Sarah Butterfield (Fe. 2010-12) is a trailblazer in activewear. She has co-founded Olive Ridley, which sells sustainable activewear online. Named after a breed of turtle, Olive Ridley is designed and made in Europe and all the pieces are made from Econyl.
Sarah spoke about the challenges and opportunities faced creating a brand in lockdown, and her dreams for Olive Ridley.
Let’s start at the beginning – where did the idea come from for Olive Ridley?
My best friend and I came up with the idea in lockdown! We did not really know what to do with our spare time, as we would normally go to the gym or see friends, and obviously couldn't do that anymore… We noticed there was a real gap in the market for sustainable active wear. Sustainability has obviously always been important, but it seems to suddenly people are taking more interest in it and whilst there are plenty of sustainable clothing brands, there is not much activewear that is sustainable. Whilst the big activewear brands like Lululemon and Sweaty Betty were bringing about sustainable lines, it is a very small part of their business, and most of the clothing is still made unsustainably. So, we decided to start our own business.
We both had a bit of savings to invest in the business, mostly thanks to not being able to spend any money during lockdown, and so Olive Ridley was born.
How Olive Ridley sustainable? What fabrics do you use?
It is made from a fabric called Econyl. Econyl is a form of nylon that is made entirely from waste products. It is made from a range of post-consumer waste including abandoned fishing nets, carpets and rigid textiles.
It has great eco-friendly credentials; the use of abandoned fishing nets helps clean up the oceans where entanglement in abandoned nets causes the death of many thousands of whales, dolphins and other sea life every year.
All our activewear is designed in the UK and manufactured in Europe in a family run factory and is packaged and sent in the most eco-friendly way.
Has it been a challenge to find fabrics that work for performance?
We have got two separate lines: our strength set which uses one type of fabric and is tailored, in a way that means it's got lots of different panels and sections that are really compressing. It's really flattering and has been designed for weights and running. There is also our Flex range, which is a really soft material. It’s got no seams and feels like you're not wearing anything. Econyl lends itself to these different uses incredibly well.
We’ve worked with a designer from the beginning to get the fit right in the fabric, which is so important with activewear.
How long did it take from the initial idea to selling the clothes to customers?
Perhaps a little quicker than might have been due to lockdown – around 18 months. We both had full time jobs but a lot of free time to focus on building the business!
Getting the fit of the clothes right was what took the longest but was totally worth it.
Why do you think has made you a successful business so far?
I’m an operations manager and my co-founder, Sophie, works in sales, and the combination of our two backgrounds has been great. We are also really, really passionate about it and the brand being successful, which is key.
How have you been marketing the brand and where do you sell it?
We have mostly been using Instagram, with influencers and trying to get our name out there! We also appeared in Wonderland magazine recently.
We currently sell everything through our website, and the ultimate goal is to be the activewear brand!
What has been the most challenging part of setting up the business?
The balancing act! We both got new jobs just as we were about to launch Olive Ridley, so we went from jobs where we could quite easily give a bit of time to starting up into jobs where we were working so much more, and it was difficult to find the time to commit to the brand.
The budgeting was also a challenge as it was something we hadn’t done before. This was especially the case for us, as we had to order stock from someone else in bulk and we had to put an awful lot of budget towards that first round of stock. Once we went to launch, it was tough to find money to spend on marketing as the initial costs are very high.
It has also been tricking getting the name out there. It has been difficult with Instagram as its algorithm means it isn’t straightforward to get your posts widely seen. But we are growing slowly!
How did being at Brighton College help you in business?
I did maths and economics for A-level, which have really helped with the operations side of running the business. As a school, it was always a place that encouraged everyone to just ‘have a go’ without being afraid of failure. This has definitely helped my mindset in setting up Olive Ridley!
What advice would you give to someone thinking about setting up a business like Olive Ridley?
If you think there's a gap in the market and you're really passionate about what the product is: go for it! If you really believe in your idea, and think it is going somewhere, then you will be willing to put in the time needed to grow it.
Before you start, map out your budgets and timelines and speak to other people in the industry to see if you’re being realistic. And when you really think your plan is going to work… give it a try!