Interview with Pat Kane: Founder, Educator and Activist

WRITTEN BY Victoria G. L. Brunton

August 21, 2023

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Interview with Pat Kane: Founder, Educator and Activist

Victoria G. L. Brunton

21 Aug, 2023

Pat Kane is an award-winning sustainability strategist, passionate educator and revered business woman.

Leading extremely important conversations of sustainability across a multitude of realms including fashion and lifestyle, Kane is likely responsible for the introduction of environmentally positive actions and changes in hundreds, if not thousands, of households across Ireland.

I was honoured to sit down with Kane, pick her brains and chat about everything from the challenges of fostering an eco-conscious family, the magic of simple clothing alterations and the moral complexities of running a sustainable business.

How do you teach your kids about sustainability?

Kids learn by observing us. So you know, it’s about including them when we’re making a better choice – take grocery shopping, for example. Instead of buying the bananas that come in a plastic bag, let’s try and buy the bananas that are free of packaging. When doing so, I’d say “Hey, guys, why are we choosing these bananas over those ones?” – my boys started off having no idea, obviously, but then over time they’d respond “Well, because that one has no plastic, and that’s better for the planet.” That’s all it takes.

What has been the biggest obstacle you faced in living sustainably day to day?

So initially, I would have said to you availability; some of the things I needed in trying to build a little, pantry or collection of more sustainable lifestyle equipment could only be sourced through the likes of Amazon. I think now, since these things have become more accessible through better outlets, the big challenge is greenwashing.

Sometimes we think we’re buying the right thing, but we’re doing the wrong thing. When choosing a brand over another you really need to educate yourself, but sometimes you end up falling for traps that were very well placed; clever wording, packaging, colouring and other things that trick us into thinking “oh, well that looks clean, so it must be”.

Do you find it challenging to run a business ‘sustainably’ when the success of any business (driving sales, maintaining stock levels and encouraging the purchase of new items) is inherently unsustainable?

What I’m going to say might might make no sense for someone who is solely a retailer, because my business is split into two. So we have hundreds of products that suit the different needs of our customers, but the other side of my business is all about education.

We all have a water bottle a home, whether it’s a random one we got as a freebie, one of the kids or whatever. Before buying a new one, try create a new habit with what you already have. Even before buying a sustainable coffee cup, for example, try a regular mug, bring it in your bag or your car, you and see whether you like this idea of not. If the answer is that you do, then you can level-up your experience by investing in a nice cup that’s leakproof, made from stainless steel and will hold the heat the heat of the drink.

Basically, I see it as that if you feel like what you have is not quite fit for purpose, but you would like to pursue that new habit, we are there for you.

What luxury brand, do you think is leading the market in terms of sustainability?

Fashion-wise, I would probably go with Stella McCartney. You know, just because she’s the OG sustainable designer. I think what she does is obviously incredible, and also very expensive. She is showcasing to all those big wigs, and people who can afford her products, that being sustainable is no big deal; there are better ways of doing things with no cruelty, no leather and lots of innovation. Her beautiful products are of supreme quality, properly and consciously made pieces, and I think that’s wonderful.

What are your top 3 sustainable Irish brands?

Feri Folk: Faye the lead designer there, she is all about sustainability; her clothes are made to order and instead of using certain polyester fabrics or man made fibres she’s going for apple skin and pineapple leather. It’s very experimental and I think she’s going above and beyond to find better materials.

Sampla: These sneakers are also made from apple leather, and I think that’s incredibly, exciting.

Cleo Prickett: Cleo is one of those designers that makes everything in Ireland by herself with her own little sewing machines. She uses the most high quality, long-lasting materials like Italian denim, or Portuguese linens and she really tries to keep things close to home. The fact that she produces stuff here is pretty phenomenal.

What area do you think stands out as one with the most potential / need for improvement regarding sustainability?

The fashion and food industries are two areas that generate almost 40% of carbon emissions and greenhouse gas emissions combined – I think these are two areas that we should certainly think about. Fashion is never going to be truly sustainable; it’s always going to be new. As much as companies may want to repurpose, reuse, recycle etc., there’s always going to be that element of newness there. The issue we can focus on, is overproduction: brands producing more than what we need with the justification that “we can do that because people need to buy from cheap brands, they can’t afford anything else”. We need to educate people on buying secondhand and buying smarter, sort of thing will change the model.

Within the food industry, more than fifty percent of food waste happens at a household level. If continue to go at this pace, things will only get worse. That doesn’t really only more greenhouse gas emissions, it also means that we are wasting money and resources. We are growing food and that’s never going to be eaten. If we were to compare stats in terms of food waste, Ireland is the third biggest country in the world for this issue – losing only to China and the United States. It’s crazy to think about that. So, how do we educate ourselves and our population to do better on that front? That’s very important.

Do you have any sustainability podcast, documentary or book recommendations?

I would always recommend Donald Davis or Kate Raworth from a business perspective, but if you are looking into lifestyle changes there’s a great book by Dr. Tara shine called ‘How to Save Your Planet One Object at a Time’ – it’s a fabulous little book. I read a book recently called ‘A New Earth’ by Eckhart Tolle, that was fabulous as well. Finally there’s the book by the founder of Patagonia, ‘The Responsible Company’, that’s a good read, too.

Is there an initiative or you think the Irish government could introduce to help our country to operate more sustainably?

100% – to add sustainability to the school curriculum. I really think that we need to teach kids from an early age. If you look at countries like Japan, for example, when they go to a stadium, they don’t leave the stadium until the stadium is clean. In Tokyo there are no bins in the streets, but there’s no litter either; they bring their rubbish home. It’s much harder to teach  grownups that sort of thing, so I think if the Irish government decided to really embed sustainability into our educational system, that would be a massive win.

A lot of people have the opinion that maybe it’s too late, or that they alone can’t make a difference. Do you have any kind of words of hope or motivation and kind of trying to live more sustainably to those with that perspective?

We’re all very different, and we all live under different circumstances. There’s not one rule that applies to everybody, and the aim is not to become greater. What you are going to do is what works for you and for your life, so go far as you can, and that’s already better than most people. It’s about understanding; looking inside your rubbish bin and seeing what’s in there – is it packaging? Is it food? Why am I generating so much waste here in this specific area? Then, figure out what you can do to do better – can you try and find package free shops? Can you go and buy your your fruit and veg loose next time? You know? Are you cooking / buying more food than is necessary? Once you’ve nailed down your behaviours, patterns and consumption patterns, you can find better ways of doing those things that you love doing in a less wasteful manner, I think.

What do you see as your next business move?

 I will certainly continue Reuzi, but it is running on autopilot. It’s great that it exists, but I’m always joking that my dream is for big retailers and supermarkets to put me out of a job when it comes to Reuzi; that would mean there’s no need for a nice shop to exist for people to find what they need when it comes to sustainable products. I do think the world is going in that direction andI’m very grateful to have been a part of that change in some way. So, I guess, my dream really would be to be put out of a job, in that case. Outside of Reuzi, I really hope to be working with bigger brands that really are trying to drive change; putting together their ESG strategies, communication strategies, and reviewing customer touch points. This way, we can really drive change at a larger scale. I would love if I could work with our governments on educating our communities on how to live in a more sustainable way and just continue to try and spread the word as much as possible.

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