Getting to Know Rachel Carvell-Spedding of Navygrey
Navygrey has long been on our radar for their timeless jumpers and focus on sustainability. As a newly certified B Corp we were thrilled to get to speak to Rachel Carvell-Spedding and hear more about her journey.
Hello Rachel, it is such a pleasure to talk to the Founder of one of our favourite brands - you can often spot a Navygrey jumper in our office - we love what you do.
First off, congratulations to Navygrey on becoming a B Corp! It's such a significant accomplishment. We know first hand how much it takes to get to this point. You must be thrilled!
Thank you, yes we are really thrilled. Gaining the recognition of B Corp is a wonderful step on our Navygrey journey. But as I am sure, like you, gaining the B Corp isn’t a destination - it’s part of the journey and in many ways it feels like this is just the start of our determined quest to do even more to create the best possible products for people and the planet.
Can you share with us a bit about the journey that led Navygrey to this milestone and what it means for your company?
At Navygrey, we are all about making great jumpers. Natural, traceable, increasingly regenerative. But as a business, we want to be more than just a product. We want to create real change. B Corp, formalises what has been there at the start of Navygrey. A commitment to use business as a force for good; to benefit all people, communities and the planet.
We're a tiny team with big ambitions. There's so much we want to do to create better jumpers, to support more members of the farming community and to develop more regenerative methods of working to create a legacy of which we're proud.
Like Ancient + Brave, sustainability is at the core of Navygrey's values. How did you develop this passion for sustainability, and what inspired you to create Navygrey?
The very idea of Navygrey came from my mum's 25 year old jumper. A beautiful piece of knitwear, made from the purest of wool in the British Isles. The legacy of that jumper is woven into our DNA. Our mission has always been to create jumpers to bring real joy, that have a real purpose from fibre to finished piece.
I grew up on the north-west coast of England with a father (sadly no longer with us) who studied agriculture and was passionate about the land and looking after it. My mother was in retail throughout her whole life, so part of me feels that Navygrey is very much shaped by their experiences.
To create a beautiful product for our customers and us as makers, to love, it has to have a real purpose, and to have come from a very good place.
In the world of fashion, being environmentally conscious can sometimes be a challenge. What were the key steps Navygrey took to ensure that the brand married sustainable values while maintaining desirable knitwear?
I always come back to this quote by James Hillman, from The Practice of Beauty
“For love to return to the world, beauty must first return, else we love the world only as a moral duty, clean it up, preserve its nature, exploit it less. If love depends on beauty, then beauty comes first.”
To create something desirable, it has to be beautiful. And to create something beautiful it must have beauty from the very start.
Great jumpers start with a feeling. The softness of the wool, the fit and the shape. But to achieve that desirable feeling, you must begin with the quality of the raw materials.
The environmental credentials of the traceable wools we work with make them the best possible fibres -100% natural. 100% biodegradable, 100% renewable. Bury one of our jumpers and it will biodegrade completely over time - wool is made out of keratin, the same protein as human hair and micro-organisms in soil and water break down woolen matter.
Wool is itself inherently sustainable - much more so than cashmere. You need one sheep to create four to five jumpers, whereas you need at least three goats to create one cashmere jumper. Given the devastating desertification that is occurring in Mongolia due to the overpopulation of goats to meet the world’s demand for cashmere, we knew that wool was the best fibre for us.
We also knew we wanted to use Scottish-spun wools and British wool sourced directly from British farms, because we fundamentally believe in a fully traceable product, a transparent supply chain, the welfare of the sheep from which our jumpers come and supporting British suppliers and makers.
Keeping an entirely British supply chain, from sheep to shop, often within 200 miles means we reduce carbon footprint as a business and show that British wool has huge value.
As a brand, we are committed to growing organically, to do things at a pace that feels right and ultimately put back more than we take. Because we are fully aware that when you create products like ours, you take from the environment. But we want to ensure that we build a business that creates value for our customer and nature.
Collaboration often plays a vital role in creating a sustainable impact, how have you chosen who you work with and how have these collaborations influenced Navygrey's values?
Choosing to manufacture predominantly in the UK was a very important decision for us. It has meant we have been able to build up incredibly close relationships with our suppliers and collaborate with knitters and makers with a lifetime’s experience.
Our blanket collaboration with Prickly Thistle is a wonderful example. Prickly Thistle is a B Corp and the only mill in the Highlands of Scotland weaving traditional tartan. Working with their local team and with century old looms powered entirely by green energy, we worked with them to design and create a truly authentic check blanket, with the design being certified by the Scottish Registry of Tartans. Our design is now being shown at the brilliant tartan exhibition at the V&A in Dundee. A beautiful blanket, that combines impeccable raw materials, with great design, history and sustainable making - that brings us, and hopefully our customer’s real joy.
As a founder, you've probably encountered obstacles along the way. Can you share a particular challenge Navygrey faced while building the brand, and how did you overcome it?
Goodness, so many! Covid was probably the biggest one due to the impact on our supply chains and complicated by the fact that I was also pregnant, so my plans for how I was going to run the business during that time all got thrown out of the window. I wouldn’t say in that instance I ‘overcame’ it - it was more just a case of we got through it!
I think one of the biggest challenges is manufacturing knitwear in the UK can take a long time - the lead times for our wool sourcing, to then booking in space with our knitters - it can be a lengthy process and unlike big brands with big budgets and big teams we can’t get ahead in the way that they can. But as we grow, we’re able to forecast better and we understand our customer more and more - what she likes - and what she doesn’t - so we’re getting there. At the same time, as a founder, at the start, you’re doing everything. And there comes a point when you can’t do that any longer- and so you need to start building a team - that takes time to get right. And ensuring you give it the time can be hard, but it will make such a difference.
Sustainability is a growing movement globally, and consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of the choices they make. How do you see the future of sustainable fashion evolving, and what role does Navygrey hope to play in shaping that future?
I think one of the biggest things I would love to see is honesty and transparency when it comes to communication, so that we can all have an open dialogue about it.
There’s a huge disconnect in terms of knowledge – and we can only make good decisions when we have the right information. So many people for instance don’t know just how good wool can be - but not all wool or natural fibres are equal. A label just needs to say 100% wool - but that could mean a myriad of things. For example a machine-washable wool has most likely been chemically treated with harsh chemicals to - but how would you know that?
Equally, two of my big bug bears are the way that brands can hide where things are made on their websites and when they call a jumper a ‘wool jumper’ when wool is actually the third ingredient on the list after acrylic and polyamide. There needs to be much clearer, honest communication.
Knowledge is power. And as brands we have to play our part in the education - and that’s definitely something we will be doing.
Thank you so much to Rachel for talking to us. You can find Navygrey's beautiful, sustainable jumpers here.