieces from the same roll of fabric to reduce wastage of the rest of the roll. We also kept the colours consistent across styles to keep our pieces cost effective, whilst reducing textile waste.
Reducing inner packaging wasteDuring transit from factory to warehouse, all clothes need to be protected in inner packaging. Often, pieces of clothing are individually packed into plastic polybags for protection. While we understand the need for it, we’ve found it extremely wasteful to pack them all individually.
Instead, our pieces are packed in bulk instead. Each polybag houses 5-10 pieces depending on the quantities ordered per size, so that we are still able to locate our pieces in the warehouse. Just by packing multiple pieces in each bag, we have managed to save more than 80% of the amount of plastic we would have been using if our pieces are packed individually. After sales, these polybags are kept for reuse too.
4. Launching the brand with inclusivity in mind
Sustainable living is for all. At Tortoise, we believe that no one should be left behind. In fact, all should be given the chance to live more sustainably at your own pace.
Gender inclusivityConsidering it is true that most shoppers are female, most sustainable fashion brands target a female audience. It is evident in our first collection that Tortoise too is mostly geared towards female audiences for that very reason. However, we believe that sustainable lifestyles should be accessible to all, including males and all other genders.
Hence, we’ve created our pieces to fit all bodies. Our fits have been developed by referencing the anatomy of male and female bodies, so we have labelled them accordingly. However, gender is just a reference in this case, so all bodies are welcome to wear Tortoise and rep the sustainable lifestyle!
Size inclusivityWe don’t say this often, but size-inclusivity was and still is still an honest challenge we face when deciding our sizes and quantities. We believe that bodies of all sizes do matter equally, and all should be able to embark on their journeys toward sustainable living.
However, as much as we’d hoped to release 8 or more sizes in our first collection, our low production quantities have limited our ability to cater for that many size options.
For Edition 1.0, we’ve managed to create a total of 6 sizes catering to the majority of Singaporeans, but we definitely are working toward extending the size range in the near future.
5. Encouraging reuse with packaging
Packaging is another key component of any product-selling brand.
For Tortoise, packaging is another opportunity for us to show that by exercising some creativity in our daily lives, we can begin to unlock the potential of our materials and resources to have more than a single purpose. Our TotePack is one way of showing that the commonly single-use ecommerce delivery packaging does not only need to be single-use.
Especially since our Carrot Credit Recycling System was designed such that our products are meant to be returned to us for a second life, we wanted our packaging to be ideal for reuse as well.
When we see how conventional products can be designed differently, it is the hope that you — our customers and our fellow businesses — can see that exercising some creativity in our daily lives can lead to much more sustainable futures for us all.
6. Recognising that Tortoise is part of a larger ecosystem
Like most real (animal) tortoises, we’ve realised that we’ve been journeying alone. Our beginnings involved much ideation and innovation that we helmed on our own, but we soon realised that there are so many others in the community with brilliant initiatives that can help us grow together. Just like how we want to be your partners and cheerleaders on your journeys toward sustainability, we should not be trekking on our own.
So, we’ve developed some partnerships that can help us all do better:
Retail PartnersWe’ve partnered with susGain and WhyteSpace in early 2022 to give you a variety of shopping experiences.
If you prefer to shop multiple sustainability-focused brands at the same time and save on delivery costs, or even want to try on our pieces at pop-ups, you can head to WhyteSpace.co.
On the other hand, susGain is a sustainability rewards app that allows you to collect points for green habits and donate to charities as your shop sustainably. We love an inventive-driven sustainability platform!
Carbon OffsettingEvery step we’ve taken so far has been made with our carbon footprint in mind. From the materials we’ve chosen to the partners we work with, Tortoise has been balancing the elements of price, planet and people. This will be a continuous process for us, and we promise to continue doing our best.
Since it is our goal to help you build better habits, we’ve partnered with EcoCart to make carbon offsetting a convenient process for you. EcoCart gives you the opportunity to make your order carbon neutral at checkout with a simple click of a button.
Your offsets fund the Global Forestry Projects where trees are planted in natural forests to absorb carbon from the atmosphere, protect wildlife habitats and local water supplies, and provide opportunities for local communities. These offsets are verified by Verra’s Verified Carbon Standard (VCS).
Zero Waste PackagingAs proud as we are of our TotePacks, we recognise that not everyone needs a new tote bag and we want to empower you to pick your preferred packaging based on what would be most suitable for your lifestyle. So, we’ve partnered with Package Pals to offer you the option of receiving your Tortoise orders in reused packaging instead. These are ecommerce mailers designed for single-use but have been collected and redistributed by Package Pals to be given a second life.
With our zero waste packaging options, we’re proud to have joined the Zero Waste Packaging Initiative by The Sustainability Project too! We pledge to continue saving packaging from landfills.
Our Next Steps
Everything we’ve mentioned above is just the beginning! We see so much potential in our growth to become better cheerleaders, so we’re working on bringing you more resources, better initiatives and greater improvements for your adventures ahead.
In the year of 2022 and beyond, we’re pledging to donate 5% of our profits to Conserve Natural Forests (CNF) annually in Pai, Thailand. We’ve hand-picked CNF because they are a non-profit organisation committed to restoring natural forest landscapes throughout Thailand in ways that protect and enhance biodiversity, self-regulate landscape ecological processes, and improve the livelihoods of local communities in the long term.
These donations will contribute to our carbon offsetting, but shall not end there. Working towards carbon neutrality is still a long and continuous process ahead. We’ll continue to search for better alternatives to our existing supply chain and business processes to further lower our carbon emissions and reduce waste.
Of course, we’ll be sure to keep you updated on all our little steps toward brighter futures too! There’s a whole journey ahead and we’ve only just begun. For this Tortoise, there’s no finish line. So, let’s do this together and choose slow, choose happy!
To better adventures for us all,
The Tortoise Team