Arch & Hook is an Amsterdam based startup providing game-changing innovation in the global hanger industry. A&H believes that the clothing hanger can be sustainable from both an ecological and economical point of view. Arch & Hook hangers are made from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood, recycled plastic, and their new BLUE® product is made from ocean-bound plastics, marine plastics and post-consumer plastics. Arch & Hook work with a range of enviable brands including Harrods, Columbia Sportswear and designer Roland Mouret, and have set out to switch the world to sustainable hangers.
SupplyCompass sits down with Gertjan Meijer, CCO of Arch & Hook, to talk about how the company began, their sustainable products, the effects COVID-19 has had on their business, and what sustainability means to them.
In Conversation With is SupplyCompass’ interview series, highlighting fashion businesses from around the globe who are balancing people, profit and planet, and are leading the way when it comes to responsible business.
Tell us about Arch & Hook?
Half of the leadership in our company has a background in retail fixture design – not specifically on hangers, but more holistically around the environment of stores. They found that customers were asking about their hangers – they loved the fixtures, but they wanted something different when it came to hangers. Our Founder started researching the hanger industry to understand how the supply chain works and what types of vendors and products are out there. That ultimately led to the start of Arch & Hook.
At first, our main focus was on quality and design. We wanted to create hangers that would fit within the environment they were placed in, the fixtures, and of course the garments. Sustainability was an important focus in the beginning but it wasn’t at the forefront. We then realised that sustainability and design go hand-in-hand, so we switched that. We realised we needed to educate the world on the fact that hangers are a very polluting element of retailers and other B2B industries, and we needed to come up with solutions. We set out to design, produce and supply clothing hangers with a strong focus on sustainability and longevity.
We now operate across Europe, North America and Australia and serve a global market of retailers and hospitality companies. We don’t just see ourselves as a product – we also offer global logistic services and we are a partner to our customers.
What does sustainability mean to Arch & Hook?
We’re very focused on sustainability, as the world is yearning for solutions that treat the earth in a better way. We commit ourselves to sustainability across all projects we develop, and we like to say that we are the only fully sustainable hanger brand. Other companies have initiatives, but for example, when working with wood, we only work with FSC Certified wood. Even if you’re certified, you don’t always have to supply sustainable products, but we have committed to always supplying FSC certificates with our products.
The same goes for our plastic programs, Mission-E® and BLUE®, we don’t work with short term, single-use plastic; instead, we only work with 100% recycled and recyclable plastic where we can focus on the longevity of our product. We also are continuously looking for new sustainable solutions and put a lot of effort into research & development, as well as working with our partners and universities.
We have wood and plastic manufacturing in multiple locations in Europe and Asia. It gives us a great deal of flexibility. Our European manufacturing has proven to be very beneficial when tariffs were implemented in the United States. Generally, we like to produce where we use, whenever feasible.
What does the Arch & Hook customer look like?
We’re a B2B business that focuses on retail—this is our biggest market—as well as hospitality. Within retail we work with brands, retailers and department stores; oftentimes they are global companies. In terms of scale, it depends if it’s wood or plastic, but our recycled plastic programs are usually very large scale. Between wood and plastic, we run programs from 10,000 hangers to tens of millions of hangers, and sometimes even hundreds of millions of hangers. The split between our wood and plastic hangers in volume is 80% plastic to 20% wood in terms of volume, but in terms of value, it’s a fairly even split as our recycled plastic products are much more affordable than the wood-alternative.
What collaboration are you most proud of?
The collaboration I’m most proud of is our BLUE® program with Roland Mouret, a French fashion designer. It allowed us to be part of London Fashion Week, where we launched the product and got exposed and connected to a large variety of retailers, brands and designers.
Hangers in our BLUE® program are made from a combination of ocean-bound plastics, marine plastics and post-consumer plastics. It all started when we decided that there was an opportunity to tackle the plastic problem and all the plastic waste that is floating around in oceans. We knew we needed to do something about that and make our contribution.
We started working with our supply chain on developing a mix of plastic that would allow us to completely recycle after use—this is something that is very important for us—and add longevity to the product. This is far better than the alternative,, polystyrene, which is the material often used for hangers. PS is very brittle, so hangers can easily snap.
The partnership started with a conversation with Roland Mouret, where he shared his frustrations with cheap plastic hangers that his company was using to transport garments. We worked together to come up with a modular hanger with different components that can be taken apart, including a top hanger, a bar, and clips. We launched this product together during London Fashion Week, and are now using the BLUE® concept for custom programs with other customers, including some big, global rollouts.
What are your aspirations for the future of Arch & Hook? Where would you like to see the brand in the future?
We’ve only been around for five years – there is a great sense of ambition within our company. We want to be an industry leader and create more brand awareness, and we are expanding our footprint in terms of presence and visibility. We really want to make sure that our target audience sees us as the go-to company for hangers that represent quality, design and sustainability. We present ourselves as the most forward-thinking hanger brand, and we aim to switch the world to sustainable hangers.
We currently have three main offices HQ in Amsterdam, NYC in the US, and Manly in Australia. We have smaller offices throughout the US, UK, France and Germany. In terms of footprint expansion, we just opened an office in Mexico, and we see big opportunities in Asia.
How have you or your customers been impacted by COVID-19? What are you doing differently during this time?
We’re in the lucky position that we’re still a relatively young company—even though that can expose us to risks—but, we don’t have massive overheads. So for now, it’s still manageable. We’re also fortunate that we don’t have to lay off anyone on our team. We are seeing some clients are heavily hit, and they are responding in different ways. Some of our retail customers are responding to the COVID crisis in a paralysis, where they ask to reboot the conversations we’re having at a later time, whilst others continue our conversations and they are still preparing the projects for the next 6 months.
Some of our retail customers respond to the COVID crisis in a paralysis, where they ask to reboot the conversations we're having at a later time, whilst others continue our conversations and they are still preparing the projects they are foreseeing for the next 6 months.
In terms of our team, we are all working from home and connecting in different ways. I see this as an opportunity to take a good look at our travel policies. We now have calls between Europe and the US that we might not have been able to due to travel affecting availability. It’s both internal and external communication – it’s also about connecting with people in more sustainable ways. We don’t have to take a flight anymore, and we can just communicate via videoconference. It’s not so difficult to have a half-hour conversation – previously, we might have taken a flight for two or three meetings.
We are speaking to our customers about creative solutions, flexibility, and rethinking existing patterns into better ways of working.
We’re also developing a range of online talks called ‘Sustainability Salon Series’, to bring people from different industry backgrounds together to talk about how they tackle sustainability, with the aim to share inspiration and best practices. This will be a monthly event – we originally wanted to do this series physically in our New York City office and our Amsterdam office, but with that, we had the logistical limitations in terms of the presence of people. Our first event will be run virtually, so we can combine the European and North American audiences. I don’t want to make everything positive as there are a lot of negatives and a lot of hardship, but we are trying to make lemonade out of lemons.
What has been your biggest learning along the way?
My biggest learning has been that nothing is the way it appears. It’s a wrong assumption to think the status quo is right – it’s actually a missed opportunity to think that way. We’ve had discussions internally where we challenge how the industry is operating and think: maybe that’s not right, maybe we can operate in a different way. It’s very easy to assume all these companies, suppliers and clients have thought this process through, so there must be a reason for that. I’m sure there were reasons, but it’s important to think outside of the box and to research and analyse data and information that can lead you in the right direction to create better solutions.
What are your company values?
Our values include transparency, sustainability, integrity, passion, education, commitment and partnership. We invite our customers to come with us to visit our factories and see our processes. Ultimately, it really boils down to the fact that we believe in partnerships, and to be a good partner, you need to be honest, you need to be transparent, you need to collaborate and you need to be committed to one another. That really ties everything together, and when you feel passionate about what you’re working towards, you’re able to transcend that message better. It also helps with getting people to commit to your cause.
I can really see with the customer base that we have grown over the past few years that there's a true commitment and shift in terms of responsible business. There's a desire and need to do better, and there's the push from consumers and media to do better.
We see it as our responsibility to create affordable alternatives. If we do something that is three times the price, then it’s never going to work. At the same time, it’s really important that everyone accepts that convenience is not always the best indicator of value. We have to make this world a better place, and sometimes there won’t be a convenient alternative, but if we collaborate on trying to find new solutions, we can create a new, convenient status quo.
What advice would you give to other brands trying to be more responsible?
It’s about pushing the boundaries, making clear choices, and being unapologetic about those choices. You should make the choices that you really believe in.
We have had opportunities with big programs where we have respectfully declined requests for quotations (RFQ's) because a customer requested polystyrene. We decided that we wouldn't supply unsustainable materials, including polystyrene – it doesn’t have a long life as it’s a brittle plastic and it has great limitations in terms of recyclability. This is not acceptable to us, so it's fair and important for us to stay true to our ethos.
We also believe in education and helping our audiences with solutions. We really try to be the expert in what we do as industry leaders in the sustainable field. It’s important to come up with solutions that our prospective customers may not have thought about to really create an alternative.