A lot of people ask us how we got started with Rapanui, how did we come up with the idea etc. It’s a hard question to answer, as it started with some go karts. For our first Journal, we thought we’d crack them out of the shed again, as it’s a special occasion…
Words by Rob & Mart Drake-Knight.
We grew up in Lake on the east coast of the Isle of Wight. Mart was always inventing things and Rob was a specialist in multiplying his pocket money via assorted playground deals.
This matured into our future formula, where we worked together – one to develop new ideas, the other to turn them into businesses. The first idea was a fold-up surfboard – we couldn’t get to the beach on our mopeds with the boards so this would be a game-changer. It was designed in the cupboard under the stairs on a bit of A4 paper, but once Rob got his driving license we didn’t need the boards to fold anymore.
Naturally, we moved on to racing. We’d been downhill skating for a few years and started building a type of one-design vehicle, a cross between a street luge, skateboard and go-kart, that allowed us all to bomb hills, drifting round corners. It’s about as close to real life mario-kart that you can get. The craze exploded, with other crews of downhill go-karters sprouting up in neighbouring towns. We had no cash as we were still at school, so decided that rather than selling the product, we’d sell a flatpack version. Or just the plans. In the end, the patents office wouldn’t take it seriously and the idea fizzled out. We’ve revived them here just for fun.
Mart went off to study Renewable Energy and Rob went to do Business. Holiday conversations usually spun over climate change, energy security and sustainability, and how oblivious we all seem to be to it all. We drew an obvious conclusion: There’s something wrong with demand and supply. Marketing is muddling markets, failing to communicate the consequences of our actions; consumers are disconnected and can’t use capitalism to demand sustainability: Businesses should work with sustainability, but too often they feel like opposing forces. The aim was, and still is, to change that for good. But as graduates in a credit crunch, we couldn’t get jobs. So we decided to make our own instead. We scratched around for some ideas…
The first was a wind turbine installation team, but we only had a budget of £200 each. Then some sort of sustainability consultancy thing – but we both had whispy moustaches, budget suits and wouldn’t be taken seriously. In the end, we found a metaphor: Rapanui is the native name for Easter Island – a remote place whose history is a good example of human sustainability-gone-wrong: If the resources run out and population exceeds the carrying capacity of an ecosystem, things go Pete Tong rather quickly. We stumbled across the name in a surf mag: A lightbulb moment.
After a lot of research, we purchased a box of t-shirts. They sold, so we bought two with the profit, then sold those two and bought four. It sort of went from there really. We took an investigative approach to sustainability from day one. The products weren’t perfect from the start, but that’s okay: Sustainable business is about constant and meaningful improvement processes throughout the supply chain, not just a logo on the packaging. We switched over to organic fabrics after 6 months. Within 18 months we were sourcing ethically made products from a wind-powered factory. The next year we had a brainwave: Traceability was our answer to solving the problem that frustrated us with demand and supply. Our maps reconnect consumers to where our clothing comes from and how it’s made. Soon after, our Ecolabelling idea helped simplify everything, making it even easier for our customers to shop with a conscience. Sales followed sustainability. We’ve been invited to take our ideas to the EU soon for a presentation, which is cool.
There were, and still are, many highs and lows, from getting a letter from Sir David Attenborough to crying on national TV. We’ve won a handful of awards … and it’s not just us now: There’s nine 18-25 year olds in full-time work at Rapanui HQ. It’s still in our home town, there’s a skateramp out the back, and a beach in front. We’re still 100% independently owned and run. When it comes to business brains, or sustainable design, we’re not finished yet. But it feels like the end of the beginning.
At the very least, we hope Rapanui now shows some of the potential in the yoof of today: They must be encouraged and given belief. The purpose of youth is to improve upon the last generation. And on that note, we wish you good luck!