It’s the height of summer – peak T-shirt weather. Jenny Needham talks to Penny Jones, founder of the North-East based White T-Shirt Company to find out more about her ethical online business.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’M 58 (gulp!) and live by the beautiful North-East coast, just outside Tynemouth, with my husband and youngest son (currently on the obligatory gap year in Australia). Our two older children have long left home, but our daughter Rachael works in the business with us now.

What is your background in design?

I still find it hard to believe but I have more than 20 years’ experience of devising creative products from concept to multi-million sellers. I trained in Fashion and Textile Design, then as Design Director for North-East based Dewhirst, I worked within own label for the likes of Marks & Spencer and Boots, before being approached by Harrods to head up their toiletry department. When family came along I moved back up North from London and freelanced, devising and producing collections for Harrods, Liberty, John Lewis and Fortnum & Mason.

Why did you set up The White T-Shirt Company?

While I was on maternity leave with my youngest son I took some time out to develop a concept which I had been mulling over for a while – to design and develop the elusive perfect white T-shirt. I have suffered from eczema all my life, so have always had to be careful about what products I used and wore, so from the beginning the ethics behind our T-shirts were as important as the design.

So The White T-Shirt Co was founded with a single goal – to find the perfect white T-shirt. Made without compromise to quality, style or ethics these are T-shirts with a wearable difference. The basis of any good quality garment is the materials and it took us nearly two years to develop the organic cottons we were happy to go to market with.

Made by our Danish partners, all our organic cotton T-shirts are GOTS [Global Organic Textile Standard] certified and come with an ethical promise of transparency and lasting quality. They are designed for people who appreciate the care and workmanship behind a label and are looking for ethical basics to work their wardrobe around – season after season.

Tell us about the designs

The original collection was built around classic styles and because we’re all so beautifully different, they’re available in a variety of neck and sleeve lengths.

We focus on the simplicity of the white T-shirt; it’s the small and often unseen details that are important to us, such as the weave of our cotton or the stitching detail of our seams. Small things that make a big difference, things that make them beautiful in a way you can’t quite put your finger on.

How has it the company evolved?

A white T-shirt is a core piece which does not need to be loud or announce itself. It stands as a faithful piece in your wardrobe, but we have expanded the range into other classic colours and product areas. For example, in the autumn we introduced sleepwear.

But we have not moved far from our original stance in either design or ethics. We have kept to core designs, classic colours and continue to work with the suppliers we originally started with – we all have a shared vision of what quality and sustainability means to us.

How important is it to you to be environmentally friendly?

Environmental and social responsibility is paramount to us, and increasingly so to our customers. We don’t believe in throwaway fashion and want our customers to be reassured that they’re buying a high-quality wardrobe staple that is made to last.

You can trace the journey of our T-shirts on our website and we also provide a full breakdown of materials so you know the full story behind our T-shirts. Our GOTS certification means that the T-shirts are monitored from our cotton being hand-picked in Turkey to delivery. As a small retailer and manufacturer, we know exactly who picks our cotton and makes our clothes and we’re proud of that.

On a summer’s day, what are you most likely to be wearing with your white T?

I would normally say I’m a jeans and T-shirt girl, but I’ve been trying hard to move my wardrobe towards more skirts and pinafores. The choice in ethical clothing is so wide now, but I still try and only add key pieces when necessary each season. I actually find having a small wardrobe quite liberating. It’s much less stressful in the morning deciding what to wear!

And where would you be heading out for the day?

We are so lucky to live where we do. We actually start each morning with a walk along Tynemouth pier or beach and can still be at our desks by 9am. The perfect lazy day would start with a walk along the coast with breakfast at Riley’s Fish Shack in King Edward’s Bay, followed by a mooch around Tynemouth Station market, picking up the week’s fruit and veg and essentials at Buy The Kilo. We’re trying to be plastic-free so we’re fortunate to have some many like-minded shops and markets around us. For a longer day out, perhaps a walk along Druridge Bay in Northumberland and crab sandwiches at The Ship Inn, Newton-by-the-Sea. I am always happiest by the sea!


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