Over a decade ago, two brothers with a single sewing machine started the streetwear brand ICHPIG® out of a Melbourne garage.
Since then, ICHPIG® has grown into a brand known around the country for its quality, authenticity and ethical approach.
Behind this success is critical problem-solving and a step-by-step approach to tackling the mammoth issue of effective environmentalism in the fashion industry.
ICHPIG® garments are created for consumers to wear and enjoy for years.
Swinburne alum Nate Orton started ICHPIG® with his brother Alex while Nate was still studying for a Bachelor of Industrial Design.
By his fourth year of study, Nate knew his ambitions didn’t lie down a traditional industrial design path and his burgeoning brand was taking centre stage.
Nate’s Swinburne tutors recognised his passion and worked with him as he developed the ICHPIG® brand to be the focus of his honours project.
“At its core, Industrial Design is problem-solving and there were plenty of problems in ICHPIG® to solve,” Nate said.
The question at the centre of Nate’s project was ‘How does ICHPIG® create a cult-like following?’
Outcomes from that question fuelled the development of the brand and even resulted in the design of the Anorak Hoodie, which remains a cornerstone of the brand today.
“Even now that process thinking I learnt—how to take a need or want and come up with a solution for it—I use every day here in the studio,” Nate said.
ICHPIG® started with taking old garments and stock and re-creating them into innovative designs for consumers to wear.
Progress over perfection
ICHPIG®’s brand philosophy redefines the relationship consumers have with garments.
Rather than only designing garments to be worn for a short time and then discarded to landfill, ICHPIG® focuses on making products that will last and remain appealing for years.
“One thing I learned in my bachelor’s degree was that there is so much stuff in the world, that you need to make sure what you create is unique,” Nate said.
“If you just keep designing stuff, then people just keep buying stuff, and if people keep buying stuff, they keep throwing stuff out.”
This practical, ground-up approach to environmentalism is a stark contrast to the stylistic ‘greenwashing’ and often empty platitudes that accompany so-called ‘sustainable’ design.
Similar thinking is displayed in the structure of the business that designs, produces, sells and, wherever possible, sources locally. This hugely reduces the brand’s carbon footprint.
Nate freely admits to the challenges and imperfections that go along with trying to create a sustainable brand.
“Our whole world is built on ‘new-new-new’ and ‘waste-waste-waste.’ The attitude is ‘don’t look back or you’ll see the mess you’ve made’.”
“I’m not saying I don’t create mess, of course I do, but at least I’m aware of it and I am consciously putting my hand up as a business owner to try and come up with solutions.”
“It’s progress over perfection. If you’re waiting for a perfect solution, then you do nothing and aren’t helping anything anyway.”
If you ask Nate about any of the hundreds of pattern pieces lining the studio walls, he can tell you exactly which garment they were from.
Coming full circle
The first products ICHPIG® ever created were produced by taking deadstock and re-crafting them into something desirable and unique.
Nate has plans to return to this legacy as part of the next step in the brand’s sustainability journey.
The goal is to create a closed loop for ICHPIG® garments, where products can be returned to the factory to be transformed into unique, one-off pieces — a pair of old jeans transformed into a denim vest, or two damaged hoodies reconstructed into a new one.
“The utopia would be a business that made money, supported people and never created waste again,” Nate said.
“That might not be realistic, but you can still work towards 5%, 10%, 20% of that and keep creating more initiatives. It all comes back to problem-solving again.”
“When we started out, upcycling dead stock was the part we were playing. Now that we’re established, we can afford to make all our mailers and care bags biodegradable.”
“The next point is creating a closed loop for garments. Once we’ve got that sorted, it might be putting solar panels on the factory. It’s just about doing more and more as you can.”