PICO stands for ‘Phoebe and Isobel’s company’. So you’re kind of committed to each other now! What made you decide to work together? What are the best things about working together? And the worst?

Phoebe: We had discussed for years about how we wanted to know more about the provenance of our everyday clothes and items. We struggled to find everyday garments, such as underwear, that we trusted had been made fairly. We’ve both had dreams of creating our own project and we felt that our different sets of skills complemented each other.

We started working together on PICO whilst I was running the events for Fever Tree and Isobel was working as a seamstress on films. We both made the decision to leave our full time work in December 2015 to put all our energies into PICO.

It has been a complete rollercoaster but an incredible journey and we have learnt so much together.

Isobel: I’d always admired Phoebe’s positive energy, her gumption and sheer zest for life. Being friends means we talk a lot, so we’re permanently bouncing ideas off each other. We’ve got a very similar ethos, so it works really well. We are both a little susceptible to over worrying sometimes but always manage to pick each other up.

Isobel and Phoebe
Photographer: Sue Phillips

Why underwear?

Isobel: We want to produce essentials and as underwear is the first thing we put on in the morning, and the last thing we take off at night, we felt it was a good place to start… and there is nothing quite like a great pair of comfy pants!

In setting up Pico, who have been your role models, and how?

Phoebe : The environmental activist Dr Vandana Shiva has been a real inspiration to us. We discovered her when we were researching the cotton industry in India. Inspired by what we had read we booked onto one of her courses at her biodiversity farm, Navdanya. It was one of the best choices we ever made. Dr Shiva campaigns on behalf of marginalised farmers to raise awareness about the social and environmental impact of global firms such as Monsanto in rural India. We learnt about how GMO and pesticide dependency disrupt traditional farming and devastate farming communities.

PICO farmers and artisans
Photographer: Alberto Balazs

Isobel : One of the other teachers on the course, Satish Kumar, also made us think a lot more about the importance of community back home in London, and being part of a local economy. As a result, on our return we started offering a helping hand to our neighbours, through nannying, cooking, cleaning and gardening as a way to sustain ourselves whilst setting up PICO. It has been a really lovely way to get to know many of our neighbours.

And why was it important to you that PICO is an ethical, sustainable brand?

Phoebe: We always wanted to produce with organic fibres because we knew it was better for the environment and our health. However, only after widening our research did we learn about the devastating effects of conventional cotton production on the farmers and their communities. This is particularly evident in India where 300,000 farmers have committed suicide since 1995. This is due to a number of factors including the unimaginable rise in costs of the GM seeds and the increased dependency on expensive and dangerous pesticides. There is a very strong argument for the transition to a more sustainable and organic way of farming.

We want to help raise awareness about these issues and be part of a positive change towards a system where our clothes are produced and consumed in a way that is better for people and the environment.

Orissa farmers
Photographer: Alberto Balazs

What exactly makes PICO ethical? Can you tell me more about the sustainability aspects of the way you work.

Phoebe: Transparency and honesty. We want to share the stories of how our products are produced, celebrating what is good and fair, whilst also being open about the limitations. We are continuously learning but always striving to do the right thing.

Isobel: We are sourcing organic cotton from farmers’ cooperatives and working with a small Fairtrade factory in the south of India. In April we visited the supply chain, meeting some of the organic cotton farmers and visiting the dying and knitting units as well as the factory. All the processes, from field to factory, are audited and adhere to the Global Organic Textiles Standards, as well as those of the Fairtrade certification.

Phoebe: We hope that through documenting what we have learnt, and sharing our own experience, it will encourage others to also feel engaged with the subject and start asking questions about where all our clothes come from.

Where can people buy your underwear? Are you just selling online, or do you plan to sell through retails outlets as well?

Phoebe: We’re currently concentrating on selling through us, either face-to-face or on our online store. We have made the decision to do this because it means we don’t have to pass on a third party retailer mark-up to our customer. This allows us to retail the underwear at an accessible price point, something that from the start, has been very important to us.

Isobel: We’re also planning to sell at markets in Dorset and London this Christmas and next year. We have started speaking at WI events and have a good number more booked for next year. We will be selling at these events and are really happy to be able to do it in this way as it gives us an opportunity really engage people with the issues and share what we have been doing.

Phoebe: This is really core to our business and as we grow we are committed to creating and developing personal connections to the people and processes behind the making of our everyday essentials. We would love people to join us on our journey.

Phoebe and Isobel on a bus in India
Photographer: Alberto Balazs

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Sue Written by:

I'm a finance professional who's interested in whether we're accounting for the right things in the right ways.

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