The Level Collective is an independent clothing label based in Sheffield. Bringing design, adventure and change, the label works efficiently and eco-consciously to ensure that all apparel is ethically made. Working with ethical suppliers abroad and a number of creative graphic designers across the country, they create original t-shirts, jumpers and beanies, which are screen-printed here in Sheffield. I spoke to the label’s Creative Director Mark Musgrave about his imaginative business.
How did you first get into creating clothing and how did the label start?
It all really started in summer 2010. I went over to Romania to work with a charity with a load of friends. I found out about this project they’d just started where they trained people in the community to hand-crochet things with a view to selling them. It just really opened my mind. I got to meet some of the families and people involved in the project and began to see the potential for what it could be and for it to have a positive sustainable impact. Some of these families had been stuck in poverty for generations but now they can afford food and medicine much more comfortably. The vision is to scale that up. The more orders we get, the more women can be employed.
Could you give a bit of background about the ethos of the business and the production process?
We also work with an ethical supplier in India who farm and have their own factories. They use organic cotton and make our t-shirts and jumpers, but we’re now using bamboo a lot more as it’s more sustainable because it re-grows a lot quicker than cotton. So all these factories are verified and audited by the Fair Wear Foundation, who are an independent organisation that monitor factories for fair wages, working conditions and ensuring all the workers have a consistent number of hours every week. They’re certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard as well, which just makes sure that the whole process from farming through to production is all organic in terms of what’s going into the soils, which really makes a difference.
When the garments are delivered here in the UK I have them screen printed in Sheffield using water-based eco inks, and the beanie hats are handmade in Romania and finished here in Sheffield as well. Most of the current collection is by UK designers – a couple from Sheffield as well.
How important do you think it is to have a local input into your clothing?
I guess I always wanted them to be screen printed in Sheffield. I could get it done cheaper elsewhere but I just really wanted a local input. I don’t think it’s contributing hugely to the local economy! But I love Sheffield. Since I moved to uni I’ve stayed here and from a quality of product point of view I can get it exactly as I want it to be. So I wanted a Sheffield-based aspect to it just so it felt closer to home.
Can you describe the challenges and benefits of running the label?
The challenges are a variety of what I do. I manage logistics, stock, financial stuff, handle customer orders. I’m willing to get my hands dirty and become a specialist where I need to, and then in areas where I don’t just be able to trust others. I guess the biggest challenge as a brand is finding the time to get the word out there. There’s so many brands out there for people to choose from. It’s difficult making yourself stand out, although that has been happening really well in the last couple of months. We’ve been getting loads of attention on Instagram and had sales to America, Canada, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, and Luxembourg, of all places. I think the flexibility of having your own label and working with your suppliers mean the possibilities are endless.
Is there an aspect of running the label that stands out as the most rewarding?
I’d say every now and again, when you stop and look back at the bigger picture in terms of what we’re trying to create and also how far we’ve come since launching in January. The whole process from the first idea to seeing it realised and seeing people really satisfied with it is the most satisfying thing.
I never wanted pity purchases just because of the story. I want people to be attracted to the quality and then the thing they find out is, ‘Oh wow, they’ve got a great story and purpose’. That almost supersedes the former, but they have to be attracted initially by the product being top quality and looking really great.
Words: Michael Griffiths.
Images © Santiago Rodrigues.