Like all our favourite brands, BBCo was born in the great outdoors. Specifically, its inspiration came from the Tenmile Range of the Rocky Mountains, where founder Annie Richmond spent four memorable ski seasons working out of Breckenridge, Colorado – a former goldrush town turned snowboarding mecca.
Working the slopes in a resort ski jacket and salopettes, the only real way to make some sort of statement was up top: with what was on your head. It was a little touch of individuality that set off the identikit uniform of the day job. “I must have ended up with about a hundred beanie hats while I was out there”, remembers Annie today. “It became a bit of an obsession”.
Her time in the States done, Annie returned to the UK to bag herself a ‘real job’, but she never lost that passion for the great outdoors or for extreme sports. Working in the motorsport industry alongside global megabrands like Red Bull and Monster, she began to feel an irresistible urge to do her own thing and start a smaller, more considered brand that would help her reconnect with the outdoors. Annie decided to focus on the headwear that had been a staple of her own years in the mountains.
It proved to be a steep learning curve, and one that would ultimately result in BBCo’s lasting commitment to British materials and manufacturing. “Before I went into retail, I had no idea how destructive fashion could be for the environment”, says Annie. “It was only subsequently that I realised how harmful fast fashion is”.
This eco awakening made Annie consider carefully what she wanted the brand to stand for. She explains: “A lot of thought goes into what we produce, as well as how and why. It’s easy to talk the whole eco-spiel and not put much thought behind it. But for us it’s more than a marketing tool: we practice what we preach". The evidence is there when you examine the product range, which includes caps made from recycled and low-impact materials like Repreve and Polylana, as well as hats knitted from British wool and non-mulesed merino. "It’s about sourcing things from the best possible places in the most sustainable way”.
That is sometimes more challenging than you might think though. Take BBCo’s bestselling five panel caps: made from carefully sourced British materials but produced overseas. Why? Simply because there wasn’t a UK manufacturer who could make them. For Annie, it was a real frustration, and one that she became determined to solve. “I contacted local councils in textile heritage areas like Yorkshire and Leicestershire to explain the problem, trying to identify small businesses who could help me out with production". As a result, she discovered a small manufacturer based in Huddersfield. With a little support they agreed to take on BBCo’s production, so as of March 2021 those caps will finally be crafted not just from British materials but also made in Britain too, dramatically reducing their total carbon footprint. Annie regards it as an important victory. “That is something that I’m really proud of, as it’s taken a lot time to get there”.
It shows that sourcing locally and supporting the environment can go hand in hand. But being based closer to home can be better for futureproofing your business too, as 2020’s coronavirus pandemic has shown. Annie thinks it will change the way that businesses in the industry view things. “Avoiding Far East production allows you to be more reactive, to sample quicker, to make products without huge minimum order quantities, and escape the damaging fast fashion cycle”. BBCo is a perfect example of that. “We can make a small batch of product, and if it works, great, if it doesn’t then we can stop and try something else”. For her, it’s also what sets the brand apart from many of its competitors, along with a single-minded focus on making the best headwear around, full stop. “The best bit of business advice I’ve ever had was to do one thing and do it well. So, it’s not about just slapping a logo on it. Our products are more considered: we just do headwear and we want to do it right”.
Doing it right means paying meticulous attention to detail, not just in design terms but also by scrutinising the entire business, with a view to developing a completely sustainable model that uses largely British-made materials, with the majority of products also being manufactured in the UK. It’s a lofty ambition. “We’ll never be 100% British, because we use sustainable materials like Repreve, which is made in Asia. It would be counter-productive to fly that fabric back to a UK factory – that would basically be doing things the opposite way round – so some of our stuff will always be made overseas, but we’d like to see at least 60% of our range sourced and made here at home”.
That will be even more important as an increasing number of UK consumers become concerned about product provenance – basically, knowing where their stuff is made. And though BBCo was born in the Colorado Rockies, there is also a bit of Yorkshire grit at the heart of the brand. “I’m a proud Yorkshire lass, so I grew up around a lot of disused old mills, which always made me really sad”, reflects Annie. “With BBCo, I wanted to bring some of that manufacturing pride back to the north; in fact, I felt almost obliged to try and do that. Back in the 1970s and ‘80s we basically sold off all of our textile manufacturing capacity, but gradually that’s come full circle as we’ve become more educated about the environment and the impact of fast fashion. So, I do feel a bit of a responsibility to try and bring some of that industry back to the UK and especially to the north of England”. So, a headwear brand with plenty of heart too? It’s a perfect combination, and it just makes us love our BBCo caps and beanies all the more.
Comments will be approved before showing up.