By Ashwin Bolar
For whatever reason, I’ve always been drawn towards social justice, and the right to basic human dignity. The Universal Declaration of Human rights is the common sense baseline of human entitlements. But for most of my life, I struggled to find a work environment that didn’t trample on its principles in the search for profit.
I came across THTC Clothing – The Hemp Trading Company way back in 2006. Emblazoned proudly in an issue of FACT magazine, one of my favourite UK Hip Hop groups, Foreign Beggars, were pictured in an advert swathed in organic fibres with simple, yet brazen slogans. THTC made clothes from hemp, they promoted environmentalism, ethical sourcing, and were a heady mix of political left and libertarianism. And they were everywhere. Every Drum’n’Bass or Hip Hop night that I would go to, be it in London, Birmingham or Brighton – I would see THTC. Artists would be thanking them in their album sleeves and wearing their clothes in interviews.
The years passed, and after graduating from drama school I drifted from job to job falling into a London routine. From a failed acting career, to work in Government comms and onto digital marketing, I put my skills as a writer to work. I’d be satisfied in a job until I felt an emptiness and the words of Bill Hicks would echo in my ears.
Then in the Autumn of 2012, I received a call from a chap looking for help setting up a social media marketing strategy for his clothing business. I soon found myself hurtling along the Central Line to Ealing, and the headquarters of THTC. Three years later, and somehow I’m now the Director of Digital for the UK’s leading ethical streetwear company.
Back in 1997, a young Gav Lawson set up Hempology, an industrial hemp society, while reading at UWE in Bristol. The society argued and actively lobbied for the deregulation of the hemp industry, citing the crop’s many uses – fuel, construction, food and medicine. From the basis of the society’s work and in partnership with his older brother Dru Lawson and marketing specialist Dan Sodergren, THTC was born – the first commercial application of the many policies that it had drawn up. Gav’s regular attendance at the city’s music nights had helped him build a community of artists and musicians all excited by the concept of sustainable, ethical fashion – made from hemp!
As the years progressed, the company diversified and began to work with different sustainable materials such as organic cotton, recycled plastic fibres, and modal. THTC began to work new and prolific street artists such as Mau Mau, Fybe:One, Herse and Jim Vision. We worked with NGOs and voluntary organisations, producing ethical and sustainable campaign t-shirts for charities such as the The Burma Campaign (UK) and the Free the Angola 3 International Campaign. We produced organic, ethical merchandise to musicians and bands such as Morcheeba, Joss Stone, Beardyman, Newton Faulkner, Sinitta and Asian Dub Foundation, to name a few.
And all the while, the community grew. But it’s not always been easy.
The price point of a THTC shirt is a bit higher than one from a high street retailer, which scares off a few customers. However, we source garments from production partners who pay their workers a living wage, and treat them fairly. Many high street retailers engage in price gouging, forcing suppliers to cut corners in worker welfare. They even skimp on paying their own shop staff. Fair business costs money – and much of what we talk about on our social channels goes to educating people towards making sustainable consumer choices.
As head of digital of THTC, I take my work incredibly personally. After all, the company is just Gav and myself. And a small chihuahua named Jehst. We pack every order by hand. We answer every customer query personally – sometimes in the middle of the night, while gripped by insomnia. We think that it’s a human way of doing business.
At every point, we look at how we can contribute to the society and causes that we personally believe in. Last Christmas we pledged to donate 10% of our net sales over December to Crisis, a charity that helps the homeless in the UK. Currently, we’re partnered with World Land Trust, an NGO that safeguards vast tracts of rainforest, by pledging 20% of sales from our King David Collection to them, for the whole year. We’re also just about to launch a new collaboration with Gary Hodges (the UK’s best selling pencil artist) and the Environmental Investigation Agency, an organisation that investigates and fights environmental crime across the world. Folks who buy into THTC, are actively helping causes that work towards a sustainable future.
My hope is that THTC provides people an easy path towards sustainable consumption, and that we make people think about the true cost of the things that we buy. Next time you’re out shopping, and you see a deal that looks too good to be true, whether it’s on food, clothing or even banking services – just remember, someone, somewhere may had had to pay for those ‘great’ savings.
About the author: Head of Digital and Retail eCommerce. Ashwin has worked at THTC full-time since Summer 2015. Formerly Social Strategist at AOL NYC, Commercial Social Media Strategist at Bauer Media, and Content Strategist at dotmailer. He’s classically trained actor, formerly managed a Hip Hop band, taught snowboarding, and once spent an entire summer building portaloos. Ashwin heads up all aspects of THTC’s digital branding, creative design and marketing strategy, as well as overseeing IT infrastructure. Although most of the time he’s on Tinder, trying to find a wife.
Feature Image: Red Man,. international hip hop star, wearing THTC (2016)