Images talks to Kirsty Macdonald of sustainability-focused garment brand Mantis World about babywear, e-tail and QR care labels

For nearly a decade, demand for organic products has seen steady year-on-year growth in the UK, according to the Soil Association’s 2019 Market Report. While this increase was largely driven by food and drink, sales of organic textiles have also soared – up from £11.6million in 2010 to £41.3million in 2018, with clothing for babies and children being one of the biggest categories. This has a lot to do with parents being more conscious of what they put on their babies’ skins, points out Kirsty Macdonald, brand manager at Mantis World, a pioneer in ethical and sustainable clothing. “Our whole baby range is booming. Skin friendliness is very important for baby items.”

Certified to GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard), Mantis World can guarantee that no potentially toxic chemicals such as pesticides and fertilisers have been used at any point, from growing the raw cotton through to the finished garment. And with climate change also high on the public’s agenda, the brand’s commitment to reducing its impact on the environment is resonating with a lot of parents. “Our organic range is especially strong because it is about protecting the planet that their children are growing up in,” Kirsty explains.

The GOTS standard also indicates social responsibility – from safe working conditions and living wages to ensuring there has been no child labour used in the manufacture of the Mantis garments. The brand has also achieved the SA8000 standard and Business Social Compliance Initiative certifications, which cover workers’ rights and conditions, and is a member of the Textile Exchange, which promotes sustainability in textiles globally.

Mantis World garments also comply with the Oeko-Tex standard, which tests raw materials through to end products for harmful substances. “It’s not just skin-friendliness, but zippers, threads, poppers, everything that’s part of the garment. Babies like to chew on things…”

New for 2020, the Babybugz Baby Dips Bodysuit
Made with 100% organic cotton, the Babybugz Baby Dips T

Eco interrogation

Mantis World is urging decorators to interrogate ethical claims by suppliers. “There’s such a lot of green-washing out there,” Kirsty points out. “We are trying to be authentic in everything we do. People are asking for proof of claims more and more.” The need for decorators and their suppliers to change has escalated because of pressure from high-street retailers, she adds. “It’s been easy for people to focus on the lowest price they can get and be blinkered on how that product got there. Now the high-street retailers have stringent social responsibility and ethical requirements. Small retailers are much more conscious of the background information of where garments come from, how they were made, their certification, and they are becoming more aware of how they can use that information as a marketing tool. It has become much more of a daily conversation than it used to be.”

A leading supplier to decorators, Mantis World was using organic cotton before it became fashionable. Founded by Prama Bhardwaj in 2000 and built on strong ethical principles, the company introduced organic cotton as early as 2005. “Ethical manufacturing has been at the core of everything since Prama started,” says Kirsty, who joined Mantis World 10 years ago. “We have stuck to our principles throughout very rigidly. Over the last year, people have become more aware of responsible manufacturing. It resonates a lot more with customers now. Our stance is to minimise the impact on the environment and ensure that people are treated fairly. It’s common sense. Now people are waking up to that.”

It helps that the image of sustainable organic cotton has changed over the past 20 years. “The old conception of organic cotton being itchy and scratchy has gone. Ultimately, it is a totally natural, breathable fabric that feels no different from non-organic cotton. It just hasn’t been grown with things that are potentially toxic,” Kirsty comments.

In 2017, Mantis World pledged to convert to using 100% sustainable cotton in all its manufacturing by 2021 – four years earlier than other clothing and textile brands making the same pledge at the Textile Exchange Sustainability Conference in Washington DC. In fact, Mantis World achieved this target in 2019, Kirsty reveals. “Everything that we have manufactured since March has used organic cotton instead of non-organic cotton. We thought we could do it earlier, by 2021, and hadn’t recognised we could make that change even sooner. In practice, it was easier for us than we anticipated.”

An exciting sector

With factories in Tanzania, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Mantis World produces garments for babies, children and adults. The boom in its Babybugz babywear range reflects not just demand for organic textiles but an ongoing trend for baby clothes that are as stylish as those designed for older children and adults. “The babywear market has become very exciting,” Kirsty says. “People want their baby to be dressed well. It’s quite reflective of the adult sector.”

Denims and stripes are very on trend for babies in 2020, while classic colours of pastel pink and powder blue are giving way to heather grey, navy and black. However, white remains the best-selling option, especially as it provides an ideal blank canvas for embellishment. “There is so much personalisation of babywear at the moment,” Kirsty adds.

New for 2020 are dip-dyed styles for babies, which graduate from colour up to pure white – similar to a retro tie-dyed effect. Made with super-soft 100% organic cotton, the Baby Dips T (BZ57) and Baby Dips Bodysuit (BZ58) are available in bubblegum pink and surf blue. “It resonates with the arty, artisan vibe that is going round at the moment,” Kirsty says. “It has colour in the bottom half but white at the top for decorating.”

Mantis World has also responded to the trend for parents wanting to dress older siblings the same as their babies and toddlers. Several babywear styles are now available for four to five years including the Denim Jacket (BZ53), the Hoodie (BZ32) and the All-in-One (BZ25). The Baby T (BZ02) is also now available in 2-3 year sizing, while the range of colours for the T-shirt and Bodysuit (BZ10) has been increased to 21. Personalised fashion garments for babies and children are proving particularly popular for entrepreneurs with decoration businesses, Kirsty notes. “E-tail has been phenomenal, with little own-brand retailers who are wanting to present their own range.”

The Mini Stripy T taps into the current stripes trend

Targeting this market, these retailers are particularly keen to be able to reassure consumers about the safety of the textiles used. Children become more picky about what they wear as they get older, which has led to kidswear becoming less significant for Mantis World these days, although the brand continues to offer a range of T-shirts and tank vests for ages up to 12-plus.

For grown-ups, Mantis has introduced Men’s and Women’s Essential Organic Ts (M01 and M02) for 2020, in a choice of 12 colours and seven sizes in 100% organic cotton. They are the first Mantis World garments with care labels bearing a QR code that, when you scan it with your phone, takes you to details about the environmental impact of that specific item.

With no mention of Mantis World, it uses clear words and images to explain the production chain and information such as certifications and how much energy and water have been used. This labelling will be rolled out to other styles, marking a major new step in the company’s commitment to spreading the message about how to reduce human impact on our planet and increase traceability.

This information has come out of a specialist company analysing all the data around how each garment is produced. “These metrics are a way of opening up a discussion that is not highbrow, that people can understand,” Kirsty points out. “People want to purchase environmentally friendly garments but they don’t necessarily understand how it impacts on them or how easy it is to make a difference. A lot of the time, I don’t know if people really understand what ‘sustainability’ means.”

By omitting Mantis World branding, it will be just as useful for decorators and end users. “We can show that information to our customers and they can show it to their customers with no reference to Mantis,” Kirsty explains. “It will allow the end users to use it as a sales and marketing tool.” The metrics will also be added to Mantis World’s website and brochure for 2020.

Alongside this transparency, the company continues to investigate ways to be more sustainable. Packaging is a major challenge, with a lack of consistency in what can be recycled around the UK and more work needed on creating bio-degradable alternatives. “It’s something we are looking at and, as with everything we come up with, it will be well researched,” Kirsty adds. “We are a very small company in relation to other companies in the industry. What we have tried to do is to give customers something with a strong ethical ethos that people will want to wear, but without being throwaway fashion. It is never a ticking-the-box exercise for us. It’s everything we do.”