Created by a vision of one t-shirt saving the world, Ashely Mackay began OneTee. The sustainable and ethical fashion label has a simple approach to changing the dynamic of the fashion supply chain with the ease of a white t-shirt. We chatted to Ashely about how he came into the charity business and why he chose a t-shirt to change the world.
What inspired you to launch a clothing business with charity in mind?
The idea stemmed from looking at how many plain white t-shirts I owned, and thinking ‘what if each of these had done something good for the world?’. Our target market is Gen-Y and Millennials who are often eager to support different causes and charities, but are non-responsive to traditional fundraising methods. Our tees allow people to donate to a cause they really care about, all while completing a common task, such as online shopping.
While a charity and a business were once two completely different and separate entities, social entrepreneurs are beginning to bridge the gap between the two. I think the way the business world is moving, corporate social responsibility can no longer just be an afterthought. Elements of ‘giving back’ need to be part of the core business structure, and built into the company culture. This is being driven by consumers and employees alike which is great to see.
Do you have previous experience in the fashion industry?
I had no experience in the fashion industry at all. In fact, if you saw some of the outfits I wore in my younger years you would be forgiven for thinking fashion should be the last industry for me to enter. I did have experience in the not-for-profit sector though, having previously worked in marketing for an animal welfare charity.
Do you feel sustainable and ethical fashion is achievable across the whole industry?
I think people are now much more aware of the issues surrounding the industry. Consumers have a greater understanding of ethical manufacturing and sustainable supply chains and are asking questions about where their clothes were made and who made them.
Because of this, brands are now starting to listen and are becoming much more transparent and accountable, which is great! Small changes to our consumer purchases can make a big difference. We all have a lot more power than we think; we just need to use it well.
What’s your approach to marketing and social media?
Social media is one of the biggest tools for any start up, especially with a limited budget. We’ve found the majority of our sales thus far have been driven through Instagram. While each new start up might have a different platform that is more suited to their business, whichever it is you choose, go at it with full speed. We have also collaborated with some really inspiring influencers who have been amazing in supporting our idea.
How did you go about sourcing ethical manufacturing? Were there more costs involved as apposed to outsourcing to sweat shops?
We are actually in the process of expanding our range. To be able to do this we have engaged several manufacturers across the world, including Australia. Sourcing ethical products was of paramount importance for us, but it doesn’t come without its challenges. I like to think that we are not just selling clothing but rather that we are selling an idea of which clothing is the byproduct. For that idea to work though, our products must be of an extremely high quality. This quality needs to be reflected across every level of the manufacturing process from the materials and machinery used, the conditions for the staff and the footprint on the environment. There are certainly more costs involved in ticking each of these boxes of quality, but we see these as mandatory costs for what we are trying to achieve.
Why did you want to run your own business as opposed to working for a large company?
I’ve always wanted to work towards making the world a better place, however it wasn’t until recently that I realised I could do this on my own, without the backing of a large company. The 9-5 thing is great for some people, but it’s not for everyone. You need to find what’s right for you.
Perks of working for yourself?
My boss is a legend! Also, you learn a lot about yourself, the good and the bad. Every day you challenge yourself and ultimately you grow as a person.
You can sometimes feel isolated when you become so involved and invested in your idea and your business, because it consumes so much of your time. I think it’s really important for anyone starting out to either partner with someone you trust and work well with or alternatively find a friend, mentor or family member who you can speak with openly about your business. It’s also easy to neglect your interests outside of the business. It’s all about finding that balance.
Something you wish you knew before you began your business venture?
Just how easy it is to get started. Entrepreneurialism is really being embraced; it is such an exciting time in Australia for anyone wanting to start their own business. The barriers to entry have been dramatically reduced over the last 10 years, so if you’ve got an idea, run with it. You should be able to test out your idea without breaking the bank. Don’t look back in five years and wish you had given it a shot.
Top four tips for young entrepreneurs?
1. They say the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, but the second best time is right now. The same can be said for anyone who has a business idea. Go for it.
2. Trust your gut and don’t be afraid of failing. Learn from your mistakes and move on.
3. Make sure you are always learning. Absorb all the information you can from others. Read everything, attend events and reach out to thought leaders.
4. Don’t always follow the rules.
Follow the OneTee journey here.
Words by Caitlin Hennessy