Peter Lilllie, co-founder and commercial director of Grn Sportswear Ltd, chats with BQ about entrepreneurship in the North East ahead of the Northern Powerhouse Business Summit.
Tell us about your business, what does it do?
Based in Teesside, we are an award-winning performance sportswear company that has sustainability at its heart.
We produce cycling, triathlon and athletic wear for individuals and teams out of waste products, including plastic bottles and abandoned fishing nets.
There are three cornerstones to our business.
- Our product range is designed to increase the performance of the athlete with aerodynamics, compression and support being key features.
- Our sports clothing is made from ethically sourced sustainable/recycled materials.
- We manufacture all our technical clothing in the UK.
Our sportswear has been trialled and tested by elite athletes and we recently launched to the market “the world’s most sustainable skinsuit”, worn for the first time at the UK national track championships 2017 and shortlisted for a BT Sport Industry Award 2018.
We are very proudly based in the North of England and intend to create a full circular economy for our product within a 20-mile square radius of Teesside within 4 years.
And what’s your USP? What makes you different; innovative?
We are the UK's first company to create high-performance teamwear from recycled materials including recycled plastic bottles and discarded fishing nets.
These are cleaned up, broken down and repurposed into yarns that are as good as those from virgin sources but are far better for the environment.
For example, every cycling jersey we make uses approximately 7 recycled plastic bottles and uses 60% less energy and 94% less water to produce than the alternative from virgin materials.
For every tonne of recycled material used in our cycle shorts and trisuits, 1.26 tonnes of waste to landfill is avoided, 7 barrels of crude oil are saved and 4.2 tonnes of CO2 emissions are saved;
We manufacture all of our technical wear in the UK.
What’s your role in the business; how did you get to where you are now?
I’m the commercial director so look after the strategic direction, partnerships and revenue growth plans. I really just put the commercial wrap around my business partner Rob’s amazing ideas.
For the last 25 years I’ve worked predominately with start-ups on their sales and commercial strategies, although my role prior to GRN was with a multinational organisation.
How would you describe your business to a novice?
We create, sustainable, high-performance sportswear from recycled plastic bottles and discarded fishing nets which is manufactured in the UK.
Where do you get advice, support or help?
We have been lucky enough to receive excellent support with our research, innovation and development plans from our partners.
This includes Teesside University (where we are based), the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), HM Government's Catapult Programme for High Value Manufacturing, Innovate UK, the Department for International Trade and the FSB.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
We had some great highlights, being invited to Downing Street as part of the Small Business 100, winning the FSB Ethical-Green Business of the Year area award and being shortlisted for a BT Sport Industry "Best Sustainability Initiative" Award, but bringing a full range of sustainable cycle and triathlon clothing to the market that we are really proud of has to be number 1.
How do you differentiate your business from others?
No other company is creating bespoke teamwear from sustainable materials for cycling, swimming, running and triathlon. We have innovation plans in the pipeline and see ourselves as a "disruptor" business, inspiring other businesses to become more sustainable.
What do you like about being based in the North of England?
There is a real entrepreneurial buzz in the North East and it is a very exciting time to be here.
The network of help and support that is available is fantastic we have received excellent support from organisations such as the CPI, Teesside University, Tees Valley Combined
Authority and the FSB who have helped us to develop our business and set our growth plans. It’s also a beautiful place to ride and test our kit in!
Where do you see your business in 5 years’ time?
We are working towards a full circular economy for our product - this means that we will be able to take waste products and create new garments all on-site.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs or innovators?
If it’s not impossible it’s possible. Don’t take negative comments personally, learn from them, take advice from those you trust.
It’s supposed to be hard but that makes the rewards feel even better when they arrive.
What are you looking forward to about the Northern Powerhouse Business Summit?
Showcasing the best the North has to offer! It's a really exciting time for us and for the Northern Powerhouse and we are really proud to be part of it.
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