Founded in 1985, Giles and Co is one of the oldest souvenir shops in the city of Cambridge, specialising in clothing and gifts which are licenced by the University of Cambridge. They have been proud partners of the University since 1996 and now sell a large range of official clothes, gifts, bags and caps as well as printed college garments for students and alumni.
They run in tandem with their sister shop ‘Jacks on Trinity’ just down Trinity Street, which was set up in 2013 and boasts a similar collection of Cambridge and Britain inspired gifts, including its very own Harry Potter range.
They have a limited online presence, being an independent, family business and although they ship worldwide their online advertisements encourage customers to come to their physical stores to view their full range of products. This does however mean that there is little no information about the sustainability of their products and any information here has been deduced from the information available. Giles and Co were contacted for more information regarding their sustainable practices and while they responded relatively quickly, they are yet to provide further information.
The personalised college t-shirts advertised on their website are said to be made from 50% cotton and 50% polyester neither of which are particularly sustainable materials.
While cotton is a naturally occurring fibre, there are many elements of its production that mean the production of cotton has a significant impact on the environment, especially in the sheer quantities it is produced in, with 25 million tonnes of cotton estimated to be produced each year. Cotton requires a lot of water to grow and is primarily grown in arid conditions, resulting in vast amounts of water wastage which contributes to sea basins drying up. A single cotton t-shirt can take thousands of litres of water to produce, vast quantities of which are either wasted or contaminated. Safely disposing of hazardous chemicals used to dye fabrics can be incredibly expensive and so, to accommodate the demand for cheaply produced clothing, these chemicals can contribute to the contamination of river systems through their pollution of water in the dyeing process, and limiting the local population’s access to clean drinking water. Moreover, 89% of the cotton planted in Indiais accounted for in genetically modified cotton seeds which are specially modified to be resistant to pests such as bollworms. However, GMO seeds cannot reproduce, meaning farmers have to repurchase seeds each year, which they are often pushed into debt in order to afford. This development has been linked to the distressing increase in cotton farmers committing suicide by swallowing the pesticides used to manage their crops which they cannot afford to pay off. There are sustainable and organic options for cotton which can be used to make this material safer for use but since Giles and co have offered no information on how or where this cotton is sourced from, we cannot assume that a sustainable option is being used.
Polyester is the third most commonly used plastic and is generally considered unsustainable. Since it is not biodegradable, T-shirts made from polyester fabric can take between 20-200 years to decompose. Polyester fabrics are also stain resistant because they require disperse dyes which are insoluble in water to colour polyester successfully. This dye is very difficult to treat in wastewater and can have a significant and detrimental impact on local plant and animal life in addition to being toxic to humans. Polyester is created through a heating process which requires large amounts of energy and large amounts of water then to cool it down. Unless this is managed carefully groundwater levels can drop and reduce access to clean drinking water for local populations. Again, recycled polyesters exist which can use the waste products from other plastic production such as water bottles or fishing nets to produce a more sustainable polyester. However, since there is no information on where or from who the Polyester is coming from, we must assume that Giles and Co are not selling sustainably produced polyester products.
There is no information on the Giles and Co website explaining how or where their products are made. It is relatively safe to assume that they have an external supplier given that their business is a small, independent one but without information as to who these suppliers are or where they are producing their products, it is impossible to produce any kind of coherent supply chain. We also cannot assume that any of their products are produced sustainably considering that, unfortunately, the general market standard is not sustainable.
However, one point in their favour is that Giles and co’s printed college apparel - hoodies, sweatshirts and t-shirts are made to order. This means that they are unlikely to over produce and create wasted products which never even get sold. Ideally, each personalised product made will find its home.
Again, since we have no information about who Giles and Co uses to supply their products we also have no information on who specifically is creating them. Seeing as materials such as polyester and cotton often have such a detrimental effect on the local environment where they are created, it stands to reason that the living conditions of those farming and producing the materials are not ideal. Dye workers who work on polyester report higher incidences of cancers and lung disease than the general population, providing an indication of how the lives and health of workers can be affected by the use of unsustainable practices. A product cannot be considered truly sustainable if any part of its production process is having a direct and measurable negative impact on the individuals and communities who work to create them.
Giles and Co is a small, family owned and run business in central cambridge. As a souvenir shop they are likely outsourcing a lot of their products and therefore little transparency in regards to sustainability is delivered. However, at the very end of the supply chain, in the stores themselves, is a friendly and passionate family working in a small team right in the heart of central Cambridge . They deliver warm and enthusiastic service and treat their workers in line with British employment standards.