Indie Corner: Billi London – the 100% biodegradable tights retailer

Billi London co-founder Sophie Billi-Hardwick speaks to Retail Gazette on creating the first certified 100% biodegradable premium tights on the market and its first ever physical pop-up store in Seven Dials, London.

Billi London co-founder Sophie Billie-Hardwick speaks to Retail Gazette on the importance of sustainability in fashion
“There is definitely a general increase in awareness of how unsustainable the fashion industry is and its impact on the environment."

For Sophie Billi-Hardwick, growing up in France in the 90s meant that fashion was always an important part of her life, from spending her first bit of well-earned money in affordable retailers on the high street to making the plunge and purchasing her first designer handbag.

The inception of London-based pop-up retailer Billi London first began on a cold December morning in 2018, when Sophie casually threw away a pair of tights.

“It hit me then: what is the impact of my action on the planet?” she told Retail Gazette.

She started to do some research to find out just how damaging tights are for the environment and found that each year, 8 billion pairs of tights are produced, worn a few times, and then discarded.

Launching the business was important to Sophie because while millions of women casually throw away a couple pairs of tights every month, the industry is not yet circular (new tights cannot be produced from old ones) and other recycling options are limited.

“This is why we are championing biodegradability as an innovative solution to reduce the harmful environmental impact of tights,” she explained.

“The harsh reality is that tights can take up to 100 years to decompose. So my love [for fashion] and frustration [with unsustainable tights] got me thinking.

“I realised my overconsumption contributed to positioning an industry that I loved so much, as the second worst polluting industry on earth.”

After a random encounter with her now co-founder Marie Bouhier and realising how both were equally passionate and frustrated about the issue, they joined forces in 2019 and Billi London – which recently opened its first physical pop up store in the heart of London’s West End at Seven Dials.

“Our ambition is to create a movement and a new norm for the tights sector”

“Marie studied at the London College of Fashion and specialised in sustainable fabrics, so we knew biodegradability was already an existing and successful solution in the fashion world, but it was never used in the tights industry,” added Sophie.

Over an 18-month period, the pair worked with fibre experts to create an innovative solution and after a lot of trial and error, they were able to offer premium, durable fully-certified 100 per cent biodegradable tights.

Operating as an independent retailer and online business Sophie explained that when trading in-person, she connects with her customer base by offering an experience and providing a personal touch.

“The physical space at Seven Dials helps with this and we are seeing more and more people moving away from retailers like Amazon and sourcing more sustainable options or supporting independent brands.”

“We are very proud that Seven Dials in London believed in our product so much and this is a launchpad for our future expansion plans.”

Discussing the pop-up store, she said the best part of having a physical space is meeting and building the community.

“We launched during Covid so to have this opportunity to meet people in person is amazing,”

“We are still doing research and development, so surveying people in the store is great about which products they would like to see next from us.”

In addition to this, the retailer will also be hosting workshops on how to repair and upcycle old tights as well as acting as a platform to sell to other retailers, using the space as a showroom and allowing them to feel and engage with the products and us as a brand.

In the wake of the world’s climate crisis – with COP26 currently underway in Glasgow – sustainable businesses are becoming more in demand than ever.

Sophie said that there “is definitely a general increase in awareness of how unsustainable the fashion industry is and its impact on the environment.”

“Especially since the global pandemic, consumers want to make smarter choices and play their part such as not buying fast fashion products,” she added.

“Our role since launching Billi London has been to educate women and men on the impact that tights specifically have on the planet, and to change their rapport with tights from being a disposable afterthought to a sustainable and durable fashion essential.”

She revealed the business is also currently considering using blockchain technology to allow customers to understand the entire lifecycle of tights and provide full transparency, which is central to Billi London’s core values.

Offering some advice to those thinking of starting their own sustainable business, Sophie said: “Write down your guiding values, what success means to you and why you really want to start a business.

“Never forget your why and which change you want to drive”

“This will help you stay focused and choose between conflicting options further down the line.

“Despite the negative societal impact of Covid, I’ve witnessed some unexpected acts of generosity and togetherness, both towards complete strangers and our network.

“The power of the community has been stronger than the virus, and having a meaningful purpose is what will keep us alive in 2021 and beyond.”

She stressed the importance of considering every touchpoint in your business, from the products and the materials to the people you work with, to make it as sustainable possible across the whole supply chain.

“You cannot launch a fashion brand today without ethics and sustainability at the heart of it.”

Despite being the first certified 100 per cent biodegradable premium tights retailer on the market, Sophie explained that Billi London isn’t stopping there.

“Our objective is to become the leader of the biodegradable intimate wear market in Europe by 2025 with biodegradable products such as leggings, socks and underwear.”

With the intimate wear market continuing to grow and consumers increasingly operating with sustainability in mind, Sophie is now focused on finding investors to help grow and achieve Billi London’s ambitious mission.

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